‘Georgian’ house’s secrets

Removing the safe from Watchbell Chambers

Watchbell Chambers in Watchbell Street is an imposing, apparently Georgian, townhouse whose secrets are being uncovered – but, first, one had to be removed.

Formerly the offices of Wm Dawes & Co, Solicitors, the property was sold in 2013 to be converted into a private residence after the law practice moved out to merge with Heringtons in Rye High Street.

But first the new owner faced the daunting task of dismantling the house’s reinforced concrete strongroom, as only then could the lawyers’ outsize safe (shown above) be removed. And the house has other secrets.

“Social changes, relative prosperity and fashion have resulted in some eighteen houses in Rye being given a face lift by the Georgians”, wrote John Griffths in his book “Shapes, colours and materials – a look at buildings in Rye”.

And he went to say that the Georgians “by using mathematical tiles and sash windows produced what “on the face of it” were brick built Georgian town houses”.

Renovation works at Watchbell Chambers have uncovered a much older structure behind the Georgian façade and evidence of this is the 16th  century timber-framing of very high quality material, according to David Martin, a leading medieval buildings archaeologist.

He  commented: ” This conservation project shows how a historic building can be modified to alternative use and modern needs without damaging it”. . . as apparently the Georgians modified it in that century. But this has proved a major undertaking with new challenges emerging as the history is painstakingly uncovered.

Gradually though, the vision becomes reality as the building “finds its own voice” and moves almost audibly into the next phase of its existence as a 21st century home.

Photo: Trevor Llanwarne