One of three hearths
Three Hearth House (Chi Teyr Oles) is a Victorian granite terraced town house in the far west of Cornwall. It dates from the late 1860s when the town, like others, experienced a boom in population and activity with the coming of the railways and mature industries in fishing, mining and maritime commerce. It’s the kind of house that would have been lived in by a relatively well-to-do middle class family of modest means. Perhaps a lawyer, accountant or shopkeeper?
We don’t know as the deeds are lost. The girt granite blocks have faired well in spite of regular lashings from the prevailing south-westerlies. It has three original reception rooms of medium size and two original bedrooms, one large, one medium. In addition, the loft has been converted to a studio room with a rear dormer window and a 1960s block-built extension to the house over two floors creates a third bedroom and kitchen below. A rear enclosed courtyard is currently used as a modest outdoor space to store wood, sit outside and hang the washing, and until recently contained the outdoor loo. A small front garden contains a camelia tree and we have replaced the miscellaneous evergreen shrubbery with heath and hedgerow plantings including gorse, hazel, Cornish heathers and lavender.
We moved in seven months ago and this blog chronicles our experiences of living the good life in an urban setting. We love our house and this is our forever home. Having moved around a lot and lived in a variety of settings we’ve learnt a lot about ourselves and how the kind of place we live in affects our outlook on life.
Why three hearths?
We moved in on a cold January morning. The house had not been lived in for a good year or more and had been renovated in a basic fashion to sell on, the previous owner having died some time previous. No provision had been made for heating and by all accounts only a coule of gas fires (since removed) had been used for warmth and hot water. All we had to play with were very poor quality electric fan heaters situated in two of the fire places on the ground floor. Get too close and one of their panels fell off. Any hope of getting heat upstairs was misplaced. In addition three night storage points had been included downstairs as part of the rewiring but never connected to a meter. No points upstairs at all. Hot water was provided by a basic, poorly insulated immersion tank and the shower was a 9kw electric unit that coped badly with the non-existent hot water pressure causing it to almost immediately break down after a couple of weeks.
We were faced with three feasible options:
- Re-establish the gas supply (meter and connection still present) and install an efficient gas-fired system including radiators in most rooms. Cost estimate: c. £5000.
- Establish a highly efficient electric system with option to use Economy 7 or 10 tariffs (this option is limited through many suppliers). Cost estimate: c. £6-7000 depending on make.
- Install solid fuel heating and hot water system, re-establishing three original fire places and installing a thermal store with solar coil ready for future addition of solar thermal. Cost estimate: £9900.
With options 1 and 2 we would still have wanted at least one wood or solid fuel burning stove or open fire. These are setup costs and do not include costs for future modifications and maintenance which we took into account when making our decision. Options 1 and 2 cost estimates are approximate and based on our own research, not actual quotations. Option 3 is based on the original quotation from the installers which we will discuss in future blog posts and it is the three hearth option we now enjoy.
Eco-setup or being wholesome?
In Italy there is a phrase that sums up our philosophy in life, l’arte d’arrangiarsi–the art of getting along or making the best of what there is–literally making an art out of gathering together what’s available to you. It’s difficult to translate but you will get the idea, especially if you keep up with this blog. No English phrase sums up the idea as effectively, but the nearest is the ideal of wholesomeness, and finding the best solution that results in well-grounded contentment, easy to repeat and sustain.
We share between us a deep pleasure in simple things. Home cooking with great ingredients, lighting a fire, walking for leisure and transport, shopping at markets, enjoying unusual drinks, listening to unusual (sometimes very weird) music, strumming away on a banjo or bouzouki… we live slow and gain satisfaction from making do with living a largely local life.
We are not green evangelists who tick all the on-trend eco boxes. We eat virtually all foods including meat. We recycle but gain no pleasure from it (no one much does in Cornwall at the moment, and resent squandering our metred water rinsing tins). We do not wish to save the planet as we don’t believe it’s under threat. Humans may be but Earth is not. We have never calculated our carbon footprint and think it a misleading and useless concept. At the moment we both work for ourselves so aren’t tied to a 9-5 job (a conscious choice for as long as we can manage it). We are not inveterate travellers so don’t fly much but we do enjoy flying and don’t feel guilty about it. We recently sold our car because it was costing too much to keep it on the road compared with how much we used it–food is mostly sourced within a 2 minute walk from us, exotic items are ordered online, and our leisure has been primarily based on how far we can walk in any direction. With the promise of sea, moor and an ancient landscape in all directions why would anyone want to whizz through it?
Living a practical life
I’m sharing this information with you because I don’t want you to think we are supercilious champagne socialists or dyed-in-the-hemp new agers. Our no. 1 practical aim at Three Hearth House is to reduce our monthly outgoings to the minimum possible without compromising our quality of life. We are part of the generation that has been moulded by Thatcher’s Britain, that will not enjoy the benefits of state care in old age, will be required to work longer for less, and contribute more for much less. So we might as well live like we wish to until we die, hoping to live long enough in health to have made a good account of ourselves. We do underpin this with the philosophy that we have deep respect for the earth and its resources.
As an historian and archaeologist we know about the journeys humans have made and know very well that contemporary society’s illusion of ourselves is just that. We want to live in a way that feels right, that does not ruin the environment for others (not the greenhouse one but the one we think of as our surroundings, although the two are inextricably related), and can sustain ourselves if / when we experience proto-apocalypses or the settling down period following a revolution (interruptions in long-distance food and fuel supplies and transport infrastructure).
Then we can teach others the basics of human life skills like lighting a fire without firelighters or petrol, cook raw ingredients on that fire and build a rudimentary shelter for the shanty town. I am digressing. We love true economy and we believe supporting local economies is in the short run the only way we will maintain our quality of life in the long term. We also vociferously loathe reliance on big, distant multi-national corporations, acting like gods but behaving like spoilt children, that control everything from our electricity to potato imports. It’s a sad time if all governments can do is to bolster the very system that has shafted the majority of the world’s people and without much opportunity to complain as most of us are enslaved in it some way or another, albeit under duress.
So that’s us here at Three Hearth House and we look forward to sharing more very soon.