It's difficult to know where to begin, as so much has happened since the last article. Many of these happenings have been according to programme, but something that we couldn’t plan for was the great British weather. Large parts of the country were subjected to torrential rain and driving winds during the latter part of 2000, the rain particularly being positively relentless. Rather than try to relive the events and describe them for you here, I thought it would be more explicit if I shared with you my contemporary reports to the Trustees:
13th December 2000
I am writing this from Chawton House as I sit and gaze out over the lake waiting for Darcy to rise from the water . . .
The BBC’s interpretation of Pride and Prejudice might be a little poetic, but I’m serious about the lake! We have been battling with the elements for months now and marvelling at the Winterbourne/Lavant stream, which runs through Church Meadow, and which has been unseasonably bearing water. Over the last few weeks the water level has gradually risen, together with the water level in the Dell adjacent to Chawton House Stables. We have been using a pump to keep the level in the Dell down since early November. As soon as we emptied Chawton House Stables in preparation for the restoration works we were able to lift the cover on the well in the utility room and watch the water level steadily rise at the same rate as that in the Dell. We have recorded a rise of nearly one meter overnight.
Aquatic events had reached their peak, or so we thought. Preventative measures were instigated and we deployed 350 sandbags around Chawton House Stables and Coach House Cottage. The pump was kept running intermittently over the weekend, but this week has seen further extreme weather, including driving rain and strong wind. As more local roads were closed around Chawton the water in the Winterbourne continued to rise until yesterday evening, when the culverts finally gave up the struggle, allowing the Winterbourne to flow freely over the main drive.
I was on dog-sitting duty last night for Helen (the Housekeeper), and stayed with Casper at Coach House Cottage. This seemed a very opportune decision at 7:00 p.m. since it saved me from having to battle with the elements to get home. I wasn't so sure by 8.00 p.m., however, with horizontal rain, gale force winds and water breaching the sandbags to lap around the step to Coach House Cottage and flow into the garages. Adrian was on hand to keep the pump running, so we started to move the contents of the garage out of harm's way. A quick scout around Chawton House Stables with a torch did not reveal anything untoward, but the level of the water in the well was still rising.
At 11.00 p.m., Adrian and Hector (Adrian’s dog) completed their day's work and Casper and I thought about calling it a day. At just after midnight, our sleep was disturbed. The fire brigade had arrived in force. Their pumping activities continued until after 3.00 a.m.
Things were substantially worse in the morning. We are being lashed with horizontal rain again, the church is only reachable in waders, and the Winterbourne is up to the top of the middle rail of the fence. We are thinking of exchanging the Range Rover for a speedboat.
Over the past ten-hour period, we have pumped 70,000 gallons of water from the Dell using a 2" pump. Fortunately we have now managed to source a 6" pump, which should be with us this afternoon, and which will pump 1.4 million gallons over a 24-hour period.
Watch this space for the next thrilling installment!!
19th December 2000
Once more I write to you from Chawton House. However, my spirits are somewhat dampened, the team is rather battle-weary, and our mainstay (a.k.a. henchman Adrian) is working double shifts and is in desperate need of rest.
We are now struggling to keep the water levels under control with certain additives. The sewer is flooded and backing up the manholes. It has already flooded neighbouring gardens and courtyards and is working its way upstream. Consequently CHL, Coach House Cottage, CHS and our near neighbours have no toilet facilities. Thankfully Adrian has been able to track down some chemical toilets for use on-site. Helen’s domestic arrangements are a little more problematic and it looks like our neighbours will have to evacuate their premises.
Adrian and the ‘gardening’ team are dealing with sandbags, a mixed collection of electric pumps, some submersible, and our big 6" diesel pump. These pumps need regular attention over each 24-hour period. Thames Water made some impact on the problem at the end of last week by installing three additional culverts underneath the back drive to increase the flow.
Paul Andersen, our usual supplier of farm diesel, unexpectedly ran out yesterday, but Adrian came to the rescue again by securing the loan of a 1000-litre diesel tank and an alternative source of diesel from farms local to him at Chalton. In the event we do run out Netherly Farm Partnership has actually donated the diesel tank to the charity, so I will be thanking them in the time-honoured way—alcohol! Old Farm Partnership has sold us 350 litres of diesel, which should last until the end of the week. This is definitely a serious case of ‘rain stopping play.’ Our current focus is preventing more water damage, especially ingress to CHS. We are managing to keep work on site progressing in an orderly fashion. Best endeavours are the order of the day.
To put this in perspective, Farringdon is virtually impassable with about twelve properties under two feet of water and the long-term forecast is not promising.
Ensuring you of my best attention and regular updates . . .
The gardening team, Joe and Chris, supplemented by Helen and directed and aided by Adrian, actually filled and placed over 1000 sandbags!
As mentioned in the previous edition of TFS, 2001 is our key restoration year. The contents of Chawton House Stables are now securely stored and repair and restoration work to the original stable block is well underway. The current focus is on the internal work, external work being programmed for the Spring, hopefully under improved weather conditions.
The repair and restoration work to the stone-mullioned windows will be carried out by stone masons utilising traditional methods of working with lime mortar, which is unsuitable for cold-weather work.
The remaining outbuildings to the rear of Chawton House are now fully repaired and restored, providing temporary office accommodation for the whole team. In the old Game Larder, the original transoms (horizontal crossbeams) bearing meat hooks and marked with the days of the week have been restored. There is no transom for Sunday as hunting of game was not permitted on this day. Eventually the buildings will variously be office and mess accommodation for outside staff, external toilet facilities and storerooms. The final building houses the well and pump which has been fully restored to working order. We are now able to demonstrate the use of a three-cylinder stirrup pump to extract Chawton House water from a depth of 56 feet. This pump was made around 1850 by a local engineering firm called Hetherington Brothers of Alton. The electric motor which drives the pump, dating from the 1920's has also been restored. We believe the pump to have originally been driven by a steam-powered beam engine.
Now that we have completely vacated Chawton House, the contractors are making unimpeded progress. Internal preparatory works to date have included the protection of early wall coverings and decorative newels on the main stair, and the installation of temporary support to the ceilings, preventing the original lath and plasterwork from falling whilst work is carried out under the floors above. Extensive areas of panelling have been removed to allow the insertion of cabling and fire-proofing. Externally, after a slow start, the scaffolding and temporary roof over the west range is taking shape. The front steps, Knight family crest above the main entrance, and windows are all protected.
Outside, work has continued with the planting of trees and shrubs in Church Copse and in the Upper Terrace area. Students from local Sparsholt College have gained practical experience on the estate by clearing and logging wind-blown trees and planting additional trees in the Park to form further clumps. We are currently exploring the possibility of utilising volunteers to do some of the restoration work within the walled garden. So, if any TFS readers are interested in digging or have any bricklaying/repointing experience, please get in touch.