Once in a while we come across something intriguing. In the case of a house across the fields from Epsom Racecourse, we found some puzzles that we would like to share with our readers. This house was built in three stages; the first stage was the large room, almost 50 square metres (538 Sq ft) built around 1850. This was expanded in the 1900’s and now comprises the dining room, kitchen and staircase to the upper floor.
Our job was to renovate the parquet floor. The blocks were almost black with the dirt of a century, scratched and covered in dust. It was a fair bet that the parquet was Oak, most floors like it are. However, the process of sanding (we use dust-free machines) was unexpectedly long suggesting the timber was a lot harder than oak. It could be Birch or Maple. But, in the end it was identified as Sweet Birch, the hardest of the lot. This was confirmed by a friend of the owners, a dealer in high quality Georgian cabinetmaking; he knew all about the character and qualities of precious hardwoods.
Some of the parquet blocks were too badly damaged but, fortunately, we discovered that the rotting frames of the bay windows were made from the very same timber. This enabled us to make our own replacement parquet blocks. We also noticed that the original blocks were prepared in a way unlike the modern parquet block: they were tongued and grooved on the long edges and had male and female dowel joints on the ends. So we set about cutting up the window frames to make the necessary parquet blocks to match the ones already there.
The builders found a scrawled message behind a panel which had been removed for renovation. It read: “A C Hackel, 14 Sussex Street SW1, fitted this billiard room for A J Whittall Esq, Feby 1923, with him was W. Brunton, furnisher”. Certainly, its unusual size made it perfect for the game of billiards. It could also be argued that it was used for serious competition, there being a raised platform within the area of a large bay window, capable of accommodating, maybe twelve, comfortably seated spectators. Although there is no billiard table there today, the weight of it has made indentations on the floor where the legs had been.
And then, closely behind, comes another intriguing question: the billiard room is surrounded by oak-framed white panels on the back of which was revealed that they were of Canadian origin! They were boards covered in white canvas, the type used by artists. One wonders whether there was an intention to paint these panels. The room is formidable in size and with painted panels would have been quite sensational. And, is it just coincidence that Sweet Birch is also a Canadian export! Did the owner have a connection with Canada? We may never know. A sift through the archives of the Billiards Association revealed nothing. If you know something of relevance, do let us know. We have a bottle of bubbly for the first person to give us a convincing clue.
The owner told us: “We were extremely lucky to buy this house. There was a queue and we were at the back. But, one by one, potential buyers withdrew and we were declared the winners. We have made extensive changes to the building but the old billiard room is our absolute pride and joy. It’s a wonderful family room and all the character it once had has been restored thanks to a whole team of different trades: builders, decorators, electricians, a plasterer, a window company and Tim Hobern’s HS Wood Flooring who resurrected the floor so magnificently”. (We respect he owners’ wish to withhold their names and address).
Tim Hobern, Managing Director of HS Wood Flooring, had the last word: “We were pleased that the billiard room emerged so beautifully but there was more: the recent additions to the house were fitted with pine parquet. Once we had sanded, buffed and hard-wax oiled them, the restored pine grain stood out in beautiful contrast to the Sweet Birch of the billiard room. This house, with all its intrigue, has turned out to be an absolute winner! Full marks to the owners for spotting its wonderful potential”.