My battle of Hastings
Monday, 30 November -0001

My battle of Hastings

Sam Taylor has spent all her children’s inheritance on a seaside wreck that hadn’t been sold in more than 100 years. She may need help…

Do you find yourself stopping at estate agents’ windows gazing longingly at glossy pictures of houses with immaculate interiors and even more immaculate lawns? Or evenings watching home makeover programmes where an ancient water mill with collapsed walls is transformed into a luxury dream home in just under an hour of TV time? Perhaps you have even ventured into the world of miraculous restorations yourself? In which case, dear reader, I will need your help, because I have joined the band of misguided fools who have spent all their family’s money on a woeful wreck by the sea.

I can’t pretend that it is the first time that I’ve fallen so dangerously in love with a large chunk of real estate; most of our early marriage was given over to moving. My record was announcing only three days after we had taken possession of one house that we were selling it.

Battle of Hastings

For some years Mark, my husband, struggled to keep up with the endless changes of address. He once had to call from a cricket match to ask where he was supposed to be living that evening. The removal vans had arrived just as he was chucking his whites into the back of the car that morning – I had forgotten to tell him the house had been sold.

Recently, however, things have been relatively calm on the property front. We have been in our London home for 10 years and he has been lulled into a false sense of security. But increasingly I have had itchy feet. I had also been suffering chronic holiday-home envy after my friend, Alastair Hendy, bought a derelict Tudor house in Hastings Old Town (a seven-year marathon). He then bought a double-fronted Georgian shop on the High Street and spent three years transforming it into Hendy’s Home Stores, the period details now so exact that it has become a tourist attraction.

My (our) new acquisition coincided with an inheritance following the death of my wonderful mother-in-law, my children’s doting granny, and the arrival of my 50th birthday. Fifty is a number that can have a strange effect on women. Some take up strenuous new keep-fit regimes, others have facelifts or go on chanting retreats. I found myself spending more and more hours surfing the internet, looking at houses for sale in East Sussex.

Battle of Hastings

Occasionally, I would nip down and view several in one day, Alastair encouraging me to leave my price bracket at the door. And then it happened. I spotted ‘The One’: Rock House, Hastings.

The sales blurb said it all: An early 19th-century detached house of historical note affording potential for a unique restoration project. First time offered to the market in almost a century.

I texted Mark – for some reason he was sailing round Gibraltar at the time. ‘Good news. Have found dream house. Bad news, double the budget. Haven’t bought it yet. Ha ha ha.’ His reply came two days later. ‘Very funny. DO NOT BUY.’ By then we were already sunk.

After a tense, tearful stand-off with Alastair after the first viewing – he already had two places in Hastings and had to let me have at least one – we were back two days later to seal the deal.

It hadn’t been sold in over 100 years. It has no heating or windows to speak of, an electrical system that was condemned, and a balcony with a Danger sign attached. The garden room had been wonkily converted into a garage, possibly the only one in England with a stone fireplace and Georgian panelling. And the kitchen consists of a tiny 1940s oven and a sink with a cold tap. But it does have sea views. And I am besotted. Mark, meanwhile, has taken to staring blankly at the wall.

I recently told the writer Anthony Horowitz about my Hastings invasion (he did write Foyle’s War after all). He said: ‘Death or divorce?’ He was referring, I suspect, to how I had come by the funds. But equally, he may also have been making a pronouncement about the possible perils ahead.

Next week: Where’s the bathroom?

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