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'We live in a cemetery'
LIVING in a cemetery wouldn’t be for everyone.
The views from the windows of Jayne Stead and Mike Blatchford’s house are of gravestones as far as you can see – and they love it.
It is one of the many quirks of what must be one of the most unusual homes in Southampton. And it comes with the territory, literally, when you make your home in a cemetery keeper’s lodge and an old chapel.
When the couple bought the site, Cemetery Lodge in Southampton Old Cemetery on the Common, which they now live in with their three children and assorted pets, it wasn’t a home at all but a collection of buildings in various states of disrepair.
It’s hard to imagine how they went about converting this into their stunning family home but Jayne says she could always visualise how it would work.
The old buildings are linked by a modern, largely glass structure.
The bright open-plan kitchen and relaxation area is where urinals and a tatty storage shed used to stand, the former Jewish mortuary chapel, built around 1850, is their living room, the space next to it is their dining room and their bedrooms, bathrooms and a children’s playroom are in the old cemetery keeper’s lodge.
Creating this home has taken a huge amount of time and money, far more than the couple anticipated, and much still remains to be done.
But, says Jayne, they love it.
“It’s been worth every penny and every minute!” she declares.
Surprisingly, given the scale of the project they took on, Jayne and Mike, a builder, hadn’t been thinking about moving when a friend showed them an advert for the property in the Echo.
The couple fell in love with the idea immediately.
“We’re not reckless but we’re leapers,”
“We see something and we think ‘that’s a good idea, let’s do it’. It was one of those opportunities where you have to make a snap decision to go for it or not go for it. Half the time things pass you by because the deadline has gone.
“We both loved the house. If we didn’t go for it we weren’t going to get the opportunity again. We had no idea how much money it was going to cost or how much time it was going to take and we didn’t really care. We still don’t to be honest!”
The only downside to the house is the constant upkeep and endless cleaning that it needs, whether it’s reliming walls or removing the giant spider webs from the ceiling.
Part of the reason the house has taken so long is that Mike has done the majority of the work himself, from cutting stone which they have to go to a quarry in Purbeck to buy, to welding gates, learning new skills so he can do jobs himself rather than hiring someone to take care of them.
A self-employed builder, he stopped work for a year to concentrate on the house, but much still remains to be done.
“When we were ready to move in the surveyor came from the mortgage company to sign off releasing the funds so we could complete,” says Jayne.
“I thought we’d done an awful lot but she said ‘It’s barely habitable’! I thought ‘How awful, I wouldn’t say that’, but she was right. Looking back, it was barely habitable.
“The trouble is, all this stone has to be carved and it takes ages,” she says, pointing to a doorway.
“This doorway had to be carved by hand.
This has to be one of the most expensive laundry room doorways in the world!”
When they moved into the house, the couple put their former home, a house in nearby Silverdale Road, up for rent.
“That way if it all went horribly wrong we could move back home. Nobody really knows what it’s going to be like living in a graveyard!” says Jayne.
“The kids and I were fine straight away but it took Mike a long time to get used to it. He’d be up like a meerkat at every little noise.”
Now it is the family who are most likely to give someone a stare.
Visitors to the graveyard sometimes peer in the chapel’s windows, not realise it is now a home, and seem shocked to see the family sitting round watching television.
Passers by are, however, few and far between and the family love being able to be noisy without having to worry about upsetting anyone, which is especially helpful as Mike is also a member of Pink Floyd tribute band Pick Floyd, and likes to play his saxophone at home.
But at the same time, the family can have peace and quiet when they want it.
“I’m from Yorkshire and my dad is a builder. I grew up in half-renovated old stone cottages so this is like my childhood.
Living here is a bit like living in the country but in the city. You can walk home after a night out but it’s so peaceful and we can see the seasons change out of the window.
“It’s been so good for the children growing up here. They’ve had a little adventure every day of their lives. It’s a good, old-fashioned childhood with birds and squirrels and climbing trees. They know every inch of the Common.”
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