Beckley Park, an unmodernised Elizabethan hunting lodge, deep in the Oxfordshire countryside, is tall, thin and elegant with the finest pedigree. It’s thin because it pre-dates the corridor – one room leads onto another. It’s pedigree is impeccable because it has never once in its 400 year life been sold – it has passed from family to family by gift. And each of those families has felt it important to retain the character of the building, so that when you walk into the hallway, with its massive inglenook fireplace, it looks, feels and smells of history. The smell especially, a combination of smoke and damp which is impossible to replicate.
When I arrived home after the long drive from Oxfordshire the magic of Beckley was still fresh in my mind. I was a little surprised when I opened the front door to be confronted by the Beckley smell of damp and smoke. And also, an awful lot of black. A thin film of soot covered every surface. There had been a fire in a downstairs bathroom which didn’t develop into a full scale conflagration, but did fill the entire house with thick black smoke. The alarm had been raised by our Jack Russell, Pepper. Good old Pepper, a lifesaver, according to the fire brigade. I want this house to last another hundred years or so, but my first priority is to get rid of that Beckley smell.