On the 24th of March 2020, after six long months in hospital Dr David Newton (Pops) died of non covid medical issues. Bequeathing his house, set in an acre of land, with outbuildings to us; his remaining daughter Siobhan and her husband Martin.
Pops was a retired Physics lecturer, a keen naturalist and conservationist and collector of Victorian tools. He also had a passion for mending things that meant Pops found it difficult to dispose of or throw away items and objects that could be useful one day.
The Stables at 94 is one half of a block of four ten foot by ten foot wooden stables built in the mid 1950s. The four sections are separated by wooden internal dividing walls. Each section originally had a traditional two part stable door.
Since moving in, in 1982 Pops used the stables to store his gardening and other tools, and a large collection of useful wood and other objects.
After the death of his wife Jennifer in 2013 a combination of grief and advancing years resulted in Pops largely neglecting the stable block, which fell into disuse and disrepair. When Siobhans sister Gilly died in 2018 Pops energy further diminished as did his enthusiasm for mending things.
The first weeks of lockdown brought the excellent weather of Spring 2020 and we took on the onerous and difficult task of trying to clear the building of rubbish and to some extent restore it to usefulness. It quickly became apparent that the entire front section of one half of the stable block had succumbed to severe attack by woodworm, resulting in the structure becoming unstable and the roof sagging.
The physical nature of this task was slightly less daunting that the emotional challenge. This half of the block had been where Pops, as a younger and more hopeful man, had created and built his best projects and stored his favourite tools and was known as his workshop. Over the last 7 years of his life Pops had increasingly used the workshop to store useful wood and household ephemera, this meant that now there was not an inch of floor space on which to stand.
Martin knew that Siobhan would really struggle with going through all the evidence of her Dads unfinished projects and the stories attached to the emphera he had kept. A Wooden go cart from 1980 with spare wheels, the side of a bunk bed from 1975 and many more items told the story of the family Siobhan had known and who had all now died.
Martin came up with an inspired idea, that instead of focusing on the tidying up and throwing away, that they would focus on transforming the space into something that would celebrate the more gregarious and sociable life they were looking forward to, now the caring responsibilities were behind them. The decision was made that the whole of this project would aim to make genuine and creative use of as much of this hoarded material as possible, and not a penny would be spent. This would help ensure that the resulting space would honour the lives of Siobhan family, celebrating and remembering their stories and the stories of the objects from which it was created. The project also provided a positive and constructive focus for processing and dealing with grief and loss.
Making the most of the sunshine it took almost seven days of hard work to completely empty the block of four stables. Useful tools, lawn mowers, scaffolding towers (plural) were temporarily stored elsewhere and all rotten and severely woodwormed timber was burned.
The supporting framework and cladding along with the dividing wall between the first two stables was removed and the roof temporarily supported. Sections of old roof beams from a previous barn conversion were then cut to size and inserted as pillars to support the now open fronted structure.
Over the last ten years we have hosted many outdoor and glamping parties in Siobhans family home and garden. To our surprise these became a huge source of joy for Pops. He even mentioned them in his Father of the Bride speech at our wedding In short what I am saying is that I want nothing to change, I want Siobhan and Martin to continue to hold excellent parties, to which I am invited, but for which I have to do no work. Following memorial services for Jennifer and Gilly we hosted events designed to bring people together in celebrating their lives.
Dying so early in Lockdown meant Martin and Siobhan were the only people to attend Popss cremation. The ongoing pandemic means that the opportunities for a celebratory event with family, (both logical and biological) and friends may not happen until well after the first anniversary of his death.
We wanted to be able to host a memorial for Pops that would use theThe Stables. This meant that they had to be able to cope with serving food and drink to scores of people, as well as providing a haven for rule of 6 social distanced outdoor gatherings in the meantime.
The first thing to be built was a bar, from left over flooring material, and having found a spare Belfast sink in the garden the bar is pretty well equipped. A serving pass was built with rescued work top and a fridge donated by a friend.
The need for flexible seating, dining or serving surfaces resulted in using the old internal wall and some hoarded timber to create 2 identical tables that could be used separately or together, to sit at or to serve from. When Martin was looking for material to make stretchers for these tables, what better timber to use than the sides of a WW1 stretcher that Pops had been keeping for many, many decades. Seating was solved with a church pew Pops had kept in case the church ever wanted it back and a fabulous local pub having some free to a good home dining chairs to be collected from their car park.
Lighting was solved with an old string of builders lights, rescued from a skip. Martin removed the remains of broken lightbulbs, installed a new fuse and there was light. We decided to shade these lights with paper lanterns left over from our wedding.
Decoration began using left over paint, and items from around the house and garden, each with a story to tell. The crampons and ice axe that Pops had mountaineered with. The coat of arms painted by Gilly in 1986. The butterfly nets used by Jennifer. Everything had meaning and celebrated good times and happy memories.
By the time The Stables was half finished it became a venue for our lunches and evening drinks, a place to plan and a place to heal. All that was missing was sharing it with friends.
Restrictions eased and friends could visit, safely and in small number. Our first guest was lovely MasterChef winner Irini Tzortzoglou who brought food. This was a celebration and pre launch party for Under the Olive Tree which featured ceramics that we had made. Since then small groups of friends and family have socially distanced and connected in the space when it has been legal to do so.
As the winter lock down bit we decided that the best way to approach this first Christmas without any of Siobhans childhood family, was to make it as joyous as we could. We realized there would be no visitors but decided to behave as is there were, making things feel as special just for us as we would done have for guests. The Stables was given a winter makeover and we had Christmas and New Year celebrations in it.
We are looking forward to being able to host friends and family and celebrate Pops life in The Stables, when it is safe to do so; but in the meantime The Stables of 94 has become a symbol of connection and hope, of joy and of laughter for us both.
It will be a heck of a memorial party when it happens.