At the centre of my recent psychological suspense novel Façade sits a Georgian house – The Old Rectory. Once grand, the house is now decaying from lack of maintenance and love, and crumbling like the family who own it and are mired in guilt, grief, bitterness and desire for retribution.
Before Façade was published I spent days cycling around my area taking photos of Georgian properties and old rectories to illustrate blogs and stand as a proxy for The Old Rectory in my book. Living in a Georgian house is like living the dream, isn’t it? All those columns and mouldings; shutters and sash windows, but the price of external beauty is an endless battle to stop the damp, rot and disrepair.
Confession time – like the family in my novel, I live in a two hundred year old Georgian house. My house isn’t grand like The Old Rectory and we were lucky to find it long ago when house prices were in a slump. Our house was dilapidated and our finances already stretched to the limit as I was the main breadwinner while my husband looked after the kids, renovated the house and fitted a small business around their needs. Bringing the house back to life took years. First we dealt with the damp, the rust, the leaking roof, dodgy electrics, bowed exterior wall and the well that flooded the cellar every time it rained.
Until the mid-twentieth century, part of our property had been a shop. Later that was badly converted into a granny annexe. Upstairs the only way to cross the landing was through the family bathroom. We remodelled the old shop into living accommodation, removing the second staircase to the annoyance of our kids because it stopped them racing up one staircase, through the bathroom and down the other stairs.
Heating this ancient house with its rattling sash windows, perma-damp cellar and loft that can’t be insulated costs as much as running a small factory. It’s on a busy main road where lorries rumble past all day long. But I love this house and hardly notice its defects.
Until this weekend.
I was booked to give a Zoom author talk on Friday evening to a women’s group in Croydon so was entirely dependent on a functioning internet connection and that basic of modern life – electricity. The house had other ideas. About two hours before my event, the electrics began cutting out. Normally a quick visit to the control box in the garage to reset everything fixes it. This time it was only staying on for seven or eight minutes at a time before blowing again. We circumnavigated the house disconnecting appliance after appliance to find the guilty one. I was about to open negotiations with our neighbour about running a cable from his house and hitching up to his internet connection when, just in time, we tracked down the cause. The pump in one of the old wells had malfunctioned and it was this that was blowing the power.
Disconnecting the pump is a simple job but the consequences of it not running can be serious. Why would you have a well (actually we have two) and what’s the pump all about anyway? So back in the early 1800s when the house was built the wells would have provided the water supply. Sadly both wells are now useless because over the years the building and continual resurfacing of the nearby main road has led to the surrounding land rising. This has breached the water table so our wells are now contaminated and the water no longer drinkable. Every time it rains the water builds up in the wells and threatens to flood the cellar unless we keep the pumps and back-up pumps running 24/7. We even have a small generator to use in the event of a power cut. As you can see from the photos, these wells and the gubbins of pumps and the cables and power supply that keep them running are anything but attractive.
And so back to my novel Façade where a grander Georgian House, The Old Rectory wheedled its way into my imagination and demanded to sit at the centre of the story. If you enjoy reading about old houses and the family noir hidden behind ancient walls, why not grab a copy for your bank holiday read?