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posted by Natalie Paddick

In February 2013 I wrote a blog and a number of magazine articles about the TB Hospital on top of the Mendips in Somerset, called Nordrach House, This is a short blog on how we refurbished it, lived it and loved it...


"Well I want to do it!!" "Really Natalie do you not think we have enough to do?" "No I think it will be fun and I think it will be easy!! You will enjoy it!!"( Famous last words! ) This is never a convincing argument with my husband and partner, but to be fair I sort of got my own way .... And so we bought the shambolick wreck! Upsticks from our previous home in Henley-on-Thames to rural Somerset. Trust me quite a cultural change!!

Nordrach House is a 6,000 sqft property with 6 bedrooms, a kitchen you can swing a number of cats in, (two Bengals spring to mind! Which we own.) Dining Room, Sitting Room, Double Office annex, games room with Pavilion and conservatory...  The garden was just shy of 7 acres of woodland and fields all in a general state of dilapidation and dereliction! But the property boasted fantastic Victorian features, such as an incredibly long entrance hall with white and black dot ceramic tile flooring, enormous rooms with 11 foot high ceilings, massive cast iron Gothic windows and the most over grown and never weeded central courtyard. Yes okay a challenge ... 


So began our new relationship with the Nordrach Sanatorium, which had initially been developed from Willoughby's Farm in 1899 by two Doctors, into a much needed TB Hospital; 700 feet above sea level where the air is pure and clean! The demand for this type of cure at the time was so needed that they opened the doors before they had even finished the decorations, at a hefty fee of £20 per week!

Patients were mostly to live in the timber pavilions erected in the gardens and grounds, where they were subjected to an open window, breathe the fresh air policy. One patient, (who I do not believe I am related too!) Sneaked out to the local Wellsway Inn for a drink or four! He was seen by one of the many doctors that worked at the hospital and reported. On his inebriated return to Nordrach he was to find his bags packed and a carriage ordered for him! I should point out at this stage that the Sanatorium had it's own liquor menu, which the guests were required to order from! At the hospitals uplifted prices!! 



Thankfully TB was successfully conquered in the UK, although I understand it is making a worrying come back! So the Nordrach Sanatorium metamorphosed into a refuge from the second world war bombing in Bristol for Hungarian refugees and later a home for orphaned children. Later it was turned into a private Country Club with golf course; which prompted the local butcher; to say to me, "nod, nod, wink, wink, you know what I mean!!" I didn't but I later found out, it was his way of alluding to the fact that the Country Club was a front for a house of ill repute, hosting wild parties, women of the night and excessive drug taking! ...Shocking ... Giggles!!  Eventually it found it's way into the hands the fruit and vegetable empire, the Stokes family of Bristol, who refurbished and upgraded it into a Laura Ashley style of decor circa 1980. When we bought it had not been redecorated since!


Well now I have told you the good sell!! We arrived there in April 2005 to the most evocative smell of wild garlic, growing in abundance in the woods, a plant that has both beauty in it's flowers and evokes very happy memories for me. Hell this was a exciting challenge! Some of my memories of us first moving there; are switching on the boiler in the house the pipes ran under the floor boards up the long halls, which made whooshing and clanking noises ... It reminded me of Dobby, the house elf and his cohorts from Harry Potter, scurrying up and down the house setting things right and making ready for the morning, however it terrified the children!! We would look out the windows on some mornings and see deer, foxes, rabbits on the lawns. The next door neighbours prize chickens, which our cats would on occasions kill and bring back through the cat flap! Making the neighbours rally against us, threatening the cats with certain death... To avoid further upset the cats had to be kept in the house with all the windows shut in the heat of that first summer, with an Aga running - that was not fun. (However, you should know that cats are the only legally free roaming animals in the UK!) On a lighter note we also had a local lesser known lizard that came to see us. It was idillic fun. If not utter madness!!



Once I was woken in the middle of the night by our son, saying "Mummy there is a bat sleeping on my pillow." "No, you are fine go back to bed!!" As my conscience awakened, I realised I had better go and comfort him from this bad dream. I went into his room switched on the bed side light only to be hit full in the face by a startled bat that was happily cuddled up on his bed. I freaked, ran for the door and shut it behind me with him still in there. Holding the door handle to make sure it would not escape. Shouting good words of advice and comfort through the door! "Keep your eye on it, I will get your father! Don't under any circumstances open this door!" "But mummy it’s dive bombing me!" "It's fine, it is just playing ... It likes you!" (You can rely on me in this type of crisis .. Leave small child in room with potential man eating bat!) On the plus side he shouted back through the door. "I will Mummy!" Fishing nets, buckets, blankets were all brought to the rescue in the hope of returning this poor tiny animal back to the wild!! Only to have our daughter complain the next morning, that we were bad parents for not waking her, so she could have been part of the rescue! And our other little boy, wondering what else this house was going to throw at him? "Do we have monsters too?" (You never get it quite right as a parent!) 


We undertook extensive re-wiring, plumbing, refurbishments, it was like the painting of the Severn Bridge; cranes were hired to remove the many massive heating oil tanks that had been put into the courtyard. The policy seems to have been as one item expired another was just added. JCB's were deployed to remove the landfill that was the wood! Seven water tanks the size of a Fiat 500 in the roof were cut out and dismantled, some with lovely messages, signed by the tradesman! One with a less than complimentary comment about the "Gaffa"! The kitchen was to die for, four oven Aga, double electric oven and induction hob all installed and upgraded. It was a mammoth task, but the end result was a beautiful family home, not to mention the 375 metres of material for the curtains, the downstairs windows had a two and a half metre drop!... And did I mention it had a large wine store!! Delicious ... We fought a lengthy battle with the local planners for a large sports complex with indoor pool, granny flat and garages. And a separate stable complex in one of the fields. And we won a unanimous victory .... We gave Nordrach back it's life as a house!    



One of the other stories of Nordrach is that it is plagued with Jack Daws nesting year after year in the enormous roof space. They return to roost every year, building nest after nest, one on top of the other, for years... And boy do they make a mess! But we had to live with them and they with us! Producing many chicks, which would fall out of their nests on a regular basis, meaning the children would have to protect them from the aforementioned Bengal cats, until their parents came and taught them how to fly.  But a big problem for us was we needed to get them out of the roof space for hygiene reasons. It took two men dressed in what looked like Nuclear fall-out suits, a week to get rid of all the debris, nests and deceased birds and rats  ... Disgusting!! 


A very touching story of living in that pile of history, was the occasional pilgrimages of friends and relatives of people who had lived or been associated with the house. They would turn up with pictures and stories about the house in a former life. My most heart breaking memory is of a very elderly slightly infirm gentleman coming to the house, in a rickety old car. His mother was a TB victim who had lived at Nordrach, she was unable to pay the fee's at the hospital, but somehow his father who was a Mason, had secured her a place. We sat and had tea and cake with him as he told us his story of his sisters and him, he showed us pictures of him outside Nordrach House, the tree we were having tea under was featured in his pictures. He was three years old at the time and was only allowed to view his mother through the window to her bedroom, which was my husbands office. Sadly she died, he never got to hold her, just heart breaking!! He was shown around the house, invited back if he ever wanted to come. I wrote to him on occasions and sent him Christmas cards up until his own death... A part of the houses rightful heritage ....

We lived there for just over five years, had the wildest parties, that is for another blog!! In latter years one of our children also had wild parties, just without telling us! Massive family Christmas's, wonderful and fun times. Nordrach was at such an altitude that in the summer, you could really burn when the sun was out and when it was cold, it was very cold, with waist high snow, effectively blocking us off from the world for days. It was a great fun moment in time ... Not an easy project .. But to be fair what is? The time came when splendid isolation had run it's course and we became bored of being taxi drivers to the children! And I had spied a new project to be had!!  So we sold and moved on with great memories leaving Nordarch to another family, a proud and stately home again and a happier place. And keeping our secrets and memories alive in it's old but solid walls ... 



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