Mill on the Rib
PUBLISHED: 17:41 18 June 2016 | UPDATED: 17:41 18 June 2016
A modern property on the site of a medieval corn mill, this Thundridge home has the charms of an old building with the comforts of modern technology. Pat Bramley visits
There has been a watermill in the village of Thundridge since William the Conqueror ordered the great survey of England for the Domesday Book of 1086.
Watermill House, with its old stock bricks on the lower level and weather-boarding on the two upper storeys, is a reconstruction of the mill that was still operated in the 20th century under the ownership of Charles Adams and Company.
To fulfill the conditions of planning consent, there’s a strong resemblance between new and old, down to the positioning of the windows. Materials used in the reconstruction were either recycled or bought from architectural salvage yards. Outwardly, the main difference is that when the property was rebuilt getting on for 40 years ago, the mill race was diverted. The river Rib and millstream are still the main features of the three-quarter-acre garden, but the mill race no longer runs under the house.
John and Lyn Jones bought the place about 30 years ago. It was only the second time it had changed hands since it was built. Lyn says, ‘It was called the Old Corn Mill when it was rebuilt but by the time we got here the name had been changed to Watermill House, which was rather a shame. Inevitably it gets shortened to the Mill House, which leads to confusion with the miller’s old house next door.’
The Joneses lived previously in Southgate in north London. ‘By then our three children needed more space,’ Lyn explains. ‘Initially we didn’t want to move further up the A10 than Cheshunt because my husband needed to be in Finsbury Park for his business. But one day details of Watermill House dropped on the mat. Of course 30 years ago there was no Righmove or internet for a virtual tour on a website, but it looked so lovely we went to see it and as soon as we walked through the gates we went “aaah”.’
As a reminder of its origins, a pond had been added to create a feature at the entrance to the house. ‘I think it was to replicate where the water from the mill race would have been but it was like living in a wind tunnel so we filled it in, which gives us a nice hall,’ Lyn says. The entrance hall is now pretty well 21ft by 12ft.
Listening to Lyn talk about the years they’ve spent at the house and how it has evolved, it’s evident she has never been happier than when it has been filled with children and dogs, and more recently grandchildren. Creating a home where her family can relax and recharge their batteries has been her driving force.
Whenever she has made a purchase involving any aspect of the house, she says her main consideration has always been how practical it will be. ‘It’s not all about the look, it’s a home where children and dogs feel welcome. I’m not into creating a show home with clear surfaces.’
The couple found old quarry tiles to match the existing ones in the dining room to replace carpet so mud trodden into the house by children and dogs wouldn’t cause a drama.
Around 18 years ago when they added on the stunning living room with vaulted ceiling and double height oak framed windows, Lyn chose terracotta-coloured ceramic tiles for the floor. ‘Tiles can be cleaned with the swish of a mop. For heavy wear they’re preferable to engineered oak which needs higher maintenance,’ she says. She has also always chosen child- and dog-friendly soft furnishings. She is all for the easy life. No point in stressing over spills and wear and tear when it can be avoided.
‘When the grandchildren come they love the sofas – given half a chance they bounce on them and jump from one to the other. That’s why I chose a fabric that would blend with the room and marks can be wiped off easily.’
Lyn loves colour. ‘I like the shade of the walls to reflect what the room is used for. The rooms here are quite large. We wanted to generate a cosiness.’ The choice of red for the new lounge surprised a few friends, she admits. ‘One of them said, “It should be white” but I’m not very good with white. Too much white is cold. This room has a high ceiling and big windows. I wanted it to feel friendly and welcoming and it does. The underfloor heating is excellent and when there are logs crackling in the wood-burning stove in the fireplace, it’s very warm, it’s lovely. And the red walls help to lessen the scale of the room.’
Lyn points out: ‘There are fireplaces in both the lounge and the dining room and in the two big bedrooms above. The fireplaces in the bedrooms have been blocked up but they could easily be reinstated because the chimney breast is still there.’
New houses built without chimneys will never appeal to this lady. She’s a lover of open fireplaces and a welcoming blaze to come home to on cold days.
‘We had an excellent builder when we built the new room. He was local, we’d known him for some years. He was somebody I could work with very well. It was he who suggested building the long and narrow display cabinet into the wall by the windows. I don’t like big expanses of wall. The cabinet creates a bit of a diversion. This house has the character of an old building but not the drawbacks.’
The games room is another example of Lyn’s daring with the shade charts. She chose green for the ceiling and for areas of wall to pick up the green beize of the snooker table and overhead light. ‘We gave the children a snooker table when we moved in. We’d taken them out of London to probably what seemed to them like the middle of nowhere so we said, “Here you are, you can have a games room and a snooker table”.’
The grandchildren enjoy practising their cue action now. They also enjoying jumping into the saddle of the dappled grey rocking horse that stands in the hall and developing their musical talent on the keyboard in the lounge.
There are four bedrooms (one en-suite) on the first floor and up to three more bedrooms including the master suite and a family bathroom on the top floor.
‘Because of the layout of the second floor there’s an extra room in the master suite,’ Lyn says. ‘We use it as a dressing room but it could be a nursery if there was a family living here with a young baby. When grandchildren have come to stay with us we’ve wanted them on the same floor as us, that’s why I had the further bathroom built on the top floor. That was for them.’
The largest bedroom on the first floor has been turned into a gym. A spiral staircase leads from the gym to the master suite. All these changes followed from building the new lounge. ‘The previous owners had a first floor lounge with a double-height ceiling. Nice as it was, it didn’t work for us so we turned it into the present arrangement and built the new lounge on the ground floor.’ They also built a stable block. ‘That was because I had a horse when we came here. I turned it out in the farm opposite. We had two stables built and a tack room. After the horse went, the stables became a garden room for a while but later we converted it into a self-contained annexe. The children used to use it for sleepovers – friends can come for a week and neither side feels they have to stand on ceremony. They have their own space and we have ours.’
The grounds also include a cart-style open-bay parking spot for three cars. There’s also a double garage. As for the river, it’s all been carefully fenced off as a safety measure. ‘The water level, even at its highest, has never come near to causing a flood,’ says Lyn. ‘From the windows in the house you can see the water level rise and fall. It’s fascinating, but the main thing is it’s always a safe distance away from causing a problem.’
Now, after 30 years of owning Watermill House, the Joneses are downsizing, which is why it is for sale through Mullucks Wells in Bishop’s Stortford for £1.45m.