Home at Last

PUBLISHED: 17:10 19 October 2010 | UPDATED: 18:02 20 February 2013

The Marie F in Lyme Regis harbour. The Chalet and Sun cottage can be seen behind

The Marie F in Lyme Regis harbour. The Chalet and Sun cottage can be seen behind

A landslide destroyed Harry May's childhood home in Lyme Regis, but some 45 years later he has rebuilt it as Peter Booton discovers

The cliffs along the Lyme Regis coast are notoriously unstable and in 1962 a landslide on high ground near The Cobb destroyed the home of Cyril and Elsie May. The landslide was caused by the development of land adjoining the Mays home on which it was intended 38 holiday chalets would be built. Work ceased, and today a crazy golf course in the public gardens alongside Marine Parade marks the site of the ill-fated development.

Cyril and Elsies son, Harry, was a teenager at the time and recalls how they lost their home, a 1903 Colonial-style house, which the Mays purchased in 1950 for 3,500. The developers bulldozed hundreds of tons of blue lias clay down into the sea, to level off the land, and while this was going on the ground moved five inches, and so did our home. It brought the floors up and the ceilings and walls down. The house was still standing but leaning over. So it had to come down.

Although the Mays were insured for heave, this didnt include landslides and so, predictably, the incident was classed as an Act of God, which meant that they received no money from their insurers. Taking the developers to court also proved fruitless because they were declared bankrupt.

Harry continues: The local council wanted us to leave the site and move into a council house, but my parents wouldnt do that, so they bought a small caravan and put all our belongings into that. Two years later a Sun Cottage, described by its makers, Paladin, as a house-style movable home, arrived at the site and a concrete base was prepared for it. The Mays new home came as a surprise. It had been bought for my parents by their friends, who paid more than 1,200 for it, including the concrete plinth, but they never received a bill or found out who paid for it, explains Harry.

While his parents, Cyril and Elsie May, remained in the Sun Cottage until their deaths. Harry led his own life, which included hitch-hiking to Australia and back. However, he admits that The Chalet, Cobb Road, has been the only address he has given when away from what he proudly regards as his true home.

In 2005 Harry married Christine Allison, a local artist. That same year the Mays applied for planning permission to erect a new house on The Chalet site. A 24 million project to stabilise the cliffs in Lyme Regis had just been completed by West Dorset District Council, and so they were granted permission to finally replace his childhood home which had been demolished more than 40 years previously!

Christine takes up the story: We commissioned a local architect, Mike Bromfield of Seaton, to design the house we had in mind. Mike and I worked together on the design and he put in everything we wanted to create a house thats just right for us. It has a nautical feel, on the lines of a boat or jetty, and theres a curved wall on one side of the house which imitates the shape of The Cobb. Its not a big house, but it is spacious and light.

The Mays moved into their new home on 27 July 2007 while its living sedum roof was being laid. In addition to providing heat insulation in winter and a cooling effect in summer, the environmentally friendly, natural covering for the flat roof gives the house an attractive appearance, which helps it blend sympathetically into the surrounding landscape. Thanks to The Chalets elevated location, every room of the house enjoys stunning panoramic views of Lyme Bay and the west Dorset coast to Portland.

A broad, stone-flagged terrace on the same level as the house is bordered with 144 brightly coloured exhibition dahlias, Harrys favourite flowers, which were given to him by a friend. There are lots of plants in pots and a vegetable garden too, looked after by Christine.

The Mays lead busy working lives. Christine is a full-time artist at her studio in Lyme Regis and exhibits widely in the Westcountry. After studying Graphic Design at St Martins School of Art in London, her career has included four years as Head of Art at Colyton Grammar School in Devon and, more recently, being commissioned to create large-scale drawings with children at the Natural History Museum.

Harrys working life, linked to the sea, began 40 years ago when he started selling locally caught fish and crabs in a shop by The Cobb. When the shops owner asked him to run one of his fishing boats, after passing the required test to do so, Harry fell in love with the job and now has two boats of his own, Marie F and Sunbeam, the latter bought from Ian Gillan, lead singer with Deep Purple and a local man. With these he operates mackerel and deep-sea fishing trips from The Cobb, which he finds are very popular with holidaymakers during the March to November season.

The Mays consider themselves very fortunate to live in a new home where the old house once stood and in such a fantastic location. We give thanks for this house every single day and feel so blessed to be here, enthuses Christine. Harry agrees. Its not just the history of the place, we love it here and were so appreciative!

To join one of Harrys fishing trips call 07974 753287. To learn more about Christines art visit christineallison.com

Latest from the Dorset