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A variety of reclaimed materials have been used in the sensitive conversion of a historically significant former printworks in Bermondsey
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The Independent Online

Bermondsey, SE1, has changed dramatically over the past century. The first city railway - the London and Greenwich Line - was built through it in 1836, supported by 878 brick arches, which stretched for four miles. But since the rebirth of the docklands as a prime residential area, many of the large Victorian warehouses have been converted into flash city pads, intermingling with new developments and a few original Georgian houses.

Bermondsey, SE1, has changed dramatically over the past century. The first city railway - the London and Greenwich Line - was built through it in 1836, supported by 878 brick arches, which stretched for four miles. But since the rebirth of the docklands as a prime residential area, many of the large Victorian warehouses have been converted into flash city pads, intermingling with new developments and a few original Georgian houses.

Three of these can be found in Bermondsey Street, which runs off the long line of railway arches, south-east of London Bridge station. Bermondsey Street is typical of the area, with the old tannery converted into studios and offices and other Victorian buildings now smart offices, cafés and restaurants. But the three Georgian buildings at numbers 74, 76 and 78 had been used for decades as printing works.

The ground floor of all three buildings had been opened up to house the old printing machines and having been in the same ownership since the war, the buildings had become increasingly dilapidated. Amanda Menage, who bought number 74 in 2001, says: "English Heritage became very concerned about them and slapped a preservation order on them. They dealt with the external envelope of the buildings, making them weather tight, putting on new roofs and restoring all the windows, but the interiors were left in a derelict state."

She had previously bought a shell apartment at the other end of Bermondsey Street in 1997 and had converted it into a "loft style" flat. Amanda had worked for years in the financial sector, which she hated, and looking for a change of direction at the grand old age of 37, she enrolled for a degree at the Architectural Association. "I have always been fascinated by architecture and doing up places. When I started the degree, I lived for a couple of years on a narrow boat at Little Venice in the centre of London. But, there really wasn't enough space to do any drawings, which I why I bought my previous flat in Bermondsey Street," she says.

While there, she met Rob Mosley, who had bought the "shell" opposite her. Amanda project-managed the work on her flat, but Rob, who used to be a photographer, toiled away on the conversion himself. "We started going out together and when my flat was finished, I decided to take a year out from my degree to do something meatier. I took Rob to see a pretty little cottagewhich he wasn't that excited about, but he looked out of the window towards 74 Bermondsey Street and said, 'That looks much more interesting'."

They made enquiries and found the owner, who was in her eighties. The external work to the building had been finished, and she agreed to sell number 74 to Amanda. "Despite being Grade II-listed, it was in a frightful state; there was a trap door and rickety staircase leading up to the first floor where they had done the typesetting. There was evidence of three fires and some of the timbers were blackened, the paint was peeling off the walls and most of the ceiling joists were rotten. In one place you could see up three floors to the new roof," she says.

They discovered that the original house, which was built in the 1720s, had been only one room deep, with a three-floor extension added 100 years later and a second two-floor extension put on another 100 years later. In one room, which is now their living room, there is an unusually deep cupboard and on the floor above, much larger cupboard areas, like little rooms within a room. "We have no idea what the deep cupboard would have been used for but we found out that the little rooms upstairs would have been sleeping areas," says Amanda.

There is also the original winding, narrow wooden staircase leading up from the first floor. "English Heritage was very excited about that and the cupboards. They described them as cupboards and a staircase of 'national importance'," she says.

Rob, with Amanda's help, has done all the work converting the house and has created many different and interesting effects on the walls, painting, stripping the brickwork and all the woodwork. "The nearby Sarsons vinegar factory was being turned into flats and we were lucky enough to be able to buy 23 huge double beams from them," says Amanda. These have been sliced up into boards for floors, worksurfaces, cupboard doors and plinths for the beds to go on.

On the first floor they have made a lovely, long kitchen/dining room which stretches from the front to the back of the house, with a glass lantern over the rear area. They have put in a cream restored Fifties Aga and found two old Belfast sinks and taps at a reclamation yard. On the opposite wall to the Aga, there is a long line of 19 cupboards and 57 drawers which they found in pieces; they came from the chemistry lab at King's College, and it took Amanda a year to strip them and put them back together. On the next floor up there are two bedrooms. One of these has a shower in one of the "cupboards" and in the other, there is a "wet" area with shower in a corner. There are fireplaces in all the rooms. On the top floor, there is the third bedroom with a wooden built-in desk and a roof terrace. The ground floor - a 38ft long room - is let out as a Pilates studio.

"The only reason we are leaving is that Rob bought the next door house in 2002 - it's a larger house and is even more interesting than this one," says Amanda. Rob has been working on number 76 for the past 18 months, and once Amanda's house is sold, the couple will move in next door.

74 Bermondsey Street, SE1, is for sale through Cluttons (020 7407 3669) and Daniel Cobb (020 7357 0026) for £1.05m.

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