Having owned a Grade II listed building for more than twenty years, Jackie and Paul Morrow certainly knew a thing or two about living in an historic building. But once both sons had fled the family nest, the couple decided to downsize and find a property for their retirement.
Jackie explains: “We decided the time had come to consider downsizing, and we were both looking forward to the time when Paul would take a step back from a busy senior managerial role, and I was certainly keen on having less space to look after.”
When Jackie and Paul started the search for their next home their priorities were clear: somewhere without challenging maintenance, somewhere with excellent local transport connections and a property that held some history. Jackie comments: “Our previous homes included restoring a 19th century Victorian property and more recently a Grade II listed building, so homes with history did appeal to us, but we wanted to avoid the sometimes challenging maintenance issues!”
Jackie was keen to revisit The Garden Quarter, a development of historic properties on the site of RAF Bicester built by heritage specialist City & Country. She had first seen the site a few years earlier after watching an episode of Channel 4’s Restoration Man with George Clarke, who ironically is also a City & Country ambassador.
Set within 23 acres of tranquil, landscaped gardens, The Garden Quarter’s clever design and layout maximises space and light, with buildings arranged in symmetrical patterns around formal squares and landscaped spaces. The development enjoys an enviable location surrounded by superb countryside, yet with fantastic road and rail links to local towns and larger cities, with nearby Bicester North station providing regular train services to London Marylebone, with journey times from 48 minutes.
Upon viewing the development, Jackie and Paul found a property they liked, inviting friends and family to view it with them before they made an offer. At the time what their friends did not know was that the couple had decided to purchase one of the most idiosyncratic properties City & Country has ever created – a fully restored and converted WWII-era decontamination bunker. Jackie muses: “Our friends and family were blown away when they viewed the bunker! We have always been interested in unusual properties, although we believe you never actually own these buildings – you just look after them.”
Jackie and Paul’s new home has been crafted from an entirely renovated decontamination bunker. The historic bunker, originally built in 1939, was designed and developed by the now defunct Air Ministry, in response to the widespread fear of a gas attack. It remains partly concealed by two large earth mounds which were designed to offer blast protection.
In order to preserve its unique design, the external appearance of the building has deliberately remained unaltered; however City & Country did have to entirely replace the existing roof. At approximately two metres in depth, the removal of the roof necessitated the installation of a new steel structure to brace the walls against the surrounding earth banks. This new structure was then used as a framework for a new intermediate floor and roof to be installed, ingeniously creating two floors of accommodation where only one had existed originally.
Commenting on the design of the building, Jackie says: “The imagination shown by City & Country in converting the older properties, as well as creating new homes in a complimentary style, is impressive, keeping where possible the original features but adapting and expanding them for modern living.”
Having decided that they are not quite ready yet themselves to move in, Jackie and Paul plan to let the distinctive property before moving in at a later date. Jackie comments: “We didn’t want to lose out on the opportunity to own something that filled our pre-retirement brief so we decided to purchase now for rental with a view to moving in ourselves in two years. We can’t wait!”
In early 2016 City & Country will launch The Old Power Station – another iconic Grade II Listed building that has been fully restored and converted into a striking four bedroom home. The Art Deco property will feature a huge open plan kitchen and living area with double height ceilings, a separate ‘snug’ living area, a gallery room, a vast private roof terrace and a third floor ‘crow’s nest’ viewing area located in a converted water-tower, which offers views of the surrounding development. The Old Power Station will be released for sale early 2016, registrations of interest are being taken now.