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Thread: Time Capsule Cottage - 15th Century Property Untouched for Decades

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    Time Capsule Cottage - 15th Century Property Untouched for Decades


    Time capsule cottage: Recluse who lived with 82 feral cats left his 15th century property untouched for decades

    Peep through the grimy leaded window panes of Fulling Mill Cottage and it looks like a meticulously constructed film set for a period drama.

    The floor is worn red brick, covered by a layer of dirt and straw. The oak-beamed ceiling appears to be held up by cobwebs. The grubby plasterwork crumbles to the touch.

    There is even a Miss Havisham-esque plate rack in the scullery full of cob-webbed dishes that have not been touched for decades.

    Yet this is a real house — where a reclusive former teacher eked out his lonely and frugal existence for nearly 30 years, surrounded by his books and the memories of his parents and grandparents who lived in the thatched 15th century cottage before him.

    Fred Saigeman’s only companions were 82 mainly feral cats, which shared the dilapidated property and its five acres of overgrown garden and woodland in Fittleworth, near Pulborough, West Sussex.

    When Fred died last year, aged 78, he left the cottage to a local cat charity — on condition they took care of his pets and prevented his old family home and grounds from being demolished and redeveloped.

    But it was only when charity staff visited the site that the details of his extraordinary time-warp lifestyle emerged.

    Julie Grant, a trustee of Cat Welfare Sussex, and her husband Tom have decided to restore the cottage to its former glory with the help of donations rather than sell it to raise funds for the charity.

    She says: ‘Fred had been a great supporter of our charity for 20 years, but he was very reclusive. For some reason, every third Thursday of the month he would appear with 36 cans of cat food for us.’

    After he died, staff from the charity went to his cottage to feed his cats.

    Julie continues: ‘We were shocked when we stepped inside. It was as if time had stopped still. It was shabby and dirty, but most striking of all was the total absence of any mod cons.

    ‘He just lived a basic life, with one cold tap in the scullery and the occasional bare lightbulb to see by.

    ‘He chopped wood to light fires and cooked his meals in an old cauldron over the flames. He slept on a mattress on the floor and bathed in a tin bath in front of the fire.’

    Formerly known as Hillside, Fulling Mill Cottage had once thrived under the ownership of Fred’s father, the magnificently named Loyal, and mother Nellie.

    His grandparents, Charles and Ellen, lived there from the early 1870s and ran a flourishing market garden from the cottage grounds. They also ran a highly acclaimed guest house until 1959.

    A dusty visitors’ book is still lying open on one of the tables. One wartime entry reads: ‘We could not wish for anything better than a thatch cottage for our honeymoon. A lovely week with the sweetest couple: a comfy bed, where I have slept all my tiredness away.

    ‘Thank you for your unfailing kindness and help during the years of evacuation. Hillside has been an oasis. A beautiful spot taken out of a fairy tale.’

    But when Fred’s father died, the cottage closed its doors and the rot began to set in.

    Fred, a grammar school boy who had won a scholarship to Oxford and later taught at a school in Surrey, was forced to take early retirement so he could look after his arthritic mother.

    When she died in 1983, her son withdrew into himself and the cottage quickly started to crumble.

    Holes developed in the thatch, wooden floorboards wore thin and his father’s once beautiful garden fell into ruin.

    In the scullery, the willow-pattern plates stood untouched in their rack with nearly 30 years’ worth of cobwebs, alongside lead crystal glasses and tea cups and saucers.

    Julie Grant says: ‘Fred had vowed never to move the plates after his mother died. All his cats had the run of the place for years, so you can imagine what state it was in.

    ‘There were books everywhere — 60,000 of them, mostly about modern history, Latin and the classics.’

    Elsewhere, the cottage gives tantalising glimpses of past lives. A framed poster advertises an 1865 cricket match between Fittleworth and ‘the gentlemen of Arundel’. There is a toy gun from Fred’s childhood. A single, unused and pristine hobnail boot dating back to World War I lies on a windowsill.

    Outside, there is Fred’s apple press, which he used to make apple and blackcurrant cider to give the locals after closing time at the pub. Forty demi-johns of cider were found in an outhouse.

    By the front door with its elephant’s head knocker is a stone memorial to Fred’s favourite cat, Tiger — ‘a deeply loved and close friend’.

    Another door has a plaque which reads: ‘Kind hearts are the garden; kind thoughts are the roots; kind words are the blossom; kind deeds are the fruits.’

    Julie Grant explains: ‘Fred was a typical country gentleman who reminded me of the J.R.  Hartley character in that old Yellow Pages advert.

    ‘He was very polite and quietly spoken. I think he would be glad we are trying to restore the house.

    ‘We could have sold it — but inevitably it would have been bought by a development company. The old vegetable garden would have been turned into a car park, and the old Victorian orchard would have become a housing estate.’

    As part of the restoration, they didn’t want to change the character of the cottage, which will be open to the public on occasions.

    ‘We couldn’t stand by and watch this unique corner of rural Sussex disappear,’ says Julie.

    ‘Although we’ll restore the cottage to its former glory, we’ll still keep the shaggy thatch, leaded windows, low ceilings and tiny doorways.

    ‘It will remain for ever a shrine to a much simpler way of life.’

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