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BlogTheRockery

posted by Natalie Paddick

The Making of the Rockery .....
 
Sipping wine in our garden resting between two gruelling but exciting jobs, in a beautiful location in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire ... The immortal words were uttered........ “WE NEED A VIEW!” ... A light bulb moment!!!????
 
Our house which was the Folly in the style of a Greek Temple; had once been the 100th room of the McAlpine Estate. The original owner of the main house had counted all the rooms and found that there were only 99, disliking uneven numbers. He commissioned the 100th room to his estate with the construction of a Folly. We rebuilt and refurbished the Folly into a bijou but stylish home; but that is for another blog! ... The Folly is in the centre of a plot of land surrounded by enormous beech tree’s and manicured laurel hedges...... There was I thinking we were going to have a break from work... But no a plan was hatched ...  Immediately and detailed sketches and drawings were worked on... Conversations with local planners took place to check what building regulations are requirements were needed.... 


The first of a number of issues relating to the build was that we could not break through the underground chalk membrane as this would affect the Thames Water regulations. This is a problem if you are intending to dig deep! ....There was no way of knowing where the chalk started and the clay stopped, the only way this could be tested was to start digging! A risk as the project was very grand, the  dimensions of what at the time was referred to as the ‘hole’. Were 35ft deep, by 50ft wide, by 75ft long. We had already ordered and paid for 200 tons of rock that were due to be delivered from a quarry in Yorkshire. We decided to dig! Hell!! .... You don’t do this unless you are mad or committed, fortunately we are both and it was a landscape designers dream!  

Having checked with all local authorities to see if there are any underground utilities running under the property, The Southern Electricity Board (SEB), sent a team of people with all sorts of gadgets to make sure we were okay to dig. The paperwork came back with the green light ...... Day one the digger started, clearing the area getting it ready for the crane to come in..... The quantity surveyors calculations, stated that we would need three eight wheeled lorries in constant daily rotation for approximately three weeks..... The crane was capable of lifting one ton of soil per scoop. Boy it was going to be exciting!..... The digger started, I was in the Folly working when the was an explosion like I have never heard, and all electrics went off! Opening the front door .... All eyes were on the hole that the digger had just dug, there was much scratching of heads and bemused looks ... It would appear that we had hit a 4 inch high voltage mains electrical cable and put a nick in it!!
 
Within fifteen minutes you could hear sirens blaring, cars hooting and general mayhem off in the distance? ..... Then three siren blaring cars skidded to a halt outside our gate, a number of panicked looking men came flustering into the garden. The Southern Electricity Board had not identified a major electricity cable running across the garden. The digger had hit the cable and blown all the electricity at the local sub station; which had knocked out most of the electricity in Henley, not least the traffic lights and all the banks electronic communications!! ....  ‘Opps’!! The site was shut down, SEB workers arrived and there was much panicking!! Emergency cables were set up and order was eventually restored electricity wise to the local area!! 

As you can imagine this sort of high lighted the project to the press and the locals. Not least delaying the project whilst we fought with the SEB as to who was to blame and who was to pay for the reinstatement of a new electricity cable. Eventually the SEB  agreed that they had not highlighted the cable to us and offered to go halves on it’s relocation!! ... We declined to pay for their mistake and they then spent a week relaying a cable at their cost! ... And so we started again!

As the ‘hole’ got bigger it became impossible for the digger to get any deeper so, we used the crane to drop the digger into the ‘hole’. Once we got to the desired depth and width, we shuttered the base with timber sheets in readiness for the pouring of concrete for the pool base. Because of the complexities of the design the company Ready Mixed Concrete had to mix a special concoction of concrete with a water proofing additive, the same mix that was used in the construction of the underwater harbour in Tokyo. When they came to pour the concrete they bought a camera crew, as they were going to use the project in their new sales promotion documents! 

We ploughed on, installing steal re-enforcement around the entire sunken construction.... But we had another problem, we had become a sight seeing location by interested locals...The Folly was on a private single track road, so viewing traffic along with our constant use of the road taking away spoil, was impacting on our neighbours .... It is always important to keep the neighbours happy where you can!! ... A local reporter turned up at the property to interview us.... It turned out that the rumour was that Michael Jackson had purchased The Folly and was digging an underground tunnel to the nearby Friar Park Estate, which was up the road to us and was the home of George Harrison .... Friar Park is the most beautiful landscaped estate, which has secret tunnels running under it from place to place... But we had no intention of digging into George Harrisons house... As you might imagine!!!

So we were forced to erect shields to protect our new found fame! But this interest came at another cost ... One day the local authority's turned up unannounced; we had been informed on and if it was not to be Michael Jackson’s secret hide away, they assumed we were mining for minerals!! Give me strength!! ... I mean really can’t anyone do a bit of landscaping construction in their garden? After much discussion and grumpiness on their part, they agreed we could continue, but they were going to keep an eye on us!! At this moment and the memory of such negativity from others my quote would be Carp Diem .... And ignore the bank balance!!
 
There was one very frightening moment, (outside of the bank balance!) At 3 am in the morning; I stood at the top of the ‘hole’ and my partner stood at the bottom. It was pouring heavy rain and we needed the walls of the ‘hole’ to hold before the last pouring of the concrete. As the walls were made up of clay, the weight of the rain could at anytime undermine the sides of the construction. Now that would be expensive!! Fortunately we had put extra support on the road side of the construction in order to prevent us taking out the road in case we had this exact situation! The next morning one side had collapsed, in the process it had demolished all the steal reinforcement on that side of the ‘hole’ making it look like bent safety pins! ... More reconstructive work was needed ...
 
The Butyl liner arrived, which was made to a special size and was so heavy the crane had be used to get it off the lorry and in place.... All the rocks had been sized an numbered in order of where they were to be placed, the smallest rock was half a ton and the largest 7.5 tonnes; because of their weight there was no second chance in placing them, it was a very precise business!! ... Some of the stones had to be drilled so they could be held in place with stainless steal pins ....   

I can still hear the noise of the cranes loud alarm system screeching, warning lights flashing, when we tried to place the largest rock on the podium stone. The wonderful crane driver, rocked the boom so that the rock swung backward and forward; I thought the crane was going to fall into the rockery. But this crane driver was highly skilled, he placed the rock with perfect precision..... In a conversation with him afterward he said that it was an unnerving moment in his life, but he was used to pressure as he currently held the title of the United Kingdoms heavy weight bench pressing title!! ....
 
The rockery had three 100mm (4”) outlets, which pumped water loudly all day. It had a cut of switch at night, you could hear it firing up in the mornings.... It was an amazing site .... We bought in another digger to excavate a valley to the rockery and heavily landscaped the whole area ..... On one occasion we were woken in the middle of the night with helicopters and flood lights scanning at low level over the rockery... It was in 1999, after the appalling attack on George Harrison, by an armed intruder, who had stabbed him. The police were searching the area for any accomplices and they thought that maybe they were hiding in the rockery. We would also have the odd balloon flight going over the top of the house to take photographs, they would wave and call to us in the garden!   

It was beautiful in every way, it played the centre of stage at many a bohemian party and private events. We swam in the pool and climbed the rocks. I loved it and was passionate about it. We have done many other landscaping projects, but the rockery was for us! We sold the house to a pop star and moved on to our next project. But we had created a ‘Folly with a View’; that will remain there long after we are gone and always be in my heart forever! 


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