A Caring Conversion

PUBLISHED: 12:26 26 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:15 20 February 2013

Skylights were added to the spacious new kitchen to let in more light

Skylights were added to the spacious new kitchen to let in more light

Peter Booton meets John and Penny Ross, who sympathetically converted a village chapel, which was part of their family history, into a gorgeous holiday home.

When the Wesleyan Chapel in Sturminster Marshall, East Dorset, ceased to be a place of worship in January 2008, John and Penny Ross resolved to purchase the 134-year-old building and sympathetically convert it into a dwelling.

The Rosss had been residents of the village for nearly 21 years, and for eight of those they lived next door in the former bakery, known as Magnolia Cottage. Their son, Louis, was christened in the chapel and their daughters, Gabriella and Olivia, went regularly to the monthly family service, sometimes entertaining those present by performing on their saxophone and violin.

Among the handful of people in the small congregation on these memorable occasions was Dora Miller, a lovely lady in her eighties, who was a mainstay of the chapel and had been the organist there since the age of 14. Following a decision to close the chapel, at the sad final service Dora was presented with a bouquet of flowers in thanks for her many years of devotion. When Dora died, her funeral order of service showed a photograph of the old Methodist building beneath which was inscribed: Doras beloved chapel.

Eventually the property was put up for sale and the Rosss offer was accepted, which was a great relief, as Penny explains: Wed walked past the chapel every day, and when it came up for sale we realised that if someone else bought it wed find it very frustrating to watch its conversion, knowing that we would have enjoyed doing the project ourselves.

On taking over the chapel its new owners were given a number of old documents relating to its history, including an indenture of 1876 commissioning the chapel as a place of worship, and a certificate, dated 1922, authorising its use for the solemnisation of marriages. The documents also gave details of the chapels trustees at various times, and in 1911 these included a master gardener, poulterer, grocer and confectioner.

From the moment John and Penny set out to purchase the property they knew that it would be too small to accommodate their own family and so they decided to convert the chapel into a luxuriously appointed holiday let. Having refurbished and extended two previous homes in the village, as well as their present home, the Rosss wanted to be fully involved with the chapels conversion and particularly the design of its interior.
Existing plans for converting the chapel showed three small bedrooms upstairs and an open-plan living/dining area, plus a kitchen on the ground floor, which would have resulted in the windows being only partly visible on each level. It left the Rosss with a dilemma, as Penny recalls: We sat for days thinking about how to make the most of the space and keep the windows.

They decided that on the ground floor there should be two reasonably sized bedrooms, each with an en-suite shower room, and a dining area at the front of the building which would be open to the full height of the roof. A large kitchen/breakfast room enjoying direct access to the rear garden would be housed in the existing single-storey extension at the rear of the chapel. This had been built on in 1955 to serve as a social room and vestry. We like big kitchens, Penny admits. So I wanted to keep it as a whole room and not split it up.

On a mezzanine floor above the bedrooms there was to be a spacious open-plan living area accessed by a spiral staircase encased in American ash. We wanted the roof beams exposed as a feature, explains John. If wed have put the bedrooms upstairs they would only have been seen in those rooms. Rather than have a corridor down the middle we decided to turn the layout upside down and have the bedrooms on the ground floor with the living area above. I think its a nice feature to sit upstairs and look down, or out of the front windows to the village green.
John and Penny sketched out this new layout and gave them to a local architect, who then drew up the plans and applied for planning permission, which was duly granted.

As the chapel was situated in a Conservation Area, overlooking Sturminster Marshalls village green, where traditional dancing around a maypole takes place each year on May Day, no changes could be made to its external appearance. We wouldnt have wanted to change anything anyway, admits John. Although we did consider putting in latticework windows, which we thought would be more attractive than the original frosted glass, but the conservation officer pointed out that this wouldnt be typical of a Methodist church.

However, they were permitted to replace the existing windows with clear glass, double-glazed units, but these had to be non-opening so that they would match the style of the old windows. In order to get fresh air into the building and stale air out, John and Penny installed an air-extraction system, which runs constantly and is virtually silent in operation. This draws in air from outside, which is warmed, filtered and circulated around the house through ducting, while at the same time stale air is expelled via discrete extractors in every room.

While John helped to oversee the project and visited the site regularly, all the specialist trades were co-ordinated by Danny Partridge, from Lytchett Matravers, who did all the building work and more besides. Danny is a very conscientious and skilled builder and the quality of his work is second to none, praises Penny. He also designed and landscaped the rear garden, built a seating area in the sunniest corner and created a number of brick-edged beds filled with coloured slate chips. We just wanted the garden to be low maintenance.

John and Penny have made a splendid job of sympathetically converting the old chapel and anyone who comes to stay will certainly appreciate the high standard of accommodation it offers. I think Dora would be pleased that her beloved chapel is now enjoying a new lease of life in caring hands.

For more information about the holiday let, visit theoldchapeldorset.com or 01258 857373

: Sturminster Marshall, East Dorset
Built: 1876. Extended 1955.
Accommodation: Ground floor: kitchen, utility room, WC, dining area, two bedrooms with en-suite shower rooms. First floor: living area

Roger Wilkinson Architectural & Building Services, Unit 28, Bailie Gate Industrial Estate, Sturminster Marshall, Wimborne, BH21 4DB. 07971 724519
General Building/Landscaping: DS Partridge, Springfield, Deans Court, Lytchett Matravers. 07971 451353

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