The Only Way Is Up..


Remember this?



The big day has finally arrived. The bathroom renovation has been a long time coming. Over a year. Months of planning. Weeks of scouring the internet for the fixtures and fittings we would both like. Countless trips across the county and beyond to suss out the various bits of kit. The frustrating, but prerequisite, diversion into a whole new central heating boiler and hot water system.

In a house this old any project is difficult. There are so many complications. And so very many unknowns. But I’ve never experienced a sense of foreboding quite as strong as this one.



Day 1. It felt so good to be rid of the black.


A year ago, when I first sketched out the plans, the measurements revealed something quite exciting. That end wall was far thicker than it ever should have been. Unlikely to be solid, the only alternative explanation was a hidden void. Ever since then I’ve been itching to get the partition down. Would there be skeletons? Treasure? Sadly not. Just a rather large soil pipe and a heap of discarded insulation. The gold mine still awaits discovery. Sigh.

There was one surprise though. See the little window, upper right? At some point in time a previous owner has attempted to deliver borrowed light into the bathroom from the room next door. Textured glass. No sneaky peeking allowed..

But the main concern at the moment is for the ceiling. We knew it was weak. Put a hand lightly on that bulge in the middle and the whole structure could be moved up and down. The original hope had been to re-skim the ceiling to cover up the stippling. But as it turned out the foundation wasn’t strong enough for the builders to be confident it would last that much longer.



Day 2. Taking the plaster off revealed the laths. The problem, however, lies with the beam structure above. The laths, many of them crumbling in any case, would also have to be removed.



Day 3. Oh my.

Having got over the initial shock I couldn’t help noticing how pretty it is. Like a barn. It’s a great shame we can’t keep it like this. What a characterful bathroom it would be! But revealing the ceiling beams means they can now be properly reinforced by adding new struts and anchoring them back to the main roof structure.



Back in the days when the house was built there was no such thing as 4×2 in ready cut lengths of laser straight pre-treated wood. No, the builder of olde would have taken his axe out to the woodland and cut down a tree. This beam, part of the bathroom ceiling support, still has the bark attached.

Mike reminded me this morning of another story from our previous old house, which was in fact far older than this one. Of this we can be certain because an architectural historian visited that house. Climbing back down from the roofspace he declared he had found features suggesting that the core of the building dated back to the 13th century. Imagine that. But it doesn’t stop there. There were beams like the above in that house too. So if an oak tree is big enough to be cut down to make a beam in the 1200s, just when did it germinate and start growing? Maybe, for the largest of the structural roof beams, a hundred years or more prior to that. Humbling no? The first rule of responsible restoration. Repair rather than replace. Wherever it’s feasible. There is real history concealed within the structure.



2018-08-25T07:42:13+00:00July 19th, 2018|Tags: |


  1. FlowerAlley July 19, 2018 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    You are so brave. I have too much experience living in a construction zone. This made me nauseous.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 9:34 pm - Reply

      There are times I’ve felt the same way.

  2. Anne Wheaton July 19, 2018 at 5:36 pm - Reply

    It’s never straight forward is it? Just think what has happened in the years since that beam was a sapling – it makes me feel very insignificant. Looking forward to a spectacular finish 🙂

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 9:45 pm - Reply

      The world was a very different place. Even this little patch of Devon was a very different place. Peeling back the layers provides an opportunity to peek into the lives of those who lived here hundreds of years ago. It’s always exciting.

  3. Peter Herpst July 19, 2018 at 5:55 pm - Reply

    The exposed beams would surely have made the bathroom interesting. Sorry there was no treasure to be found in the void. You are so brave to totally redo this. Being lazy, I might have just lived with the bathroom as it was.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 9:49 pm - Reply

      I’d love to keep the beams exposed. But they might not react well to the humidity of a modern day shower room. And how would I get up there to clean? I’m lazy too. In a bathroom minimal is the way to go.

  4. Penny Post July 19, 2018 at 5:58 pm - Reply

    One thing always seems certain when you start a renovation, you always end up travelling unexpected down paths and always get a great story out of it. Good luck with the renovations and hopefully it will all be completed (relatively) quick.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 9:53 pm - Reply

      I’m told it will come together very quickly once we start putting everything back together again. Just as well. The novelty of the temporary bathroom arrangements (using an ensuite which is little more than a cupboard) is rapidly wearing off!

  5. Kris P July 19, 2018 at 7:15 pm - Reply

    Oh my, indeed! You are a brave couple. I hope it all goes smoothly from here on out – that has to happen occasionally, doesn’t it? Our own kitchen gut-job is on hold as the city has required a formal geologic survey to ensure that pushing out one wall 5 feet won’t lead to a landslide. It seems that the current “open spaces hazard zone” (which the city proclaimed in 2012 it was going to move but still hasn’t) runs diagonally right through the middle of our house. Several thousand dollars and a few months later we may have permission to move ahead.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:01 pm - Reply

      That sounds incredibly frustrating Kris. And the cost! You are being made to pay dearly for your wonderful location. But it will be so worth it in the end.

  6. justjilluk July 19, 2018 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    WOW!!! You are both so brave. It will be superb.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:03 pm - Reply

      I always forget how bad these projects can be, especially at this stage. And of course having now taken the bathroom apart completely there is absolutely no turning back..

  7. Mary July 19, 2018 at 7:48 pm - Reply

    Day 3 photo. Wow. Just Wow. Makes my bathroom reno look like a baby task. Will show your photos to my husband when he worries about the cost. Good luck!!

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:06 pm - Reply

      I’m trying not to think about the cost. It was bad enough before all the extra work!

  8. ginaferrari July 19, 2018 at 8:00 pm - Reply

    Oh my, that is stuff of nightmares for me… but wonderful at the same time. Good luck with it all!

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:08 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gina. The trouble with old buildings is you never know what you’re going to find until you start taking it apart. By which time of course it’s far too late to go back!

  9. wherethejourneytakesme July 19, 2018 at 8:08 pm - Reply

    Wow what a lot of work that looks! Those beams are so lovely though.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:12 pm - Reply

      A lot of work and a lot of mess, but I don’t need to tell you about that. This time I’m not getting the F&B chart out until there’s something ready to paint.

  10. bumbleandme July 19, 2018 at 8:31 pm - Reply

    Fascinating, sorry you didn’t find your pot of gold. X

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:15 pm - Reply

      I shall keep looking. It must be here somewhere!

  11. Gerrie Mackey July 19, 2018 at 10:02 pm - Reply

    I greatly admire your energy and plans for this gorgeous cottage … it is iteresting to follow your progress … Good luck with it all ..

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:16 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gerrie. I will need it. Energy levels are rapidly diminishing!

  12. bittster July 20, 2018 at 3:04 am - Reply

    Oh my gosh that really is some old stuff! I can’t imagine doing anything in there with only one or two straight lines to work off of, this is going to be amazing… and I’m sure a relief when it’s all done!

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:22 pm - Reply

      It will be a huge relief. The bill won’t be. I need some of your talent for creative accounting Frank.

  13. janesmudgeegarden July 20, 2018 at 8:15 am - Reply

    It’s amazing how often removing a wall or ceiling reveals a new set of problems. It’s a big job ahead of you and I admire your courage and tenacity. I’m looking forward to reading more restoration tales.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:27 pm - Reply

      It is probably the biggest job yet in this house. Certainly the one I was looking forward to least. And, knowing what Monday brings, it will get worse still before it gets any better.

  14. Jackie Knight July 20, 2018 at 8:32 am - Reply

    So fascinating, what an adventure.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:28 pm - Reply

      I must be mad.

  15. derrickjknight July 20, 2018 at 9:29 am - Reply

    Quite marvellous – t watch!

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:30 pm - Reply

      I felt for you both during your kitchen work.. yes, it’s much easier to watch!

  16. Jayne Hill July 20, 2018 at 4:16 pm - Reply

    Now you’ve opened up the void behind where the toilet was, can you use that space – for storage perhaps? Seems such a shame if you have to cover it up again. Ditto with the ceiling. Could you justify it on the grounds of wanting to keep an eye on the thatch from beneath {giggle}. The original ceiling beams are gorgeous, wonder if you can keep the timber and use it somewhere else in the house?

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:34 pm - Reply

      I am keeping the door firmly shut on the exposed thatch.. think about all the livestock in it! I should include the new layout in the next post. There will be a bath going across the end of the room. But we will be using some of the space by incorporating a niche in the wall above the bath.

  17. Linda from Each Little World July 20, 2018 at 5:17 pm - Reply

    So cool is correct! Redoing a room like a bath where water and plumbing are involved is scary even in a modern house like ours (1954). I would be highly nervous doing a project in your house and yet, like you, so curious as to what I might find. Those beams are wonderful. History revealed and then hidden away again for another hundred years.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:38 pm - Reply

      Plumbing is particularly problematic here given the thickness of the walls and the reduced space below the floorboards. The whole floor of the bathroom is going to have to be raised to accommodate the waste pipes. But that’s not the worst of it.. more next week!

  18. Torrington Tina July 20, 2018 at 8:06 pm - Reply

    Oh my, you do not do things by halves. Thought you must have lots to keep you occupied. Lovely beams, full of character, we had one like that here, it looked like a larch had just been chopped down and hoisted in to place. Sadly, it was so unsound that it had to go to make way for another beam that we rescued from elsewhere. Look forward to the next instalment!

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:46 pm - Reply

      You can’t keep rotten wood. A wise move.
      It is pretty crazy round here at the moment. We must get together again when this is all over. I thought I would be able to retreat to the garden but there have been too many issues to resolve and decisions to make. I’ve had just half a day in the whole week!

  19. Charles July 20, 2018 at 8:36 pm - Reply

    Goodness you are Gung Ho. What a project. Respect to all and I hope you have an emergency supply of alcohol for those “it an extra 20 grand moments”. My car went into the garage on Tuesday, they cracked the sump, I think I may get it back on Monday, I am looking for a newish car….

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:55 pm - Reply

      It appears that Mike restocked the wine cupboard before all this began. He knows me too well. I was doing OK at the beginning of the week but have slipped down the metaphoric slope. Sorry about the car.. that sounds like a moment for the emergency supplies as well.

  20. Denise July 20, 2018 at 11:21 pm - Reply


    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 10:58 pm - Reply

      Imagine the dust!

  21. Sarah July 21, 2018 at 3:12 am - Reply

    I’ve been reading your blog with great interest for awhile now. The old house stuff is fascinating! You mentioned that you had an even older house before – do you have writings/photos/stories of that? I’d love to read them.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 11:09 pm - Reply

      Hi Sarah, thank you and welcome.
      I only really got into documenting the work with this house, coinciding with the start of the blog. I wish I’d done it before, it’s great to have the photos to look back on. If nothing else they remind me of how far we’ve come on those days when everything seems too hard! But there should be plenty more to come, we’ve only just started really.

  22. Pauline July 21, 2018 at 5:20 am - Reply

    Oh my, what have you started! I will be so interested with the result.

    • Jessica July 21, 2018 at 11:10 pm - Reply

      If I had a pound for every time this week we’ve said “Why did we start this?”

  23. the veg artist July 22, 2018 at 12:26 pm - Reply

    Rather you than me, but it will be lovely when it’s done, and you will have the staisfaction then of knowing exactly what is under the surface, rather than worrying about it.

    • Jessica July 23, 2018 at 7:19 pm - Reply

      That is very true. And in the course of doing the whole house it will have modern plumbing and wiring.. which is more than it had at the start!

  24. snowbird July 22, 2018 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Absolutely fascinating seeing it stripped back like that! Shame it can’t stay like that. Good luck with it all, I have fingers and toes crossed that all goes

    • Jessica July 23, 2018 at 7:24 pm - Reply

      Thanks. I can’t say it’s been smooth exactly. But we’re moving in the right direction at the moment so I’ll hold on to that!

  25. Linda July 22, 2018 at 9:58 pm - Reply

    Yikes! Can’t wait for the after shots!
    Hope you are enjoying your Summer…despite all the chaos!
    Linda :o)

    • Jessica July 23, 2018 at 7:27 pm - Reply

      Well we’re a few radiators down tonight so I’m rather glad we’re doing this job in summer and not winter! And a cup of coffee sat out in the garden now and then works wonders.

  26. hb July 23, 2018 at 5:02 am - Reply

    Wow. How old are those tree trunks–ah, beams?!?!

    My own bathroom remodel approaches…gulp. Whatever strange or amazing things that will be found behind the walls…nothing compared to yours!

    • Jessica July 23, 2018 at 7:30 pm - Reply

      It’s always fun unpicking and seeing what’s there. Then comes the chaos and I’m wanting to press the fast forward button and get to the end as swiftly as possible!

  27. Carrie Gault July 24, 2018 at 10:31 am - Reply

    Good jolly this is so exciting! also not an easy job and I would imagine, rather expensive, but what a journey! Thank goodness of cameras to record everything in detail. Oh this is so good!

    • Jessica July 25, 2018 at 10:22 pm - Reply

      No, it was never going to be an easy job. But I didn’t expect it to be quite so challenging.

  28. Rebecca R. July 27, 2018 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    You are brave. Old houses are so interesting and use suck funky materials. Our old one sat on Bois-D’arc trunks as a foundation.

    • Jessica July 28, 2018 at 10:30 pm - Reply

      Wow! Our previous house had an oak tree foundation, or sole plate. Some of it was rotten and had to be replaced. Now that was a job and a half!

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