Storing up treasures

PUBLISHED: 11:33 29 August 2013 | UPDATED: 11:33 29 August 2013




Granary Cottage, in Mulberry Green near Harlow, is a converted granary which was owned for 40 years by Douglas Hayter, the pioneer of the rotary mower that first put the stripes on English lawns.

The present owners bought the property from Douglas Hayter’s widow in August 2002.

As soon as they arrived to view the house, Norman and Sally Paxman were captivated by the entrance arch and glorious garden, designed and landscaped by the inventor of Hayter mowers after he moved there in the early 1960s.

‘We’d been househunting for some time,’ Sally remembers, ‘but until we drove by Granary Cottage we hadn’t seen anything we both liked.’

For them, the position was the immediate attraction. Mulberry Green is a Conservation Area within Old Harlow. With large houses standing in their own grounds, period properties and more recent development it has the character of a hamlet but, Sally explains, there are enough little shops and amenities to save you getting in the car if you need something in a hurry. ‘It’s all here,’ adds Sally.

For the Paxmans, the lure of living in a traditional country community with easy access to London stopped them in their tracks even before they’d seen the attractive carriage entrance into the courtyard leading to the cottage. ‘By car, it’s a straight run down the M11 to the City. You can be in Docklands in 30 minutes and in 40 minutes you can be in Central London.’

Despite having only three double bedrooms and two bathrooms on the first floor, the house, which was built as a granary in 1835, is expansive. Hayter turned it into a linear house, almost doubling its size. He added a two-storey extension on the side and later an indoor swimming pool. The pool still exists but is no longer accessible.

Sally explains: ‘At some point after he built it he evidently decided he’d rather have a snooker room so he put a concrete covering over the top of the pool, substantial enough to support a snooker table.’ Today the snooker room leads into a garden room.

The chance to have a snooker room was a dream come true for Norman who, like his predecessor at the cottage, was an engineer before he retired. His wife says with a smile: ‘My husband had always wanted a snooker room. When he saw the garden and then the snooker room, that was it, he fell in love.’

The Grade II listed barn at the front of the forecourt backing onto the road was originally divided into stables until Hayter knocked down two of them to form the carriage entrance. The Paxmans use the others as garages.

Along with other improvements, they also built the farmhouse-sized kitchen with the breakfast room opening onto the terrace at the far end. All the rooms in the cottage are double aspect with windows on two sides to give the best view of the gardens.

The sitting room and kitchen are in the old part of the house and still have the ceiling beams from the granary era. Likewise, two of the bedrooms upstairs have vaulted ceilings showing the roof rafters of the old outbuilding. The dining room, built in 1960, also has a beamed ceiling but these are Douglas Fir, not centuries-old oak. The Paxmans’ master bedroom is also in the ‘new’ part. It opens onto a balcony, giving a bird’s eye view over the grounds.

‘Mr Hayter was obviously a genius,’ Sally adds. ‘Evidence of his creative talent is everywhere. At the end of a beautiful serpentine wall in the garden there’s a little folly he built which houses a fireplace with a pretty tiled roof and chimney. It’s a Jack and Jill arrangement on the boundary wall with our neighbours. Both sides can use it.’

All the original doors in the barn had massive hinges forged in Hayter’s foundry a few miles up the road at the company’s manufacturing plant in Spellbrook on the outskirts of Bishop’s Stortford.

The Paxmans have since had all new doors made for the cottage to match some Victorian originals in the granary wing which were beyond repair. Now they’re all beautiful.

Unfortunately, Sally’s arthritis has reached the stage which has led them to the conclusion that they should look for a house that’s on one level. They’ll be sorry to leave the granary, but they hope to find somewhere close by.

The garden lover, whose home environment is especially important to her because of her restricted mobility, admits: ‘Once people move into Mulberry Green they tend to stay put because it’s such a lovely village. It isn’t the sort of place where neighbours chat over the garden fence because the houses around here tend to be large, but you do know that if ever you needed help you’d only have to ask. People watch out for you. It’s a close-knit community. We know everyone who lives here and that’s a great comfort.’

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