‘Fantastic’ and ‘warm’ were two words used to describe Bridge Cottage by guests at an official opening ceremony held there this afternoon following refurbishment of the historic building.
Two couples who knew well how cold the building used to be were Mike and Liz Harvey-Penton – they sold photographs and jewellery there – and Graham and Astra Russell, who often helped in the Lions’ Bookshop, in a lean-to building which has since been demolished and replaced by a new extension to accommodate a gift shop and archive room.
Graham told Uckfield News that even when there was a blazing fire in the grate at Bridge Cottage the wind whistled in through the walls. Now the building is well protected from the elements and has warmed up thanks to a ground source heat pump.
He said the Lions remained grateful to the preservation society for letting them set up their bookshop at Bridge Cottage. They had moved in for 12 months and stayed for two-and-a-half years.
Graham said: “We didn’t pay rent but we gave them a share of the profits and if it hadn’t been for that arrangement the bookshop would never have got off the ground, enabling us to lease a property in Olives Yard.”
He was impressed by the new look Bridge Cottage. “I think it is fantastic. I am pleased they managed to keep something of the original features and I hope the building gets used.
Liz Penton agreed: “I think it is absolutely wonderful. The guys who have done the restoration are amazing. It feels like home. There’s a lovely cosy feeling in it.”
Liz, who is on the preservation society committee and helps run the society’s charity shop, had detected a ghostly presence in the cottage before the refurbishment but said she hadn’t been there on her own yet to feel whether it was still there. “Time will tell,” she said.
There were mixed feelings for Sally Pearce at the official opening. Her husband Adrian was heavily involved in the restoration project until his death eight years ago.
She told Uckfield News: “I became a widow while he was working on this. It became his obsession. He worked long hours trying to sort it all out.” She was pleased society chairman Mick Harker had persevered to see the project through.
A former preservation society chairman Bob Bennett remembers the early days of the project too and the effort put in by people such as Adrian Pearce and Margaret Muggeridge.
He thought the finished cottage was “fantastic”.
Architect Tom Drysdale from WAS, who was praised by preservation society chairman Mick Harker for his input said his firm had found working on the project a great experience. “We have enjoyed every minute of it, and it’s been very handy because we are just across the road.”
Mr Drysdale said Bridge Cottage was a very important building for Uckfield. “I think it’s a great asset for the town.”
Mick Harker told crowds who gathered outside the cottage that it had stood on its site next to the River Uck since 1436 and was lived in until the 1970s.
It was built as a grand house and now had 600 years of history behind it. In that time three bridges had been built over the Uck, the railway had arrived and the cottage had endured floods and wars.
It was saved from demolition by the preservation society and was an historic focus for that part of town.
A £1 million plus grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and another £¼ million from its owners Uckfield Town Council enabled the building to be brought into the 21st Century.
Michelle Roffe, senior grants officer with the Heritage Lottery Fund, said Bridge Cottage was a perfect example of what the Heritage Lottery Fund tried to achieve in funding.
That was to support “really talented, committed, volunteers to restore a unique building. She thanked everyone involved in the project for making it such a success.
Michelle told Uckfield News later she was impressed by what had been achieved by the volunteers, particularly Mick Harker who had done the project management and given up his time to really make a difference.
The Heritage Lottery Fund is also funding two heritage education officers for the next year to work with local groups and talk to schools and other interested parties and encourage interest in the building and the town’s heritage.
Bridge Cottage is to be used as a heritage centre with attractions including educational programmes, hands on heritage activities for all ages, local history and craft events, and a heritage huh for historical research.
Find local businesses in our Uckfield Directory