January 2009: Look! We have come through!

Today is Thursday 18 December and tomorrow, the 19 December, the contractor's site manager will pack up the kettle, the microwave, assorted mugs, coffee jars and teabags and leave the site.

In building contract terms, the job achieved Practical Completion on 17 November and the last four weeks have involved minor painting repairs, fitting locks and doing the last bits of landscaping that could be completed before the spring.

So - is that it, then? Well - not quite!

There are still various elements of work outstanding and these will be sorted out in the next month. The major items are below:

  • The lift needs to be commissioned and this has been delayed while we waited for BT to install phone lines
  • Various bits of ironmongery are still awaited - refurbished original locks, espagnolette bolts for the Conservatory doors and the balcony doors, special hinges and so on. Many of these were on long delivery periods that got longer still
  • The chandelier 'rise and fall' winch still needs to be made to behave itself.

On top of these are various small items that can and will be easily remedied. However, basically, the contract is at an end, the Mansion has been repaired, restored and improved and my job is nearly done.

And what's it like, do I hear you ask?

Well - Ill just give you a few impressions because in February you?ll be able to see for yourselves.

First - and I still find this surprising - Valentines Mansion is now warm! The wood pellet boiler is doing its job and the radiators, even at low settings, are making the rooms very much more comfortable than before when we only had ancient convectors and body heat to keep us going. Spending time on site last winter with the windows open and arctic gales racing through the house was an experience indeed but the memory is fading fast now.

The main staircase looks stunning with the coloured glass restored, the woodwork and stonework all clean and sharp, the ornate plaster ceiling cleaned and repainted and the new chandelier in place.

The entrance hall (and what a scruffy welcome that used to give visitors) looks elegant and the part old, part new stone floor has come up better than I expected. The big fireplace looks particularly elegant and the restored lantern light over the entrance lobby is worth straining your neck to gaze up at.

The servants' hall has reverted to its original size and even though it has a ramp with a glass balustrade it feels open and quite unlike the cramped space you used to see to the right of the entrance hall on the way to the kitchen.

The enlarged Drawing Room on the first floor feels airy and bright and the bold floral wallpaper and paint colours lend the room a charm quite different to the rest of the house. The east bedroom also has a wallpapered finish this time, with parrots and foliage, and feels warm and inviting.

Even the utility spaces such as corridors, toilets and kitchens somehow feel good and this simple feeling that the spaces are 'right' for the house is a testament to the skill and imagination of the architect, Helen Molton, from HOK International without whose skill and enthusiasm the result might have been very different.

I hope you enjoy the colour photographs included with the Newsletter but that they merely whet your appetite and make you want to come and see for yourselves.

And finally - it has been a long journey indeed - when the house opens to the public in February 2009 it will have been almost 16 years since it fell empty in the summer of 1993. Much has happened in that time and we have had to learn the art of patience. The Friends of Valentines Mansion have done so much to keep the house in the public eye and to keep the flame of hope alight. I hope that all of you will enjoy what has been achieved.

Valentines Mansion Project Director, Nigel Burch