It’s not often you hear that your (old) home has been demolished, especially via a random tweet on a Saturday night.
A quick glance on Google Streetview revealed that it was absolutely true, with the cameras capturing a last glimpse of the condemned terrace (and the fact that some subsequent owner had painted it an unfortunate shade of blue).
It was the first house we ever bought, in around 1994, back when people in their twenties could buy their own house. Actually, even then it was a bit of a stretch for a young couple in an affluent part of the south east, but it was the cheapest house on the market and we managed to get in right at the end of the housing price slump.
When we moved in, the wallpaper was hanging off the walls, having been up since apparently the 70s and it had no central heating just wall-mounted gas fires. This became a problem a few months later when we smelled gas and called British Gas. It was a freezing November evening and I remember being both horrified and impressed at the thoroughness as the engineer went round and condemned pretty much every heating appliance in the house.
It had no pavement in front of the house when we lived there, and as it was right in Maidenhead town centre, there was nowhere to park a car so when we did finally buy one, we had to rent it a garage about a mile away – and in a much nicer postcode, which meant the rent paid for itself in reduced insurance premiums. I can highly recommend keeping your car 20 minutes walk away from your house to cut down on frivolous car usage, by the way.
Like a lot of Victorian houses, it was pretty poorly built; there wasn’t a right angle or horizontal surface in the whole place, and no insulation to speak of. When we bought it the loft was one continuous space along the entire terrace – sadly, the forces of health’n’safety insisted we put up firewalls, thereby preventing us from either taking up a very localised career in burglary, or setting up an awesome extended model railway layout.
Its best feature was the garden, my first ever. It was south facing, and as the house had been built on the Thames’ floodplain, had the most beautiful alluvial soil. I created my first veg patch in that garden and I had absolutely no idea how lucky I was. It wasn’t very big, but it had everything we needed: a tiny warm patio with evening-scented plants, a lawn just big enough for one person to sunbathe on, raspberry canes that kept us in raspberries for most of July (£5 from Woolworths; bargain), my fancily named ‘vegetable parterre’ (what can I say, it was the nineties, we all watched Gardener’s World when we weren’t watching Changing Rooms), and a shed that came with all of the contents thrown in when we bought the house, including Arthur’s Bike.
I loved the process of turning what was a bit of a wreck into a home although it’s fair to say the other half was less keen, preferring a house where you weren’t woken at 5:30 by the street sweeping machine which always sounded like the approach of the end of the world, only more menacing. This often after a night when the party people of Maidenhead would have chosen our street (indeed often our front garden wall) to wait loudly and drunkenly for a taxi, fall out noisily with their boyfriends, or – at least once, anyway – knock on our front door to explain that they were too drunk to remember where they lived and could they come and sleep in our house instead.
Despite all this, it proved a sound investment, with almost as impressive returns as those £5 raspberry canes from Woolies but on a larger scale, and helped us to afford the place we live so happily in now. We often wondered if it would be compulsorily purchased – our little terrace was a strange anomaly in the midst of the office buildings and car parks of the town centre – but it seems it took another 15 years for that to actually happen. I hope that in the intervening years it was a happy home to more young people starting out on the housing ladder – and that it’s turned into more homes for people to be happy in, and hopefully with better soundproofing.