Photo gallery and video: Historic Norfolk house revisited for BBC programme Restoration Home
11:39 06 February 2014
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It was its down-at-heel aura that first attracted Polly Grieff to the crumbling Old Manor at Saham Toney.
“The house was like a Miss Haversham, nobody cared about her, but she was just waiting to be loved again. I just thought ‘this is it, I can make it a home’.”
In fact it was just over four years ago that Mrs Grieff first set eyes on the house, believed to be the oldest in the village, near Watton.
And while progress has been made, its story so far has been less about its restoration and more about breaking it down to its bare bones.
Nonetheless it caught the eye of historians for the BBC2 programme Restoration Home as it started to reveal its fascinating past.
And since the episode featuring the Old Manor, presented by Caroline Quentin, was screened in 2012 they have been inundated with people offering more insights into its heritage and wishing them well for the restoration.
“We have had lots of information coming in from people whose families lived here and interest from all over the world as a result of the previous programme,” said Mrs Grieff.
And that extra information and historical background forms part of a follow-up programme which is being screened tonight on BBC2 called Restoration Home – One Year On.
Historian and presenter Keiran Long revisits Old Manor to discover what has happened since their first visit and how Mrs Grieff now feels about the building she sank her life savings into.
He also reveals new evidence has come to light which may solve the mystery of how a piece of medieval stained glass, which dates back to Henry VIII’s Reformation, found its way into the house – and even the name of the person responsible 150 years ago.
“This time it is less about us and more about the other people who have come forward with information,” said Mrs Grieff. “We have kept everything we could to preserve its history. There are several stained glass windows, some with heraldic symbols on.
“The chimneys are wonderful – definitely Tudor – and the wood-panelled room is Jacobean.
“We found dead cats buried in the walls, which is an old tradition, and something called a ‘little devil’ which is a large square tile cemented into the wall which is meant to keep evil spirits away.”
There were even more bizarre finds, such as a cupboard filled with about 40 pairs of 1950s women’s shoes, and an old tin bath in the roof.
But anyone hoping to see the house as a finished article may be disappointed – it is still a timber skeleton, wearing just a flappy plastic coat around its metal scaffolding.
Mr and Mrs Grieff are still trying to sell their house in Liverpool to fund the project. They moved to the north west in 2004 but Mrs Grieff’s family has 1,000 years of Norfolk ancestry and with children and grandchildren now back in the county they were desperate to move back to the east.
So until a buyer comes along the restoration aspect is still on hold with the couple living in a mobile home on site.
But even though the uninhabitable shell is a constant reminder of the enormous task ahead, Mrs Grieff refuses to be downhearted.
“The house has been waiting for its restoration since 1968 so I don’t think it will mind a couple more years – it is not the end of the world,” she said. “Eric thinks I am barking mad but I have started this and I will finish. The house is putting its trust in me and I will not let it down.
“One of the big positives is that we have had second thoughts about our plans and have had them completely redrawn. We have had much better ideas and some of Eric’s wishes are coming to the fore.
“I believe this year will be the year it happens. It will be fabulous. Yes, it is a project and people tell me I’m crazy... but it’s my kind of crazy.”
Restoration Home – One Year On is on BBC2 tonight at 8pm.
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