Category Archives: Commercial

Gallery

Conservation award for 1 – 3 Ock Street, Abingdon

This gallery contains 6 photos.

At the prestigious Oxford Preservation Trust (OPT) Awards on 4th November 2014, 1 – 3 Ock St was awarded a plaque in the Building Conservation category. The awards panel commented on the sensitive and sympathetic restoration, the marrying of the old … Continue reading

1 – 3 Ock St, Abingdon – the work is almost complete

It is some while since I last posted an entry and I do feel awful about that. But the past 6 months have been hectic beyond belief and only now with the finish line finally in sight do I find I have time to even contemplate an update to my blog.

The boardroom, complete with refurbished 1760 fireplace and signature "Papered by E R Petty July 24th 1762"

The boardroom, complete with refurbished 1760 fireplace and signature “Papered by E R Petty July 24th 1762”

As I write the carpet is being laid and in a few days the furniture will arrive. The portico is undergoing a much-needed and long overdue face lift and the finishing touches are being made to the electrical, security and fire alarm systems. All will be ready for when Kemp & Kemp move in at the end of January.

DSC_2700

The new reception

The new reception

It would be nice to say that the work has gone entirely to plan but with an old Grade 2 listed Georgian building it was inevitable that there would be some unknowns. Having said that we have not been hit by too many surprises, and nothing that we perhaps could not have anticipated. We had to completely rebuild two chimneys that had clearly been rebuilt (badly) back in the 50’s or 60’s, the gas pipe through the building has been rerouted and we ended up having to re plaster the entire building, including many of the ceilings, whereas we had budgeted for patching and repairing and then papering. But when the plaster falls off as soon as you touch it there is simply no choice and the end result is so much better.

The exterior to the building still needs redecoration but that can wait for a period of better weather and the courtyard gates and the courtyard itself need to be upgraded but that too can wait.

Work on the portico roof .....

Work on the portico roof …..

....... almost complete.

……. almost complete.

Some of the tradesman that have worked in the building are convinced that it is haunted, but I do not subscribe to that, quite the opposite in fact. I have spent many a silent hour in the building, alone, late at night, and in the early days with nothing more than emergency/temporary lighting through the property and I have never felt anything other than 100% “at home”. In fact if buildings were ever able to have a soul I would credit 1 – 3 Ock St with a warm and friendly one!

An original outside wall, complete with 1760 Georgian window frame!

An original outside wall, complete with 1760 Georgian window frame!

I wrote in an earlier blog about the D’Almaine family who occupied the building 100 years ago. The father was a solicitor who lived and worked from the building and sadly lost his then only son Roy (Duroy) on the Somme in 1916. Last week I was contacted by a direct descendant and we will be arranging for them and other members of the family to visit the property. I will post on that as and when it is arranged but I am very much looking forward to reuniting them with their past and to learning more about their family.

Finally, we are putting a time capsule under the floor to the building and are asking a number of Abingdon institutions and organisations to contribute to the content. As well as telling the story of the building and its new occupants, we want the Abingdonians of the future to know what life was like in Abingdon in 2014. If any of you have any ideas or suggestions do please post a comment.

Thank you for reading.

1 – 3 OCK St, Abingdon – the strip

Miles of plastic trunking! Good riddance

Miles of plastic trunking! Good riddance

The strip out has begun. First the electrics and then the heating. Forty years of bodge and fudge, ruining the look and feel of a lovely Georgian building, all removed in a matter of days. Banished to the skip, or recycled in the hope that it will be put to better use next time.

Pipes in a false ceiling.

Pipes in a false ceiling.

The manner in which a building has been damaged only becomes apparent when that damage is removed. Much of it is superficial and will be easily repaired but it is not difficult to condemn those that prefer the easier solution to the proper solution. But then we now live in an age when time is money and why take two hours over a job when you can bodge it in one! Anyway, the building already has a better feel to it now that it has been liberated from some of  its scarring features.

The "inside/out" archway before pipework removed.

The “inside/out” archway before pipework removed.

Taking the building apart before putting it back together again helps to reveal some of its true character. The original building is early Georgian, around 1760, but it is clear that it has been added to over the years, with the most recent elements perhaps early or mid – Victorian.

The "inside/out" arch once pipework removed.

The “inside/out” arch once pipework removed.

Removing a ceiling in the rear hallway to gain access to the heating pipes revealed an arch. What became immediately apparent is that the arch belonged originally to an outside porch, yet now it is inside the building. It is a lovely feature and now exposed will remain so and become a prominent and interesting part of the structure.

On its way out.

On its way out.

This weekend we removed a number of the non-load bearing walls, some relatively modern, others dating back to when the building was first built. We are keen to preserve the original building as much as possible but the best way is to preserve it is to render it useful. The building needs to be fit for purpose. Opening it up internally means it is better equipped to meet the requirements and demands of a modern office environment and that in itself should help to ensure its preservation.

The removal of the wall between the proposed reception room and the entrance hall revealed a large oak beam that must have taken many men to install back in 1760. It is enormous and made us consider what life must have been like for the builders of the day. No power tools or hydraulics, no mechanised lifting gear or Acrows, just skill, knowledge, grunt and brute force. Anyway, having exposed the beam we will now make a feature of it.

Now gone! The partition wall to the hallway.

Now gone! The partition wall to the hallway.

Upstairs we intend to convert three rooms into an (almost) open plan suite that has a flow to it that is conducive to a professional office. This involved opening up one of the back walls to the original building, complete with horse hair and dung plaster.

Horsehair and dung!

Horsehair and dung!

The structure of the wall will be retained, and glazed, preserving and revealing its secrets at the same time. We also revealed an old door opening in the wall which we can probably utilize in the design of the reborn building, although not in the ideal position from a design point of view. An old book was found inside the wall, with a 1830 date. The subject? A book on mathematics dealing with the calculation of vulgar fractions. Conclusion, there were scholars  living in the building at the time.

First floor partition, originally an external wall.

First floor partition, originally an external wall.

All in all it is great fun taking the building apart. As its secrets are revealed our plans can change, but more importantly it gives us the opportunity to retain features that are worthy of retention.

The next step is to have some asbestos removed. An inevitable hazard that comes with old buildings that have been renovated in the past. That work is scheduled to start tomorrow then we will have more builders strip, when we will make a start on getting external walls removed. Only then will we truly get a sense of the shape and form that the “new” building will adopt.

Given the fact that we have revealed yet more secret doors it seems appropriate to feature yet more stories written by pupils of Rush Common School, Abingdon:

Maid and a Garden by Issy B

I had woken early in the morning as it was still pitch black and deathly silent.  I laid still in my rough sheets and waited.  It was a long wait until the smallest of birds began to sing and then again it was silent.  I decided to try and clean my small claustrophobic room but I could not because all the candles had melted down into gooey messes.  There was always left a candle hidden on the top shelf but that was for emergencies only, plus I could not reach the cupboard as I am small for my age – 14 – just old enough to work for a rich family.  I am a house maid.  Maid of all work, basically.  I’ve got long ginger hair.  Mistress says I’ve got an attitude attached to it but I disagree.  Sarah and Miss Pollen work with me.  Sarah is a house maid like me but she’s 18.  She’s very nice though.  On the other hand Miss Pollen is mean to me.  Suddenly, there was the tweet again so I decided to have a look.

I’m never actually allowed to go into the Master’s garden because Mistress says that I’m a nosy little madam and I should mind my own business.  I put on my scratchy uniform and itchy cap.  I walked down the stairs carefully making sure that I did not allow the steps to creak.  I tiptoed quietly down the hall making sure to feel my way through the walls as it was still pitch black.  I tried to feel a doorknob but all I could feel was the rough plaster of the walls.  There it was!

There it was – the door.  I could just about see a crack of sunlight coming through the bottom of the door.  But wait a minute – was it sunlight?  Surely Mistress had woken up by now?  I reached out and felt the smooth doorknob.  As I pushed the door the wallpaper cracked and broke.  I gently pushed open the door and there was a soft creak.

There was a magnificent, amazing Georgian garden before my eyes.  There were rivers and trees, flowerbeds and streams.  Right in the middle there was an absolutely enormous oak tree.  There was a little blue piece of ribbon in my hair.  I took it out and tied it to a little branch of the oak tree.  I tied it on because it was special – my own secret garden.  I stood there gazing at the wonderful things before my eyes.  I was absolutely amazed. 

Wait!  Where was my lucky brooch?  I put it on this morning on my fabric apron.  This was dreadful!  I kept saying “I will find it” in my head but I could not see it anywhere. 

There was a man lurking in the far distance  He was wandering over to me.  He looked like a gardener by the clothes he was wearing but still I kept my distance. 

“Is there a problem?” he said.

 “Yes, I’ve lost my lucky brooch” I said.  It has coloured stones in the shape of a peacock”. 

“I’ll help you find it then” he said.

So together we searched and searched.  Eventually we found it in a patch of blossoming red branches.

“Thank you very much.  It’s just this brooch was given to me by my long-lost mother”  I said happily.

“Well it’s very beautiful.  You’re not too bad yourself”  he said. 

“That’s very kind of you” I said.  “Is that the time?  I’d better be going.  Do you know the way?”

But he had already gone.  I looked into the far distance beyond the flowers and trees and saw a bright blue ribbon hung on the giant oak tree.  So I skipped off past the vegetables, roses and poppies, tied my blue ribbon back into my hair and ran to the door.

 Ock Street Story by Lillian C

I approached the large oak door nervously.  I was here to survey the old house to see if it could be used for anything.  I fumbled with some keys at the heavy lock.  The Georgian house loomed majestically over me, taller than the trees that grew around it.  It had been built of ash wood and clay bricks, then painted dazzling white.  It looked like it had grown straight out of the ground like a giant plant.  Red roses climbed over the walls and ivy completely covered the house, turning it a brilliant green.  The gravel path looked like plenty of people had walked down its pale grey stone.  Small bushes lined the path, that needed cutting back.

The door creaked open and inside was another world – darkness instead of bright sunlight and cold and damp instead of warm and dry.  I flicked the cover off my flashlight and pressed the “on” button.  I shone it round the hall and gasped in disgust as a small family of rats raced away from the light towards a dark hole that was obviously their home.  I opened a door to my right and went into another dark, dreary room, but there was a door in this room too.  I opened the door and came into another room with yet another door.  I tried one of the keys and it turned in the lock.

I was very shocked when the door opened because of the brilliant bright light that filled the room.  Through the door a beautiful garden lay glistening with dew in the early morning sunlight.  Forsythia and lavender lined the edge while statues covered with trailing ivy stood here and there and a fountain stood in the middle spraying clear blue water.  Roses swung in the slight breeze and birds chattered in the trees.

But in the middle was a huge slobbering guard dog!  It turned its head slowly and stared at me with piggy eyes.  It was slowly and menacingly getting closer.  I spotted a path snaking away through the trees so I edged closer and broke into a run.  The dog, although big, was also enormously fat so it was very slow.  Its top speed was a walk so after one of the twists in the path I scampered up a tree and hid.  The fat dog (who had no sense of smell whatever) lumbered past.

I scrambled down the tree and raced to the door.  I hurriedly opened it, my hand shaking with fear, and jumped inside.  I slammed the door shut with a sigh.  I reached into my pocket and closed my hand around two things; one was the key and the other was a tube of super glue.  I locked the door, and then using the super glue, glued the door to the frame.  I was safe. 

For my personal blog go to https://www.cwilmshurst.wordpress.com

For the Kemp & Kemp website go to https://www.kempandkemp.co.uk

1 – 3 Ock Street, Abingdon – planning application is in!

The planning application has now been submitted and has been registered by the Vale of White Horse District Council.

As posted earlier, the building is Grade 2 Listed and sits in the  Abingdon Town Centre Conservation Area. So as well as applying for planning permission we have to apply for listed building consent too.

Proposed rear elevation, 1 – 3 Ock Street, Abingdon

Over the years the building has become institutionalised with fire doors, signage, security doors and systems, anaglypta wall paper, magnolia paint, surface wiring and general neglect. We cannot ignore safety and other regulation but we do want to return the building to its former glory, restoring some of the original features as well as rendering the building “fit for purpose” as a modern office environment. A number of changes are proposed which include the following:

  • the reinstatement of some openings within the building
  • the removal of modern internal partitions
  • restoration of an external side opening
  • refurbishment of and restoration to the roof of the front portico
  • external redecoration in heritage Georgian colours
  • creation of an internal glazed roof office
  • removal of the rear internal fire escape
  • provision of a replacement fire escape with first floor deck area
  • refurbishment of external elevations and woodwork

We feel the proposed changes will breathe new life into what is at present an outdated, tired and somewhat neglected listed building. Our proposals seek to respect the history of the building, where possible restoring original features, whilst at the same time creating modern and useable office space. That special fusion of old and new.

The importance of the front facade is evident from the listing schedule. In order to maintain the importance of this facade, the portico will be restored, the brickwork repaired, the stonework cleaned and the woodwork repainted in traditional Georgian heritage colours.

The proposed development will comply fully with Local Plan Policy HE5 and with the NPPF requirements set out at paragraphs 128 and 129. In summary we believe that the proposed works will benefit the conservation and future of this heritage building as well as enhancing the character of the conservation area.

Copies of the planning application and all the supporting plans and documents can be found at;

http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/java/support/Main.jsp?MODULE=ApplicationDetails&REF=P12/V1538/LB

and at

http://www.whitehorsedc.gov.uk/java/support/Main.jsp?MODULE=ApplicationDetails&REF=P12/V1537/FUL

Any comments on the proposals would be welcomed.

Old Building, New Beginning at 1-3 Ock Street, Abingdon

Who would have thought it. 35 years ago I was involved in the acquisition of an office building in Abingdon, on behalf of Oxfordshire County Council and today that very same building is now owned by my business partner and me.

1 – 3 Ock St, Abingdon

My first job, straight out of school, was as a trainee surveyor in the Property Department to Oxfordshire County Council. The work was very varied and gave me a good grounding in a profession that has treated me well, and of all the jobs I became involved in I remember driving into the courtyard of 1 – 3 Ock Street, Abingdon as if it were yesterday. The County were acquiring the building for occupation by the Probation Service, which at the time was a County function, but now, my business partner and I have bought the building from The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. We completed on the purchase two weeks ago.

Rear of 1 – 3 Ock Street, Abingdon

Yet buying the building is probably the easy bit. The challenge now is to breathe new life into a beautiful building that has not seen much love and affection for many a year. The building is late Georgian and would have originally been built by a local merchant or professional as a fine residence with substantial grounds. Over the prevailing years the building has been extended, on occasions with not much care or thought, whilst the gardens have slowly been lost to surrounding development. But what we have now is nonetheless a fine well-built property that has since been converted to commercial use, with a rear courtyard, accessed under the existing building, that provides parking for 6 – 7 cars. Extending to approximately 2,500 sq ft, the building is Grade 2 listed and is situated in a Conservation Area. So there is much to think about and consider.

Our plans are to restore the building to its former glory, returning some of its original features, as well as rendering the building “fit for purpose” as an office building. This needs to be done with sensitivity whilst recognising that merging old and new, or modern if you prefer, can be difficult to achieve, but a very successful fusion if you can get it right. We intend to get it right, but appreciate that to achieve that involves the co-operation of the architect, planners, conservation officer and of course the owners.

The layout plans are well advanced, we have had an initial meeting with the Conservation Officer and the planning application should be submitted next week. Whilst the application is being determined we will finalize the specification and go out to competitive tender. We hope to have the builders in within 2 – 3 months, and for the building to be available for occupation before the end of the year. It will be tight.

There is light at the end of the tunnel

I intend to post regularly on the rebirth of this building, so why not “tag” this blog and keep up with its progress.

Property industry continues to lack genuine confidence.

I have worked in property all my working life, that’s nearly 40 years! Having done anything from basic property management, through to surveys and valuations, commercial agency, and for the last 20 years, property planning and development, you would think that over such an expanse of time that I would have seen it all. And you would be right. Yet all the experience in the world cannot prepare anyone for the market conditions we are currently enduring in the property industry. I have witnessed several recessions, I even started my working life as the country came out of recession in 1974, but never have I experienced anything like the market conditions of today.

I am fortunate in one respect in that my work is mainly in the South East, in fact Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties, and in another respect that my work is mainly in residential development. Oxfordshire in particular is a robust location when it comes to housing, and values and demand have held up well, yet market conditions are still difficult.

My own experience, and that of my competitors if what they say is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, is that whilst developers still want the best sites, getting them to sign on the dotted line and complete the deal is getting increasingly more difficult. Therein lies the issue at the heart of our current stagnation, a flat spot that has produced the dreaded double dip.

Now, I can only speak for the property industry, and, in the main, only in respect of a part of the country, but I suspect that my experience is not far from the norm. At the heart of the issue is confidence. Or rather the lack of it. The confidence to commit and to take risk. Two essential ingredients to any thriving economy. Getting developers to make that final commitment and complete the deal can be difficult at the moment.

One aspect of change that stands out from when I first started work nearly 40 years ago, and now, is the degree of due diligence attached to everything we do. Take the, once simple, act of making a planning application. I can remember filling in a two-sided form, a couple of notification slips, putting a red line around a plan and submitting the form to the Local Authority. Now, we have to virtually cut down a copse to first produce all the paper necessary for the reports and supporting documentation that today accompanies a planning application. When that is followed by an appeal, the copse becomes a wood! The cost was once a few hundred pounds, now the cost of submitting an application often runs into tens of thousands. Whilst I do not advocate a return to the days of two-sided forms and 1/2500 scale plans, the pendulum has surely swung too far. We seem to go out of our way to make securing planning permission as difficult as possible, in the meantime the housing list for the country grows to c.5M. Not a statistic in which we can show any pride.

Due diligence does not just extend to planning, but to the land and buildings themselves. The search for “issues”, be they legal, environmental, topographical, planning, or whatever, is also far more detailed now than it ever was 20, or even 10 years ago. And this is where developers are very skilled at slowing the process down by adopting the principle of “first get a foot in the door” and then dictate the pace. They are masters of it, and push as hard as you like, they will buy all the time they need, first to satisfy themselves on all the practical issues and then to convince their Board that this is the right thing to do and the right time to be doing it.

Wake up every morning to Robert Peston and his fellow doom makers at the BBC and is it any wonder that confidence is shaky? The news is scary at times, what with the banks dragging down a number of Euro countries, the Middle East and North Africa in turmoil, a government that likes U turns, and has drastically cut its spending, manufacturing that is in decline, unemployment amongst the young at unhealthy levels and new housing at levels not seen since the 1920′s. Yet there must be some good news out there, but do we hear it. Not often!

So, instead, we have the doom and gloom merchants hogging the limelight, giving the impression that we might as well pack up and go home. In the meantime 5M people are screaming for a decent home and the construction industry is wondering where the next big contract is going to come from. Demand for housing is there, yet it remains in short supply, the result of which is house prices at levels the young simply cannot afford. Developers want to buy sites and to build houses, but a lack of confidence in an economy that keeps disappointing, makes them cautious and risk averse, and slow to complete on deals! Who can blame them.

My solution would be a simple one. First, make the planning system easier and quicker to deal with, and don’t just say that is what you intend to do. Do it. Action is required, not words. Start by giving overworked and undermanned local authority planning departments the man/womanpower and investment they need to function properly. Many years ago I read an article that suggested that land for building was scarce. I did not agree with it then nor do I now. We have plenty of land; it is land with planning permission that is scarce. So we must speed up the process, and help those charged with the task.

Secondly, instead of cutting government investment, plough money into house building. Put roofs over people’s heads. Give jobs to the young in the construction industry. Put money into people’s pockets. They in turn will spend it in the High Street. Give some of it back in taxes. Keynes said in times of downturn pay people to dig holes and then pay other people to fill them back in. He did not mean it literally of course, but he did mean that governments should spend money to create employment. He was right.

Let’s instill a feeling of confidence and belief back into the country. A good starting point might be to put Peston and his doom merchant mates in the Tower for committing the equivalent of economic treason. If you think that too drastic, lets at least unplug his mic.

http://www.kempandkemp.co.uk