THE ACQUISTION OF FALLCLIFFE COTTAGE
The following was written by John Burrows
A Peak District Hut
Our first hut, Caseg Fraith, was officially opened by Proffessor Finch in October 1961. It was to prove popular and a steady source of income, so much so that the loan made by Senate towards the cost of construction was repaid by 1967, and it seemed a good idea to reapeat the exercise somewhere else.
This was the gist of my brief when, in summer 1967, during a Froggatt meet, Bill Towlson, then Club Secretary, asked whether I would be willing to look around for a likely cottage in Derbyshire. I did after all live in the adjoining county, and I was in the business of estate agency. So much happened in those early days it would be a pity if the saga was forgotten, so, as part of the 25th anniversary celebrations of Fallcliffe Cottage [celebrated in October 1996], our President, Michael Parkinson has asked me to put pen to paper and produce a short history.
Valuable time was lost at the beginning because I was off to Mt Kenya, but I subscribed to the Derbyshire Times and on my return, started house hunting in earnest. The Old Police House at Stoney Middleton (price £1950) was an interesting possibility; sufficiently interesting for me to lodge a planning application for change of use (later granted) and a number of Club surveyors, (Tulson, Renshaw & Campbell) inspected in October, but none of us were happy with the lack of car parking and the property was sold to someone else.
Callow Bank Farm with 16 acres, just below Stannage, enjoyed a super position, but it had an horrific settlement crack in the gable end. Some lucky purchaser got it for £1600. I inspected eight properties the following spring - notable for the worst outbreak of foot and mouth disease the country had ever experienced - before stumbling upon Fallcliffe Cottage. I was to find out that it had been given up by the signalman of Hathersage Station because of lack of water.
The Club's team of surveyors were again summoned (Graves, Warden, Nunn & Lindsey) and towards the end of May we conducted an in-depth inspection, which included a visit to Leam Hall to investigate the source of water. Many official enquiries then followed. The provision of a piped water supply and septic tank drainage were the main essentials; mains gas and electricity were already connected.
A planning application was made, a water sample sent for analysis to Will Butler, and a feasibility study submitted to the Club Committee. I had been informed that the asking price was £1600, and I estimated the cost of essential repairs and connection to services would be £800. Edward Williams, then President of ULMC, had negotiated a loan from Senate of £1500, so consequently we made a conditional offer of £1600, only to be told that the Leam Estate had already received offers of more, and £1750 was the least they would now accept.
Far more problematic was the Planning Authority. Our application had already missed two meetings and was about to miss a third because the County Surveyor was steamed up about the potential traffic hazard. The cottage seemed ideal and would fulfill all our needs, but we were in danger of losing it.
The Club AGM was in Derbyshire that year (1968) and members were able to see the cottage and judge for themselves. Without planning consent to use it as a Club house we could not justifiably commit ourselves, so some hectic telephoning amongst the Club's legal members ensued, and we discussed the possibility of some of us buying it privately and then inviting the Club members to stay as guests, thereby avoiding any contravention of planning law. Meanwhile, after responding to more questions about numbers and frequency of use, a letter was received at the end of October 1968 indicating that the Planning Authority would recommend that this would continue, and the question of full planning permission, was to be considered in the light of experience; did I agree? This was a curious letter, as they were asking if I would agree to their decision before they made it.
Throughout October I had been in constant touch with the agent for the Estate, discussing the possibility of additional car parking, and anxious not to miss out on the purchase, there were three other interested parties, and it was clear that the price had to be about £1850, which I considered fair. It was therefore no surprise when I was asked to submit a sealed bid worth our final offer, and this I did on the same day as I agreed to the Planning Authority's curious request. The offer made was £1904. Also that day, I received a detailed 4-page assessment from Paul Graves (thank you Paul) on the likelihood or otherwise of Betterment Levy becoming liable under the 1967 Land Commission Act. Provided we could play the 'charity card', we could probably steer clear of this exercise, but older surveyors may remember something of the time-consuming calculations that became necessary following the grant of a 'change of use'. Negotiations for a drainage easement over the adjoining field ensued.
It was, nevertheless, the first week of January 1969 before our offer was accepted and I was able to write to the solicitors, and although another 2 months had gone by, we still had no formal planning consent - even for the offered period of one year. It was March before they dispatched a decision, and when it came it was a refusal, on the recommendation of Bakewell RDC. It had taken 7 months for them to make up their minds.
Within days of this there was a break-in, and the police were in touch. No draft contract had been received by our solicitor and I was in negotiation with the Peak Park Authority, suggesting we could demolish the stable and extend the parking area. I was also in touch with the agent, asking if he would be willing to include more land in the sale so that we could extend the parking. He meanwhile, had been instructied to look for another purchaser, not suprisingly! My letter to the Peak Park Authority was passed to the County Surveyor, and then the Chief Constable, and still nothing happened despite regular chivvying and letters expressing my outrage at their inability to reply.
In October, the agent confirmed that the property was still available, and in November the Peak Park Planning Board (the professional planners, who had never been opposed to our proposed use) invited me to a site meeting with members of the Planning Committee (Bakewell RDC). I was there, waiting for them when they arrived. Six cars - all parked in the road - admittedly they did not stay long. With one acclaim they agreed with my suggestion for the additional parking, and thought our proposed use of the cottage was a first class idea. Since the suggestion involved additional land, this meant a new planning application.
When I got home, there was a letter from the agent to say that the trustees had received a more substantial offer and they were going to sell elsewhere. I don't think this was posturing, but nevertheless, the next weekend I looked at a few disused railway stations on the Darley Dale line, just incase we had to start again. Some members may remember a later weekend, walking in the snow up the railway track to Millers Dale. A few days later, having told the agent of my progress with the planners he enquired if I was interested in proceeding at £2000.
December 1969, and a new planning application. I re-affirmed our offer to purchase at £1904, bearing in mind the deterioration which had occurred, and lo and behold, planning consent for 3 years was granted on 6th January 1970. Two days later there was a letter from Bakewell RDC with a Closing Order under the Housing Act, as they considered the property unfit for human habitation.
January 1970 was quite a busy month, and included a site meeting with the agent in order to agree boundaries; a site meeting with our own Club experts (Bob Nunn, Andy Freeman and others); applying to the Trent River Authority for their consent to a septic tank; writing at length to the RDC Surveyor and of-course our own Club officers; re-instructing our solicitor; plus exercising my mind over security shutters and drawing up floor plans. Then followed a lengthy exchange of correspondence with solicitors, approval of plans (not always correct) concerning the water and drainage agreements, and submitting our scheme for improvements to the RDC Surveyor (including plans under Building Regulations). Time was also spent in searching for a reliable builder and obtaining alternative quotations, and lining-up gas and electricity services.
Purchased at Last
With the advent of summer holidays and five trustees to sign, we eventually had an exchange of contracts in October 1970, just in time to announce the fact at the Club AGM, and with the agent's approval, we had a small work party in order to make the place secure. This enabled us to get electricity re-connected, as we needed to use an electric drill. Then a real stroke of luck - the blacksmith in my own home village quoted £30 (incredible thought) to make 2 pairs, and 3 single steel-shutters, complete with hinges and fasteners, for our ground floor windows.
Completion of the purchase was forecast for 9th December 1970, so the first 'official' work party was geared-up for the weekend of 12/13th, and the builders (B & K Percival) instructed to commence work on the roof any time after that. Our first priority was to fit the metal shutters, and to lay a pipe down the hillside before yet another winter froze the ground. 25 people, plus others for shorter periods, attended that weekend, including a squad of boys from Tom Hodgkinson's school; so camping was done in the garden. The only snag was, we had not completed the purchase - but we carried on all the same, probably unknown to the agent. Completion eventually took place on 21st December 1970. By the following Sunday, we had laid the water pipe down through the wood.
Throughout 1971, there was seldom a weekend without a working party in action. Bill, Monty and others built bunk-beds in February; Ron Bailey and Bob Parker reglazed all the broken windows. Andy had done most of the re-wiring by May (great, considering he was in the middle of re-wiring Parkhurst Prison), and the contractor had excavated for the septic tank and dug out the car park. During this time, we had a 'builders electricity supply', but what was unusual was that the mains gas supply was still connected even though we had no meter. Tom Hodgkinson had brought an old gas cooker from Birmingham, and we simply plugged it in.
There was an exciting weekend in June 1971, when Readymix concrete was poured for the septic tank and the new floors. This was followed by building the Gibson Ingol septic tank - a sort of 3 dimensional puzzle - a most satisfactory exercise. These working parties were thoroughly enjoyable, and - possibly because of the diverse skills possessed by Club members - my recollection is that, having announced in advance what were to be the various tasks for the weekend, members simply got on and did whatever they felt they were most suited for. An added enjoyment to all these weekends was the break for lunch at The Plough, just up the road.
We were determined to have the cottage officially opened by the end of the year. The AGM had come round full-circle and was at the Marquis of Granby again, but this was too soon for the work to be complete. Basins and loos, fitted furniture in the sitting room, followed by decorations, were still needed. Delivery of foam rubber mattresses and final adjustments to the kitchen were only done on the morning of the official opening by the well known mountaineer, broadcaster and educationalist, Sir Jack Longland, on 11th December 1971 - one year exactly since the first official working party.
Jack Longland was the obvious choice to invite to the opening, as he was also a resident of Derbyshire, and Chairman of the Peak Committee of the BMC. His formal welcome and speech are preserved on tape, recorded by Alison Chadwick. The rose Albertine, by the front door, was planted by Peggy Longland.
Once the opening was over, there was pressure for us to pay rates, although there were numerous services still incomplete. A new rating proposal arrived, and we applied for relief under the General Rate Act (for charities). This was not straightforward, and it took until February 1973 before the RDC Treasurer agreed to 50% relief. Meanwhile, there was a drainage agreement to formalize with the County Council for having dug up the road, and a renewal of our planning consent which expired at the end of 1972. This triggered off enquiries as to why we had not complied with all the conditions that had been imposed - like surfacing the car park and building a retaining wall at the back. I had to point out that we had only legally owned the property for just over a year, during which time we had concentrated on its restoration, and now we had exhausted our funds.
May 1973 saw a renewal of our planning consent for one more year. On a tight budget, we could not rush into doing something, and as far as the car park was concerned, I had to take up with the County Surveyor whether he wanted kerbstone edgings, or any particular kind of surface. Also to explain why our opening to the road was more than 20 feet wide, when he had specified that it should not be less than 20 feet wide!
There was also the insurance to review, and it became apparent that the existing policy was inadequate as it did not cover the risk of impact from vehicles. In no time, it was April 1974 and the planning consent needed renewing again. This time, by August, we achieved a consent which, although restrictive, is permanent.
There is seldom an end to a story. History is a long-running saga, with Club stalwarts doing sturdy work to improve on existing conditions, cope with vandals and break-ins, and deal with officials who are reluctant to advise you of your entitlements. The Hut Wardens, who bravely shouldered all sorts of responsibilities, were Bob Nunn, Trevor Young, David Musson, Mike Lewis and, by far the longest-running of any, with 16 years at the helm, Ivor Delafield, recently succeeded by David Jacob. To all those members of the Club who showed so much enthusiasm for the job - a big thank you - and I suspect you enjoyed what you did.