We came across two derelict cottages in Spring 2017. The Yorkshire Post ran an article about them. ‘Time warped cottages come to open market for the first time in 200 years” was the line which caught my eye.
Purchasing them proved difficult as title deeds were sketchy and land registration documents non-existent. They had been in the ownership of the same family since 1807, built by the grandfather of the most recent owner.
Eventually, they became ours in December 2017 when frost and mould clung to windows and walls like spectres in daylight, and the sun barely reached over garden overgrowth into the rear courtyard.
No 3 – The Old Village shop, ceased trading 30-40 years ago yet large black metal meat hooks still decorated the ceiling of that front room like some macabre set in a horror film. Empty shelves on barely painted walls leant precariously into the room and a large, central fireplace had become a graveyard for dead pigeons.
Miss Farnley (the most recent owner) is now living in a care home for the elderly nearby where she reportedly has suffered her first bout of ill health for many years. This centrally heated and somewhat sterile environment may be suiting her needs less well than the kitchen of No 3 which appears to have been her main living space in recent years. Here a Victorian woodburning stove has been left with kindling neatly placed and ready to be lit. A bright red sweeping brush dropped in the hearth beneath is mocked by months of accumulated dust and debris. Layer upon layer of cobwebs filter sunlight eerily through Georgian sash windows and an original stone slab sink is picked out by white light.
These properties represent the life stories of several generations of one family. I would love to listen to these over afternoon tea in a nursing home lounge but Miss Farnley wants nothing to do with the new owner. She also wants little to do with the young neighbours who some years before had dared suggest she may wish to have their spare fridge when her cellar had always provided adequate refrigeration. She probably despises the new breed of doctors in the local hospital who simply couldn’t allow her to return to a home where electricity and gas supplies were condemned as unsafe. All she has left are her stories and she determines to guard them carefully.
I am disappointed of course, yet deeply respectful of her wishes. As I make plans with teams of builders to renovate the property, It dawns on me that Miss Farnley has in fact given me a gift. She has closed one chapter and I am opening a new.
These Georgian properties have generous proportions and many period features. Although much work will be required to secure the fabric and structure of these homes, they will make wonderful family spaces with gardens stretching out into rolling English countryside behind and village lanes to the front now easily accessed from arterial transport routes.
As a lover of history and vintage, I imagine these homes curated with a mix of old and new. An old platter perched on a wooden ledge over a modern kitchen stove; an antique clock carefully hung on a newly plastered and painted wall; a family heirloom rug on new wooden flooring.
It can be rather difficult to get the balance exactly right. Too much vintage and one is deprived of modern innovation. Too many gadgets and one forgets the beauty and utility of simple tools.
Within churches too, we debate intergenerational issues. We wonder how to accommodate everyone’s needs well and still remain a cohesive whole. We know “there is nothing new under the sun” yet surely this thing before us is different.
Neighbours tell me that until Miss Farnley’s nephew finally arranged for her properties to be emptied in preparation for their sale, that old front room shop was unchanged from the day it ceased trading. Empty flour and cereal jars lined the walls, vintage posters and packaging lay untouched underneath wooden counters. Cash registers and weighing scales gathered antiquity and dust. Mice scurried around the floor space through a large gap under the front door where time and footfall had worn the stone into a deep hollow.
Elisha struggled to let go of his past. He knew that God was with Elijah, his mentor and ‘father’ figure, but he couldn’t believe that God would be with just him, alone. Dejected and uncertain he clings to Elijah’s cloak after Elijah is taken up to Heaven by God. It’s a rather cruel parting, or so it seems to the casual reader, with chariots and horsemen of fire finally separating the two. But as Elisha pitifully cries into the still air “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” (2 Kings 2, 13 NIV) and angrily strikes the waters of the river in front of him with Elijah’s cloak, he realises with joy that God is with him, Elisha. A new chapter has truly begun in his life, and in the life of God’s people.
We too can find difficulty living in the present of God’s will for our lives. The expectations and legacy of our parents and grandparents hold some in fear and trembling incapacity. Some have feverishly tried to re-create conditions for ‘revival’, a phenomenon which swept fleetingly and powerfully through parts of the UK in the 1780’s and 1900’s. It is also possible to idolise the lives or works of great evangelists, writers, academics, clergy or musicians in the Christian world, but our calling is to the here and now of God’s unique purpose for us.
After a night fishing at sea catching nothing, Peter is met by Jesus who intervenes in fish and breakfast as well as meaningful discourse about purpose and discipleship. Many of us would pay large sums for such a personal and direct conversation with Jesus about the direction of our lives, but Peter gets caught up and bothered by peer issues. “Lord what about this man?” he asks Jesus about John, his co-disciple. Jesus replies “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” John 21, 21-22.
Recently I have spent quite a few hours creating mood boards, scouring the internet for information on Georgian properties, colours and designs. It’s not too difficult to retain a nod to Georgian style in fully functioning modern kitchens and bathrooms but more challenging to find builders who understand the specific requirements of heritage properties in terms of ventilation, insulation and waterproofing.
We don’t always understand our brief from God. It’s His ‘project’, His church and His plan of redemption. We are charged with a specific task, like workmen on a renovation project. So many of us want to do our ‘own thing’ in the Church, implement a new idea, start a new ministry or undertake a new building project. And sadly, some of these will end up thrown in the rubbish heap when future generations decide they really were not fit for purpose. God may decide they are worthless too on a future day when He will ask us to account for our lives work.
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder, I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.
I Corinthians 3, 10-13.
I’m not short of well-wishers in my renovation project. Neighbours pop by whose curiosity has got the better of them. Some villagers want to know when the Gas Network Team will be temporarily working in the main road, and then there are the more demanding restrictions placed on me by the conservation officers of the Local Planning Authority.
In the Church, young and old interact doing work God has assigned them. God is honoured when we work together under His leadership. I have admiration for those who graciously resign from church leadership when they have mentored enough younger people to fill their shoes, often retaining a role of advisor or encourager thereafter. The very elderly make excellent praying partners and pastoral care teams are frequently populated with people of mature faith. And then there is that great cloud of witnesses referred to in Hebrews, a powerful yet silent army of those ‘asleep in Jesus’ who have walked faithfully over the same ground we now tread.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.
Hebrews 12, 1