A period of residence in the south of England ignited an old hobby of looking for fireplaces to replace those stripped out or smashed up at Balintore Castle. As England is more densely populated than Scotland and, er, more affluent there is a far better chance of finding something suitable within a reasonable distance.
Anyhow, the fireplace below appeared one day on eBay. The marble is exquisite, a rich deep red with some white veining, and the carving is glorious - like nothing I have ever seen before. You will need to click on the image to get the full benefit. The pattern of almost fractal spirals is unique in my experience, and certainly caused me to be uncertain about the date of the piece. The carpet in the image is 1980's as is the panelling, so perhaps the piece is reproduction despite the overall feel of the 19th Century? I identified some of the vertical veins as possible repairs, but working within the resolution of the photograph it was impossible to tell.
|fireplace bought off eBay|
Anyhow, I managed to snipe the item for a joyous £79. The caveat was that I had to remove the fireplace from the wall myself, and to transport it myself. I had no idea how to remove a fireplace, especially without destroying the panelling, but I figured there's always a first time for everything! :-) I had just the weekend to remove the fireplace, as the demolition proper started on the Monday. No pressure there then. I did my Internet research on the property "Coombe Edge" near Ascot. The current owners are an Indian family who made their money in construction and shipping. I noticed in the plans lodged with the Surrey Council, that the replacement dwelling will have wings either side at 45 degrees after the American fashion.
I forget to take my smart phone with me, so there is no record of my own "demolition" work or the other people reclaiming bits-and-bobs around me. It literally was a form of "open house" and I felt somewhat of a vulture. Essentially, everything had to go. The couple, Adam and Julie, in charge of the salvage operation were helpful and well organised. In fact, there was much productive swapping of tools amongst the parties.
I did manage to find some photos of Coombe Edge from a recent sales brochure. It was priced at £6.5 million. The aerial shot comes from Google Maps.
|Coombe Edge: entrance with columns|
|Coombe Edge: stairway|
|Coombe Edge: library with fireplace and desk|
|Coombe Edge: indoor pool|
|Coombe Edge: aerial view|
Behind the fireplace was a stone firebox, with some sections actually in white marble painted with black high temperature paint. This was fronted by an arch of white marble, against which the arched red marble fireplace proper fitted. Originally, I suspect, the fireplace would have had a huge curved metal insert. However, something this size would had been difficult to find, so the re-fitters improvised with their own solution in stone. The re-fitters had also created a white marble hearth, which unfortunately was fitted against the fireplace rather than under, so the fireplace lost some height and grandeur in the process. However, I am no fool and picked up the components stones of the hearth and the firebox. My pick-up was groaning! Reconstructing the fireplace will be as simple as putting the pieces back just as I found them in the library of Coombe Down
In fact the carved spirals of the fireplace reminded me of a famous J.R.R.Tolkein illustration.
|Tolkein illustration reminiscent of fireplace|
Scott and Julie asked if I was interested in anything else at Coombe Edge. I said yes, but that I would remove the fireplace first as I was not sure how long it would take, and only then address other items. At one point while I was removing the fireplace, and another couple were removing a fitted desk next to me, Julie declared she was bored and had nothing to do. I told her that if she wanted to removed the sash window finger pulls I would give her £1 for each of them. We had discussed the sash windows earlier. There had been no time to organise anything, and these were just going to be trashed. As someone who is spending a lot of money on bespoke sash windows for Balintore Castle I was almost in a hospitalisable state at this revelation! :-)
Anyhow, here is Julie's bucket of finger pulls (46 of these) . Scott then got the sash window catches off for me (10 of these). I polished up some representatives and they have come up beautifully. The finger pulls are quality and would suit Balintore. The window catches are an Arts and Crafts "rose" brass: lovely items but perhaps not the right style for Balintore.
|bucket of salvaged sash window fittings|
|salvaged sash fittings before and after polishing|
Scott allowed me to run around the building to look for salvage e.g. radiators. This was a huge joy though tinged with sadness. Afterwards I was able to reflect on what I has seen: a house in its death throws. Without the furniture and indeed with the shell of a 1980's makeover, the interior was surprisingly bland. However, I have long since learned that atmosphere is created not just by a building, but by fittings, furniture and most importantly people. :-) Nevertheless, there was no disguising the magnificence of the stairway and the quality of the Arts and Crafts portico at the main entrance. These carved Cotswold stone pillars were marvellously done: Moderne in design, but still with the subtle curves that harked back to Ancient Greece. The Oxford Colleges are constructed from this honey-coloured Cotswold stone.
Getting the fireplace out and finally loading this on to my pick-up with Scott, had been hot and sweaty work lasting many hours. After it was all over, I had the strongest urge to jump into the lovely indoor swimming pool which was still full of water. A sort of "last chance" valedictory dampening. It's funny how demolition changes the rules, I would never normally think of taking such a liberty in a stranger's private house.
There is considerable irony is me trying to save a building in far worse condition than Coombe Edge, yet despite Coombe Edge being in perfect condition, it is the building being demolished. As well as talking, money often wants to build and even a pleasing existing 1899 £6 million structure cannot stand in the way.
But to put this demolition in perspective, I am better off by a beautiful fireplace. :-)