Waiting for a train……..

Now, there are offices and places of work, and there are offices and places of work!

I recently visited an office with a great wow factor. Was it a building of new modern design, sustainably constructed with all new ‘eco-bling’ such as PV panels, mechanical heating ventilation, greenroof, etc? Well no, actually it was a train station built more than 150 years ago.

Needham station

The ‘palace like’ station at Needham

The station at Needham Market, originally designed by Frederic Barns for the Eastern Union Railway Company was constructed in 1847/48 at a cost of £5,000 against a budget of £3,150. The Needham station was officially opened in 1849 with two trains passing through carrying more than 1,100 passengers and it is reported, often exceeding 30 miles per hour! At a time when Needham was not even a market town, the station was referred to by some as a ‘palace like station’.  Indeed the design resembled more a country house than a working station.

The station is of Jacobean style with true symmetrical design, with two storey bays, mullioned windows, gables and tall decorative chimney stacks.  Constructed from Suffolk red and white bricks in a diamond pattern under a red clay peg tiled roof,    Caen Limestone was used for the cornices, window cills and the doorway arch to compliment the brickwork.  Originally the end towers of the building were capped in Dutch ogee roofs typical of the period but unfortunately, due to deterioration, they were replaced with flat roofs in the 1920’s.

Apart from the changes in the early 1920’s the station remained operational until the mid 1960’s when it was closed. However, public pressure resulted in the station being re-opened in 1971 under the new name of Needham Market.  Whilst trains still stop at Needham Market the station is unattended and tickets have to be bought from a machine or on the train.

The station was awarded Grade II listed status in 1977, but unfortunately the occupants neglected the gem in their midst and the station fell into disrepair until eventually the ground floor collapsed into the basement.  The station, standing lonely and dejected, was subject to attacks by vandals who stole many of the original features.  It was boarded up in the 1980’s but was ravaged by rising damp, leaking roofs, wet and dry rot.  What a sad end to a glorious building.

Needham Market Station

The Pheonix from the flames

Or was it?  Of course not, for how would I have been able to visit?  Like a beautiful phoenix rising from the flames, the station now stands proud and glorious once again in Station Yard, an area that it has helped to regenerate.  In 1998 Mid Suffolk District Council threatened the owners, Spacia Limited, with a repair notice enforceable on a Grade II listed building and vital external repairs were carried out at a cost of £350,000 in 2000.

During 2001, NPS property consultants approached the owners to refurbish the interior of the building and proposed becoming the new tenants of the building.  A further £250,000 was spent refurbishing the interior to produce the remarkable offices that are there today.  To satisfy the building’s listing all the windows are single glazed, there is no internal wall insulation and all the materials used in the refurbishment are as close to the originals as possible. It is certainly not an environmentally friendly building of today’s standards, but NPS have installed energy efficiency boilers, low energy lighting and equipment.  The running cost of this building are higher than for normal heating and energy loss is high, however this is all compensated by the fact that the building has been transformed and brought back to life by the current tenants.

Once inside the building, it has a charm of its own.  Generous office space is provided over three floors including the basement offering an inspiring place to work.  In the middle of the basement offices, covered under glass you can look down into a well that was used to provide water for the steam trains of yesteryear.

The conference room on the second floor looks out over the platform to the meadows beyond where sheep are quietly grazing and if you close your eyes the history of the building wraps itself around you and you can almost hear the whistle of train from a bygone era.

A fantastic building providing a wonderful environment in which to dream, oops work!

Waiting patiently for a train .......

Waiting patiently for a train…….


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Sustainability 2012

Sustainability 2012The Norfolk and Suffolk Chambers of Commerce held their third Sustainability seminar in Norwich this month.  Once again the event was well attended with some good exhibitors to talk to, all with sustainability at the core of their business.

The speakers this year were exceptional and from a range of industries.  Dr Andy Wood, CEO for Adnams explained the business case for sustainability advocating that you should keep it real and keep it relevant.  By introducing sustainable practices Adnams have become 50% more efficient, have lowered their running costs, seen improvements in health and safety, staff motivation and moral.  Adnams have invested in new brewery machinery which is 30% more efficient, uses less water and produces higher yields from raw materials and an anerobic digester to process 12,500 tonnes of food waste from their pubs and hotels to bio-methane which is sold back to the grid.  Future plans include the introduction of  vehicles that run on bio methane and the installation of electrical charging points for cars in the car parks of their refurbished pubs.  It’s no wonder that they won the Queens Award for Sustainable Development 2012 – congratulations Adnams.

Tom McGarry, Communications Manager Sizewell C from EDF Energy, spoke about the plans to develop Sizewell C.  The project is in the consultation stage at present but EDF are hoping to have 2 nuclear reactors in Suffolk by 2025 providing affordable, secure and low carbon electricity.  They believe that the construction of Sizewell C, lasting over a period of 7 or 8 years, will bring a huge boost to the East Anglian economy in terms of jobs especially to the construction and related industries.  Once up and running Sizewell C will need skilled staff to operate and maintain the facility and it is therefore important that the region establishes construction skills centres able to provide the training and the skills required by the workforce.

George Padelopoulos, Senior Sustainability and Ethical Trader Manager of B&Q spoke about the vast eco-refurbishment sector.  B&Q estimate that the sector could be worth between £30-£40 billion pounds per annum by 2020 part driven by Government’s Green Deal initiative, the Code for Sustainable Homes and changes to Part L of the Building Regulations.  They believe that the key to encouraging refurbishment is communication.  Clear explanation of the benefits of refurbishment and a simplified process for accessing funding under the Green Deal will be paramount to its success.

Dr John French and Benedict Binns of the Adapt Low Carbon Group announced the details of the Centre for the Built Environment which will be housed in the new UEA Low Carbon Exemplar Building.  This building is a £15 million project to be constructed from renewable materials, supported by ERDF and BBSRC which has ambitious sustainability targets aiming for BREEAM Outstanding and Passivhaus Certification.  For those of us who are passionate about sustainable construction this is a very exciting project and is worthy of a blog in its own right – so watch this space!

Mark Pendlington, Group Director of Anglian Water, explained the need for a Green Economy.  With energy, food and water demand all set to increase by between 30 and 50% by 2030, global economic problems coupled with political uncertainty we are certainly entering trying times.  East Anglia has a very long coastline, 30% of which is below sea level, and is one of the driest regions in the UK.  The water shortages of the region will be exacerbated by the planned increase of 1 million homes over the next 25 years and the increase in water demand this brings.  Mark believes that we need to see strong sustainable and balanced growth, making the most of our natural capital and social assets whilst allowing low carbon initiatives to drive innovation.  These beliefs are key to the manifesto being produced by the New Anglia LEP (of which Andy Wood is Chair) which will be presented to the Government next month as a blueprint on which to base its strategy to build a pathway to a green sustainable economy.

Sustainable Planet EarthBut it was the final speaker who stole the show.  An inspirational man, Gunther Pauli, an entrepreneur, lecturer and author, who encouraged us to change the rules of the game, change the way we think.  He encourages us to make the most of what we have, to not only protect but to re-generate.  His mantre is not to cut costs, but rather to generate more value added.  He believes that sustainability is the capacity of us to respond to the basic needs of the population with the resources we have available by following nature’s example – he referred to it as Economies of Scope.  His presentation was fun, lively, visual – full of examples and totally encouraging and inspirational.  If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, do.  Meanwhile, you can visit his website at www.blueeconomy.de

And if that wasn’t enough, there was plenty of time to network with like minded people over lunch before attending the workshop sessions.  There was something for everyone with workshops on Passivhaus development, the Renewable Heat Incentive and Sustainability where lively debate was encouraged.

Congratulations to the Norfolk and Suffolk Chambers of Commerce, I’m already looking forward to Sustainability 2013.

Sustainability 2012

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The wonder of Willis

Willis BuildingStanding on the corner of Friars Street is, without doubt, one of Ipswich’s most iconic buildings, the Willis building.  Standing proud with its smokey glass exterior the building seems to exude quiet professionalism of the modern era.  By fascinating coincidence, its neighbour is another of Ipswich’s iconic buildings, the Unitarian Meeting House which was opened in 1700.  Both are grade 1 listed and stand next to each other complimenting the style and grace of the different construction eras.

The Willis building, designed by Sir Norman Foster, was completed in 1975.  The building has won many awards for its design and achieved its Grade 1 listed status in 1999 and still remains the Country’s youngest listed building.

Back in the 1970’s the building design was thought to be at the pioneering edge of architecture.  Not only was the building designed to consume 35% less electricity of a conventional building at the time, but it challenged the whole accepted thinking about office building design.

Providing 220,000 sq ft of air conditioned office space over three floors, the building is constructed from a grid of concrete pillars 14 meters apart which support the cantilevered concrete floor slabs.

Central atrium escalatorsEscalators to all floors rise up through the central atrium, which is brightly decorated in refreshing lemon and lime colours, leading to in my opinion, the pièce de résistance, the fabulous roof garden providing panoramic views of Ipswich.  The manicured lawns and hedging of the roof garden provide the serenity of any town park, especially on a sunny day, for staff to relax and enjoy their lunch.  Willis occasionally hold functions on their famous roof garden on a summer’s evening, to which I am grateful to have attended and to have been able to enjoy this most wonderful of settings.

The exterior of the building is shrouded in more than 1,000 panes of smoked glass curtain walling which seems to add to a touch of mystery to the building.

When the building was originally constructed there was a swimming pool on the ground floor for staff use.  The whole idea of the building was to provide new social dimensions to the workplace.  The swimming pool, restaurant and roof top garden were all designed to bring about a sense of community in the work place.

Unfortunately, the pool was closed in the late 1980’s due to lack of use and the opening of other facilities nearby.  However, due to the building’s listing, the pool has not gone but rather has been covered to provide more office space.  English Heritage approved glass floor tiles were installed to highlight the pool edge and depth markers can still be seen around the office space that was the pool.

An amazing building, nestling in the heart of Suffolk’s County town; the Willis building is a thoroughly modern building, pioneering of its time, sitting comfortably amongst its historic neighbours providing a quality working environment for Willis employees.

If you would like to know more about the Willis building, contact sarah.tanner@willis.com

The Willis Roof Garden

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Saxtead Green Windmill

I was fortunate to be invited with the CIOB to visit the English Heritage Saxtead Green Saxtead Green WindmillWindmill by the owner who is a CIOB member.

20 lucky members were treated to a fascinating tour of the windmill which has been in it’s current family ownership since 1873 and milled by them until 1947.  The Saxtead Green Windmill is a post mill that revolves on its base.  It has a three storey roundhouse and four patent sails which are carried on a cast iron windshaft and winded by a fantail.

The ‘roots’ of the mill can be traced back to the 1200’s and indeed the only truly original piece is thought to be the post that runs up through the centre of the mill.

It was with some trepidation that members began to climb the steps up to the mill without PPE!  Once inside it was certainly worth the climb.  Our guide explained to us how the mill worked, showed us the magnificent millstones that were used to grind the corn.  Each stone weighs a tonne and is made from French burrstones from Northern France.  Once in working situ (which in itself would have been no mean feat – it’s a long way up!) the stones would have needed regular redressing by the millwright to ensure efficiency.  The hardness of the stones would cause small flakes of metal to break away and become embedded in the Millwrights hands turning them black.  The miller would always ask the millwright to ‘show us your metal’ proving that they were an experienced craftsman and turn away any that had lilywhite hands.

Our guide explained to us the dangers of a working mill – highlighted with many funny stories, although I am not sure that the one about the donkey and cart being tied to the sails and spun around whilst the miller was in the local pub is quite true but it did produce a smile or two.

Great care had to be taken when working in the mill as there are four trap doors that allowed access for the corn to be raised up to the millstones.  With mechanisation, many bands and belts ran across the mill and great care had to be taken never to allow the millstones to rub together as sparks could ignite and destroy the whole mill.

It’s quite amazing to think how people used to have to work without the emphasis we have today on health and safety!




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Is it time for carrots??

Carrots as incentives

We all hear the great carbon debate that’s going on around us; we are aware that we have to cut our carbon emissions to save the planet but what exactly does that mean?  And what is carbon anyway?  That was the question put to the Suffolk Branch CIOB members at last months’ CPD event in Ipswich by David Daniels, Regional Chair of AECB and Senior Consultant at Riverway Group.

Carbon is hard to define and quantify to the man in the street.  It can’t be seen, heard or weighed; we hear about a tonne of carbon but exactly what does that look like?  We are all aware of what it is doing to the environment but we cannot actually see it causing holes in the ozone layer or raising global temperatures.  Much has been made of the Government’s carbon reduction targets set for 2050 but in order to get to grips with the problem it is probably worthwhile quantifying it into something more tangible, something we can all relate to.

45% of the UK’s carbon emissions come from our buildings – that’s equivalent to driving 231,000,000,000 miles in a car each year!!! A long trip.

Whilst the Government has introduced lots of regulation to help with carbon emissions reductions such as the Code for Sustainable Homes and changes to the Building Regulations, these are all ‘sticks’ and do little to change the thinking of the general public.  So perhaps now is the time to introduce the ‘carrot’ to help bring about a change in mindset.  We need to incentivise carbon reduction in order to make it happen on the scale that we need to be anywhere near the 80% reduction on 1990 levels by 2050 that the Government has signed up to.

In the last ten years energy prices have increased by 114% whilst the average salary has only increased by 47% over the same period pushing more families into fuel poverty.

As with most problems, communication and understanding is the key.  We can already achieve the required standards for zero carbon with existing technology and skills – we just don’t.  It will take a whole shift in thinking away from initial costs of designing and constructing a building to the whole life costs of that building.  This will not only reduce carbon emissions but reduce energy costs too.  It is calculated that by following the whole system design approach for a building the heating requirements can be reduced by 90% which leads to the related savings in carbon emissions and energy costs.

Here in East Anglia it is estimated that we will need to construction 1.5 million new homes by 2050.  These houses will be built to the current regulations and therefore not add to our carbon problem.  However, we have some of the oldest housing stock in the developed world in our region.  We currently have 2.7 million dwellings in East Anglia of which, two-thirds will still be here in 2050 and 850,000 of them are over 60 years old.  One in four of them are built of solid wall construction.  Consequently, it is the retrofit of our existing properties that is the white elephant in the room and where the most consideration needs to be applied.

We are a nation of home owners and as such the UK has the smallest percentage of social housing in Europe therefore making large scale retrofit difficult and expensive.  We are unable to follow the example of many of our European neighbours where they retrofit whole streets and indeed whole communities at one time.  Due to the pattern of ownership in the UK retrofit here is rather a piece meal affair with very few co-ordinated retrofit schemes taking place.  Socially in the UK retrofit works but economically it doesn’t.

More effective communication about the benefits of retrofit to not only lower carbon emissions, but arguably more importantly to the man in the street, lower energy bills and to provide a more comfortable  living environment, will bring about the mind set change that we need to ignite the demand to retrofit our existing housing stock.  This move to better quality housing may also attract investment from pension funds and the like into the housing sector, which in turn will help sustain the refurbishments.

Win, win it would seem, so come on more carrots please!!

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The Duchess in the Treehouse

Whilst this is not strictly a blog about property, it is about my favourite building in Ipswich.  I was very fortunate to be invited to help out at East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice (EACH) Treehouse with the visit of the Duchess of Cambridge this week.

Of course I would help out, well how could I refuse?  I was appointed to the fundraising team and assigned the task of handing out union jack flags and commemorative programmes in return for a donation to EACH.

Whilst slightly chilly when I left home at 6.30 am, by the time the crowds started arriving the sun was shining brightly down on the Treehouse.  There was a lovely atmosphere with a buzz of excitment.  The crowd was made up of people of all ages, all smiling and poised to wave flags and cheer whilst trying to catch a glimpse of the Duchess or even better to shake her hand.

She arrived on time and emerged from her car to huge cheers from the crowd and the constant clicking of cameras.  On her way into the hospice she stopped to speak to members of the crowd and to local school children who were in waiting in eager anticipation for her.

She was given a tour of the hospice and its wonderful facilities and then she met with children and families who use the services of the Treehouse.  Her first public address was broadcast to the crowds in the gardens outside who gave her raptuous applause when she finished.  As she came out of the Treehouse she was watched by the adoring crowds as she planted a tree in commemoration of her visit and then the patient crowd were treated to another walkabout.

She was very natural and spoke to as many people as she could, shaking hands and smiling for photographs.  Not only is she an asset to EACH but to the Royal Family and the Country too (something that I am sure William is only too well aware of!).

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Can developers and trees live in harmony on construction sites?

Oasis of harmonyWith planning and consultation, apparently they can.

The Suffolk Branch of the CIOB held a cpd event last week entitled Building Next to Trees.  The guest speaker was Richard Ravencroft of Ravenscroft Arboricultural Services who gave a great overview of his work and the regulations concerning trees on construction sites.

Trees add substantial value to our environment, improving the landscape, giving shade, improving air quality and playing a part in reducing the effects of flash flooding.  They have a great impact on the environment’s biodiversity providing food and shelter for birds, insects and wildlife.

It is reported that trees provide a 7-15% increase in the value of property as well as providing natural shade and helping with the function of the building.  Indeed we have a long standing affinity with trees – many of us live in houses named ‘The Hollies’ or ‘The Oaks’ or perhaps live in Willow Crescent, Pine Walk or Hornbeam Avenue.

Despite the popular myth that a tree’s root system is almost a reflection of the shape of the tree above ground, the majority of the root system is no more than 600 mm below ground and extends along the surface to approximately 25 times the diameter of the tree trunk.

Trees, as living things need oxygen, water and nutrients to survive and thrive.  In order for us to enjoy the benefits that trees provide we must ensure that they receive the elements they need to flourish.

‘British Standard BS5837:2005 was established to “achieve a satisfactory and sustainable relationship between trees and structures”.  In order to achieve this it is recommended that contractors/planners:

  • assess when trees are appropriate to retain –   check that the tree is in good health and is appropriate for the approved plans for the site
  •  Identify conflicts and constraints on site – ensure that the tree’s value is appropriate to the construction
  •  Decide upon the best means to prevent damage to retained trees during development –  protect the tree with appropriate screening methods, ensure there is no compaction of the root system and that no construction materials, ie, builders sand, lime, etc  damage the health of the tree by getting into the root system
  •  Integrate existing and future trees into the construction scheme – accurate forward planning and an assessment by a tree specialist with ensure harmony

Trees provide a wealth of benefits to construction developments however, they can be easily damaged and need to be considered throughout the project.  Early consultation and forward planning avoids costs and time delays and ensures compliance with current regulations as well the benefits of incorporating some fantastic old trees into construction projects as shown below.


The Central Milton Keynes 125 year old Mid Sumer Oak Tree in the extension of the shopping plaza (source:  The Urban Forestry Organisation Limited).

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Now that’s a basement…..

Ickworth House Rotunda

Ickworth House Rotunda

The first Suffolk Branch CIOB visit of the new year was to the basement of Ickworth House, a National Trust gem to be found near Bury St Edmunds.  A basement you say, why on earth would you want to visit a basement?

Well this is not just any old dusty basement.  The National Trust have undertaken, with the aid of a Heritage Lottery Fund grant, to refurbish the basement of Ickworth House back to it’s 1910 condition to be a showcase of Edwardian technology and domestic life.  The plan is to transform the kitchen and domestic areas to allow visitors an insite into the lives of the estate servants and staff who supported the family.  There will be a complete contrast between the splendor of the Rotunda where the family regularly entertained and the hubub of the working area ‘below stairs’.  Perhaps the work has been inspired by the success of the television programme Downton Abbey!

The construction of Ickworth House by the Hervey family began in 1795 but was not completed until 1841.  The House has a magnificent curved frontage with a domed central Rotunda and two balancing wings.  The decorative friezes of the Rotunda depict scenes from ancient Olympic games and are truly something to be seen.  The original intention was for the family to live in the magnificent Rotunda  with its splendid 105 foot high ceilings, however, this did not prove suitable for family living and so they moved to the more convenient and comfortable East Wing.

With the family living in the East Wing and the Rotunda providing space for splendid entertainment and social gatherings, the West Wing was predominantly a service void.

Down in the basement, with its scrubbed flagstone floors and high ceilings the servants prevailed.  This was their domain where they would work hard to provide for the family above.    The basement housed a finishing kitchen for the food required for the lavish parties held in the Rotunda.  The wine and ale cellars and the ice box were also housed in the basement and dumb waiters provided the means of getting the refreshments up to the family above.  As with any efficient Edwardian servants quarters, the bells from the rooms above are cleary visible and you can almost hear them ringing as you walk around the corridors summoning you to attend.

Surface mounted pipeworks

Surface mounted pipeworks

However, as with any true engine room, the basement houses the services that allowed the house to run smoothly.  The boiler for the heating and hot water  together with the exposed pipeworks used to service the house above, have been reinstated.

Huge water storage tanks can be found in the basement which were used to store the rainwater run-off from the roof for use in domestic chores.  Any excess water was released into the moat for use in the gardens and parklands – an original rainwater harvesting system!

A tour of the basement clearly shows that the family grapsed the new technology that was being developed during the period and were eager to incorporate it into their home.  Now in the 21st century many people have trouble accepting technological developments and are reluctant to incorporate them into their property without a ‘back-up’ system, so just imagine what forward thinking people the Hervey family were in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when they embraced the new technologies.

The finishing kitchen is really something to behold and certainly my favourite room in the basement as I am sure it will be with many visitors when the basement opens to the public next year.  Prior to the refurbishment it was a book shop with bookshelves all around.  When the room was stripped out the orignal white glass wall tiles and the cooking range were exposed – all now lovingly restored to their former glory.   Some kitchen furnishings have been specially made by a local craftsman with wood from the estate to complete the look.  It’s amazing what you can find behind plasterboard if only you are brave enough to pull it off!

Edwardian kitchen furniture

Edwardian kitchen furniture

The refurbishment of the basement is a great project and will complement the very splendid Rotunda.  The two faces of Ickworth House will, I am sure, be appreciated by many visitors when it opens next year.

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The Green Thing

Planet Earth

Planet Earth

As well as being passionate about property, I am also passionate about sustainability.  We live on a beautiful planet, however we don’t own it.  It’s there to sustain us all and whilst we have the ‘right’ to enjoy it I think we also have the ‘responsibility’ to protect and preserve it for future generations.

In my area, construction, much is being done to promote ‘green’ technologies and materials.  The Government has introduced the ‘Green Deal’ to help cut carbon emissions and save householders money on their energy bills.  They have also introduced the Feed In Tariff (FIT) and the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) schemes to encourage the use of ‘green’ technologies in the home.

Sustainability reaches into every area of our daily lives.  Waste, for example is a huge problem – only last night I heard that the average UK restaurant throws away 21 tonnes of food waste per year, totally scandalous with so many starving people in the world!  On a recent visit to a waste management plant I was overawed by the amount that is sent to landfill by households each year.

I believe it is about education.  Opening our eyes to the problems and possible solutions will bring about a sea-change in public opinion and consequently way we live our lives.  Trudy Thompson of Bricks and Bread is a great advocate of a sustainable lifestyle and does much to educate people and promote sustainable living.  Bricks and Bread are holding a two day Route to the Future seminar at Losely Park in Guildford on 1st and 2nd October – take a look at their website for details of the event http://routetothefuture.com/

This morning I received this e-mail and thought how true it is and wanted to post it to a wider audience.

” The Green Thing”

“In the line at the store, the cashier told an older woman that she should bring her own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment.  The woman apologized to him and explained, “We didn’t have the green thing back in my day.”

The clerk responded, ” That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment.”

He was right — our generation didn’t have the green thing in its day.

Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store.  The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles over and over… So they really were recycled.

But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building.  We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks.

But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day.

Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind.  We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 230 volts.  Wind and solar power really did dry the clothes.

Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new designer” clothing.

But that old lady is right; we didn’t have the green thing back in our day.

Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of Auckland.

In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us.  When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used a wadded up old newspaper to cushion it, not Styrofoam or Plastic Bubble Wrap.

Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn.   We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working, so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity.

But she’s right; we didn’t have the green thing back then.

We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water.

We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull.

But we didn’t have the green thing back then.

Back then, people took a tram or a bus and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their mums into a 24-hour taxi service.

We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint.

But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then?”

Unfortunately, I do not know the originator of the e-mail but I agree with the sentiment.

I believe that no matter, how, why or whose fault it is we got here, we are here!  We must all pull together and do ‘our bit’ to preserve this wonderful world upon which we live to ensure that future generations can enjoy it too.  The world ‘its in our hands’.

The World in our hands

The World - it's in our hands

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An Englishman’s home truly is his castle……

Christchurch Mansion

Christchurch Mansion

On one of those gloriously sunny days we had towards the end of last month I took myself off for a visit to Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich.  The park is glorious.  Nearly 90 acres of peace and tranquility (well it was still school holidays), lovely parklands to wander through, water to watch and magnificent trees providing shade for those who wanted to rest a while and watch the world go by.

But for me, being mad about buildings, it was all about the mansion.  The first surprise was that it was free to enter; the second that there is a daily guided tour of the house which is also free.  Fantastic value, – your money is not required, just your time and appreciation.

The tour of the mansion took in all the rooms, which is at the moment displaying some of  Royal Ballet costumes as well as the Iron Age gold coins that were found near Wickham Market in 2008.  The furniture and artefacts were truly something to be seen and appreciated.  However, it must be said that the Wolsey Art Gallery stole the show with its wonderful collection of Gainsborough and Constable paintings.

The history of the house is amazing.  Starting out as a priory in the 12th Centrury it was seized in 1536 by Cardinal Wolsey to fund a college in Ipswich, only to be seized once again by Henry VIII and eventually sold in 1545 to with Withypole family, successful London merchants.

Edmund Withipoll inherited the building in 1547 and set about renovating it over the next couple of years in typical tudor fashion.  The red brick diamond patterned frontage with the stone corner quoins of the period are still very much in evidence today.  Internally, the kitchen fireplace, ground floor windows and the latin inscription above the door are also still evident.  Translated the inscription reads “Observe frugality in order that you may not run into dissipation” – very good advice indeed!

Several generations later with Elizabeth being the sole survivor of the Withipoll family and English property succession law being what it was, the Mansion passed to the ownership of her husband Leicester Devereux in 1645.  During the Devereux ownership a fire destroyed the roof and the family took the opportunity to remodel the roofline in the fashionable Dutch style of the period installing the ornate attic windows.  The back wall of the Mansion was repositioned to provide more internal space whilst pine panelling and the renowned blue and white delft tiles were added to enhance the internal decoration.

The ownership of the mansion passed to the Fonnereau family in 1735 who in turn decided
to imprint their own personality and improve the property to suit their needs.  During the Fonnereau period a new wing was added on the north east corner of the mansion providing an additional drawing room with a bedroom above.  A corridor was constructed to join the east and west wings at first floor level with a spiral staircase leading down to the hall below.

William Fonnereau, the last member of the family to live in the Mansion, sold the
estate in 1892.  It is with great thanks to Felix Cobbold that the mansion and the grounds were preserved and presented to the people of Ipswich in 1896.

And so over almost 350 years in private ownership, the mansion grew.  Each resident
family made changes and improvements to suit their own requirements; modernising
the property whilst following the fashions and trends of the time.

It became apparent to me whilst walking around the mansion that here in the 21st Century nothing has really changed.  With the introduction the DIY store and countless home make-over television programmes, one could be forgiven for thinking that home improvements are a modern phenomenon.  The history of Christchurch Mansion clearly shows us that it is not.  Englishmen have been stamping their personality on their property and improving their homes and for centuries.   Indeed it has almost become an English pastime, for an Englishman’s home truly is his castle!

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