When the Landmark Trust agreed to take on the building, the first priority was to make it weather proof, and at the same time vandal proof. This work was put underway early in 1989. The roof was stripped of its old thatch. The frame underneath was found to be largely rotten, and to support the new thatch would have to be renewed. However, the old frame also supported the bedroom ceilings, and these we wished to preserve. The architect's solution was to construct a new frame over the existing one, and then suspend the old, weakened timbers from it, to carry the ceilings.
The wall heads had, of course, to be repaired at the same time. This was done in a mixture of rubble stone set in lime mortar, built up on the existing cob, or mud, walls. The new thatch is water-reed, and the roof is finished with a plain ridge, as is the Devon tradition. The work was done by local roofing and thatching firm, C. Robinson.
To finish off this part of the work, the house was securely boarded up. Other commitments did not allow the next phase to begin until the following year. This was undertaken by another local, but slightly larger, general building firm, C.J. Cox. In addition to minor structural repairs, the work consisted in giving the cottage a general overhaul, to make it habitable again.
The windows and doors, the external render and the internal plaster, were all in poor condition. One alternative, and probably the cheaper one, would have been to strip out all the existing finishes and completely renew them, copying the original work. The danger of this approach is that not only do you lose the texture and feel of old materials, but that in addition, however carefully and sensitively the new work is carried out, nothing can stop it being the work of late 20th-century craftsmen, rather than early-19th; and nothing, therefore, can stop the building from becoming a 20th-century creation in the eyes of future generations, even if not of our own.
The other alternative is to keep as much as possible of the original work, and to carefully repair it. The repairs will be obvious, but the reason for them will also be obvious, and will be part of a continuous process in the life of that building, rather than an interruption. This was the approach that Landmark adopted. All the doors and windows were repaired, apart from one upstairs window on the north side, which was entirely missing; and the outside door in the lean-to, which was beyond repair. Inside, the stairs, partitions and upper floors were similarly made good where necessary. The slate floor in the kitchen was lifted to put an insulating membrane beneath it, and in the
parlour, a cement floor was replaced with a similar membrane and a new slate floor. The plaster on the walls was patched, and then limewashed.
The kitchen range was retained, and re-blacked, and entirely new kitchen fittings provided. A new bathroom was inserted in the lean-to. The previous facilities for washing consisted of one tap and a bowl in a small porch on the front of the cottage, which we removed. Providing an adequate new water supply was a major undertaking, requiring the sinking of a new well.
On the outside of the building, the taller chimney had to be rebuilt entirely, as did the top of the shorter one. The chimneys pots were not replaced. The render was patched with new lime render, before the whole cottage was limewashed, in a colour to match that found on the old render.
The outbuildings were also derelict. The lean-to on the end of the cottage was coming away from the gable and had to be stitched back to it. The rag-slated roof was stripped and repaired and the slates re-fixed, with second- hand ones to make up the gaps. In this type of roofing, which is common in Cornwall and West Devon, larger slates are nailed directly onto the rafters, rather than onto battens laid across them - presumably in an attempt to economise on timber. The wash-house, on the other hand, has an ordinary slate roof, of Cornish slate (Countesses, in traditional slate size-names), which also needed repair. After renewing the structure, as many as possible of the old slates were relaid, with second-hand ones to make up. On the ridge, there were some special ventilating tiles, and two of these were retained. The chimney was rebuilt, the walls repointed and the window repaired.
When the undergrowth around the building was being cleared, the privy was discovered underneath a large pile of brambles. This was given a new slate roof, but it was decided that the door was adequate for its purpose. The kennel beside it was made to house the pump for the new sewage treatment plant.
One of the reasons for the cottage being left empty had been the severe damp. To help cure this, the ground was dug away from the upper end and a new retaining wall built of beach pebbles. Then a French drain was dug right round the building. When the earth was scraped away, the stone path was found beneath it, so this was lifted and then laid back over the drain, and then extended to reach round to the wash-house.
With its orchard and small garden, Bridge Cottage provides an area of cleared space and domesticity in the now thickly wooded coombe, a reminder of ordinary life lived in remote places over many centuries.