“Old houses, I thought, do not belong to people ever, not really, people belong to them.” ~ Gladys Taber
Set in the North Oxfordshire hamlet of Alkerton, Adze Cottage sold last May but was such a great find that I couldn’t resist sharing it. The property was advertised with Savills (Agent’s Listing) for £250,000 and sold for £240,000.
The Grade II* listing (note the star) is a designation that is only shared by 5.8% of all listed buildings (see an explanation here). Historic England hold all records regarding listed buildings and you can see the entry for Adze Cottage at the following link (List Entry). The property is named the Beeches which refers to the wider set of buildings the surround the cottage. Along with protected property features, the listing gives some history to the property. It is thought to date from 1716 and to have been built by John Edwards, the son of the landlord of the nearby Bell Inn, as a home for his new wife and himself after their wedding.
The village of Alkerton has an OX15 postcode and sits on the border with Warwikshire. The nearest major town is Banbury which is 5 miles to the east with direct trains to Oxford and London Paddington. It lies just outside the long north eastern spur of the Cotswolds and while not technically in the protected area, enjoys much of the countryside and ascetic that make the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty so popular.
Shenington conjoins Alkerton and its beautiful village green is within a 5-minute walk. Here you’ll still find the aforementioned Bell Inn, (Link) now a well-reviewed gastropub, as well as a GP’s surgery, primary school but no village shop.
The Existing Buildings
The cottage is laid out in a two-unit plan totalling approximately 65 sqm (note that the floorplan supplied by the agents includes the outhouse in the total hence the larger quoted area).
Externally, the thatched roof looks to be in good repair. I would tentatively assume that a new owner would only need to arrange minor maintenance of the thatch. I am unsure as to the underlying structure, but based on the thatch, would assume this too would be in generally good condition.
Brickwork looks like it has been periodically repointed and looked after and would require only light repair. The wooden window casements however are beginning to show their age and, although not completely derelict, would require full removal and restoration. This would need to be done by a heritage specialist.
The garden is plain but in the traditional cottage style with a stone path leading from an opening in the front stone wall facing the road. The uphill side of the house sits against a retaining wall, made from the same ironstone as the rest of the property which steps up to the level of the field beyond. This ground appears to be ‘lost’ space as I cannot identify any straightforward way of accessing it.
The front door opens directly into the decent sized living room (19.1 sqm) with an original flagstone floor and inglenook fireplace. This period of house and type of floor will mean that the flags will sit directly onto a solid earth base. There are two exposed stone walls with the others plastered, all of which look structurally sound and in relatively good repair, although the stonework needs a clean and probably a repointing. The whole ground floor has exposed beams which have all been painted and look to be in good repair.
The highlight of this room is the original inglenook fireplace with elm bressumer and an attached bread oven (this forms the bulge to the rear of the property). The wood burning stove that sits in the central void doesn’t do this feature justice however.
There is a rather ill-looking electric heater mounted under the rear window with the wall above showing heat damage. The building has no central heating system and I believe the only fixed heat sources are the stove and this radiator. This would need to be addressed for a modern owner. What I believe is a fuse box can be found above the radiator suggesting an old and unsuitable house wiring system that would need complete replacement.
Beyond the living room lies the kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen was likely installed back in the 1960s and needs a complete renovation. A similar era door and window installation leading to the rear garden is in bad repair and is an incongruous alteration. It is in the listing description (god knows why) so will probably require permission to remove it.
The bathroom takes up the remaining downstairs space. I have been unable to find photographs of this room in any promotional material suggesting that it’s not in a good state of repair. I assume that this would need total replacement.
As an aside, a reference to the cottage in the book “Traditional Domestic Architecture of the Banbury Region” from 1963 shows the original layout of the property (image on page 191 and description on page 194 at this link). Here you can see that the kitchen and bathroom originally served as the parlour and pantry respectively with the living room acting as the kitchen. Knowing this information may aid listed building permission applications when it comes to renovating the property.
Upstairs the two bedrooms are looking tired. The floors are carpeted however the original floorboards (assumed to lie underneath) would add to the character feel when restored. There are some fitted cupboards (not shown in the photos) and a wooden chest under the window. Like downstairs, the exposed beams of the roof have been painted.
The second bedroom almost comes directly off the staircase with a door and partition wall that act more like a screen. All doors upstairs would require replacement and as can be seen from the photo below replastering would almost certainly be required.
A check of the title deeds reveals no out of the ordinary restrictions/legal impediments to the development of the building outside those already stated. The property is in Council Tax Band D (Cherwell District Council) which is £1,754.64 pa.
1. Relocate the Bathroom Upstairs
In my mind, the biggest issue with the cottage’s current layout is the bathroom’s location directly off the main living room. Moving it upstairs would give the property a much more modern layout. It would also allow you to knock through and extend the kitchen, changing what is now a small ‘galley’ configuration into a more spacious arrangement with greater storage space. This is obviously dependent on planning permission as the rear rooms have always been separate (Background section: image of historical layout).
Within the existing footprint, I would split the second bedroom to create the new bathroom. The new smaller bedroom floorplan would just be able to fit a double bed. Although tight for space this would be acceptable for a guest/child’s room and well worth it considering what you would be gaining. One key thing to bear in mind when moving a bathroom upstairs in a very old building is that the first-floor joists will not necessarily have been designed to carry the weight of a modern bathroom suite, so some structural work may be required.
2. Rear Extension
Modern owners not only want a dedicated dining space, something that Adze cottage lacks, but one which allows entertaining. This can be hard to provide in small houses, let alone old properties designed for the lifestyle of an 18th century family. However, extending out to the rear of the Adze cottage off a newly extended and refitted kitchen could achieve just that. On a relatively small footprint that would have minimal impact on the road facing aspects of the building, one could create an eminently useable space that linked both the original section of the cottage and its garden. I would envisage a box construction, with bi-fold doors opening onto a newly created patio (south facing) and a low profile roof lantern to bring maximum daylight into the new space. A living roof would continue at roughly the height of the ground uphill of the retaining wall to the north and reduce the visual impact from further up the lane. Holding the extension off the main building using architectural glass will bring more light into the kitchen, add a much more modern look to the design and again be more appealing to planning authorities by clearly delineating the old and the new.
I would recommend matching the stonework of the existing house as closely as possible. Adze cottage is made from a type of ironstone found locally and mined only at one quarry (Great Tew Quarry). Sourcing material from them would guarantee quality and authenticity but as they are the only supplier, you will pay for it. As an aside, Architectural Designer Charlie Luxton of Building the Dream fame, is currently recording his self build journey and is using this very ironstone from the same supplier. If you haven’t seen it, his is a great example of building an ultra modern house in a vernacular setting (Charlie Luxton Builds a House).
From the rear aspect, removing the 1960s door and window (bottom right in the photo below) will get rid of a poorly matched addition and provide a large opening to link the kitchen with the proposed dining room extension. As I pointed out before, this doorway makes it into the listing, however I can imagine this is one feature a conservation officer wouldn’t have many qualms over removing.
The final thought I have on structural changes to the property would be the most simple. Currently, parking is provided on public ground some 100m further down the road. Removing a section of the stone wall on the southernmost section of the site would provide enough space for a single car, or possibly two. Handily, planning application to do this had already been approved (Cherwell District Planning Application 17/02357/F). A gravel driveway, ideally consisting of ironstone chippings to match the house, would be in keeping with the wider property.
Overall, these changes would have minimal impact on the amount of useable space around the property, meaning that you could keep the cottage garden while creating a more private outdoor entertaining space at the rear of the building.
In terms of restoring the cottage to its past glory, I could write a blog post the length of War and Peace describing every restorative fix and replacement fitting that would be needed. I won’t. I will instead look at a few of cottage’s stand out features and hopefully bring up a few issues that arise when working on a house this age.
The Solid Floor
A Cottage Look?
Over a year has passed since the property was sold and it appears that the current owners have applied for planning permission.
What could the renovated cottage possibly be worth if one came to sell it? With an older home, especially a grade II* listed property, it can be hard to precisely define how much you could get as they are so rare. While you may be marketing to a reduced pool of buyers, those who are interested are usually willing to pay a premium. A quick search of the local market (at the time of sale) brought up the following two properties. Note that they are all only Grade II listed, so aren’t a direct comparison. Without giving a firm answer (what a wuss!), I would expect with the changes I’ve suggested to certainly get over the 500k mark when you came to sell Adze.
The Green, Shenington. For sale with Hamptons (link). Guide Price £499,500
I would say this was the nearest in looks, layout and age, with an almost identical main house floor plan and (I assume) an extension added later which houses a small study. Smartly done out inside, I would maintain the renovation plan I have suggested would create much more useable space than seen in this property – there are lots of ‘nooks and crannies’ here. It was on the market for almost £250k above the asking price of Adze. It eventually sold for £455,000.
Thimblestone Cottage, Shenington. For sale with Fisher German (link). Guide Price £385,000.
Another Grade II listed cottage on the Shenington village green. Smaller garden but a similar layout inside with a similar sized extension. Not quite as nice internally as the property above but note the bread oven off the inglenook fireplace. On the market for £385,000. Sold for £362,000.
What do you think about the property? How would you go about renovating and improving Adze cottage? Let me know your thoughts below.