How the challenges of converting a derelict barn and the restoration of a Tudor guildhall were tackled head on by Simon Bennett and Jill Wilshaw
The original timber frame was repaired using green oak. Image: James Brittain
Simon Bennet and Jill Wilshaw bought the rundown barn in 2006, with the intention of restoring the adjacent guildhall and convert the barn into a three -bedroom family home, connecting the two with a glazed cube.
The smaller building was thought to be the UK’s smallest surviving Tudor civic building, and of national importance. So, getting its restoration right was of paramount importance. On the show, Kevin McCloud was keen to offer his advice and views on how the project should be approached.
Both buildings were stripped back to their original timber frames, repairs made and materials such as lambswool and fibreboard used to gain high levels of insulation.
In the episode, Kevin said he expected the connecting cube to be more flass and less oak. Image: James Brittain
The couple didn’t realise just how special their development was until archaeologist Leigh Alston carried out a routine survey, as part of a pre-requisite for planning permission and discovered that what they thought was a Grade II listed cowshed was actually a medieval building of national importance.
Simon used Leigh’s archaeological report as a blueprint for the plans and hired architect Keith Day of Keith Day Architects to draw up a design.
He then hired a builder on a fixed-price contract, so that any overspend was the builder’s responsibility. There was no project manager, although Simon regularly visited the site. ‘If you have a good architect and a good builder, who is employed on a turnkey contract, you don’t need a project manager,’ said Simon.
The oak staircase winds its way up to the galleried first floor landing. Image: James Brittain
Inside the barn, the layout on the ground floor was configured with a spacious kitchen and living area, bisected by a generous, double-height entrance hall with expanses of glazing to let light into the rest of Simon and Jill’s home.
The arrangement of rooms on the first floor included the main bedroom with en-suite bathroom, plus two more bedrooms, a bathroom and a study. Jill expressed her concerns, as the scheme developed, that the rooms looked a bit small.
The grand hall
A new glazed, oak-framed cube connects the barn to the guildhall, which became the couple’s impressive dining room. ‘It was quite important that this room was going to be how I wanted it’ Jill said. For her, this building would be a sanctuary from the modern world.
‘Simon and our son, Christopher, wanted a big flat-screen TV, but you can’t do that. It had to be without too much modern stuff,’ she said. ‘There’s just something about this place, I don’t want a lot of modern noise around.’
Limestone tiles replaced the original brick floor in the dining room, to help brighten the space. Image: James Brittain
A balancing act
The couple painstakingly recreating the original medieval roof and conceding to Kevin McCloud’s pleas to conserve some of the later additions to the guildhall, such as the Victorian wall panels, which feature markings to ward off evil spirits.
Kevin hailed the project as an absolute delight but did regret the loss of some of the guildhall’s former higgledy-piggledy character. But the couple had no regrets. ‘Conservation was never on my mind, Simon said.
Simon was keen to use reclaimed materials, the doors into the living room came from his grandmother's house. Image: James Brittain