St Albans family discovered how glamorous older properties may be easy on the eye but not always on the purse

Anne Bennett in her kitchen

Anne Bennett in her kitchen - Credit: Archant

Like a lot of young couples today, Anne Bennett and her then-new husband John came to St Albans to start their family. That was 25 years ago and in that time they have moved a further couple of times within the city.

The kitchen inside Anne Bennett's house

The kitchen inside Anne Bennett's house - Credit: Archant

Starting out in rented accommodation on the Verulam estate, they soon moved closer to the city centre, and crucially the railway station, to better facilitate John’s daily commute to the big smoke.

“We chose a lovely three-bedroomed Victorian end-of-terrace property within easy walk of the station and paid £95,000 for it, which we thought was a fortune,” Anne says.

The house offered them plenty of scope to make it their own.

“We had a lot of work done, taking the wall down between the hallway and the dining room to open up the space, followed by a loft conversion to make an office for my husband, a new kitchen for me, an under-stairs cloakroom and extensive work done in the garden,” she remembers.

The kitchen inside Anne Bennett's house

The kitchen inside Anne Bennett's house - Credit: Archant


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But with the arrival of two children, the house eventually became too restrictive. They moved again, but still within proximity of the station.

“Our present house is Edwardian and, like most houses of that era, has larger than average rooms, high ceilings and lots of period detail including cornices, fireplaces and original panelled doors,” Anne says. “That’s what drew us to it, as well as its five bedrooms, three reception rooms, cellar, off-street parking for three cars and a surprisingly large garden for a city centre home.”

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“It’s also a solid house, which was important. We’d done all the building work and renovation on the last house and this time looked forward to just being able to enjoy the property,” she says.

But within a year of the purchase the couple realised that this house was going to be more expensive to run and repair than they were used to.

“Soon after moving in, we discovered the roof needed replacing and we substantially increased the amount of loft insulation at the same time. The kitchen was small in comparison to the rest of the house and we had to have it extended to give us a utility area. Plus one of the bathrooms had to be refitted.”

Just before last Christmas, a small leak which had gone undetected for some time caused even greater chaos.

“I went into what we call the music room one morning to find the wallpaper had come off the ceiling and water was pouring onto the carpet. It was a big shock,” says Anne. ”Luckily the plumber came out very promptly, but the whole ceiling had to come down and the mess was unimaginable.”

All’s well now of course, with a new ceiling installed and the cornice repaired, but it has taught Anne and John a harsh lesson.

“Being the owner of a period property can be an expensive exercise. I would always recommend that anyone buying an older house gets a thorough-going survey done on the place before exchange, just so you know what you are up against,” she says.

Has she got her next move in mind yet?

“No, but it will definitely be to a smaller, modern, more easily maintained home, that’s for sure.”

And will it still be in St Albans?

“That’s very likely because we love the city. It’s got a great identity as a thriving market town, despite being so close to London.”

10 Tips for Victorian and Edwardian home owners

1. Houses of this vintage were built with slate damp-proof courses which do not last forever. Rising damp will suggest a need to replace the course with a modern chemical injection one. Be sure to also renew all damp plasterwork in order to cure the problem.

2. Timber floors in contact with damp walls are prone to rot. Once the rising damp has been eradicated have flooring checked out. Affected areas can be cut out and renewed, or entire floors may need to be replaced.

3. Double glazing can, in most cases, be fitted to original wooden window frames without affecting the appearance.

4. If you don’t know how aged the electric wiring is, have it tested. It is a simple, non-invasive operation.

5. Iron mains cold water pipes are likely to need replacement due to corrosion.

6. When repointing outside walls, you will need to use lime mortar rather than the modern cement alternative. This will be a more expensive option as it is specialist work.

7. Disused flues should be capped off but vented externally at top and bottom to prevent condensation forming on chimney breasts inside. Where chimney breasts have been removed to create more space, make sure the chimney above is adequately supported.

8. Beware sanding down old paintwork due to the possible lead content which is toxic.

9. If originally slated roofs have been replaced with heavy concrete tiling, have the roof timbers looked at professionally to ensure they have been adequately strengthened to take the additional weight.

10. Cracks anywhere in the house could signify structural movement. If you are worried employ the services of a surveyor. Cracked lath and plaster ceilings are liable to collapse without warning!

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