Property: Beams ancient and modern - David Lawson meets a man who rebuilds the past - and two of his satisfied customers

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The Independent Online
JOHN GREENE's father spent his life smashing up pubs. 'He taught me all I know,' says John proudly. This inherited skill is so widely respected that he travels as far as Japan and America, passing it on to the locals.

The world's licensees can rest easy, however. Greene Senior operated only on his own pubs. He bought old buildings, ripped out the Formica and fishing nets and exposed natural wood and flagstone. Then he sold up and found another.

John was not immediately impressed. 'I spent my life in half-finished homes. When I grew up, I got as far away from this chaos as possible. I joined a bank.' But he did not find it so easy to escape years of subliminal education. Now he copies the skills of long-dead craftsmen by creating 'old' buildings.

Unlike his father, however, he concentrates on houses and, rather than stripping away the new, he begins afresh. 'It started when I noticed a farmer tearing down a 15th-century barn. The pubs my father renovated were timber-framed, so I knew how important it was. I bought the bits for pounds 1,000 - all I had in the world.'

But it lay in pieces in the garden until he acquired a new brother-in- law, who just happened to be an industrial joiner. 'He suggested we rebuild it - which sparked the idea of reproducing such designs as homes.' They were engulfed with so many inquiries that the barn still stands unfinished more than a decade later. 'Business doubled every year until the recession,' says John.

Their company, Border Oak of Kingsland Leominster in Herefordshire, produces natural timber frames for people who want historic-looking homes but are not prepared to settle for paint jobs or stick-on patterns. Up to 25 tons of English oak from estates around the UK go into each house and every beam is joined in true medieval style without a nail, screw or staple. Interiors also follow traditional lines, with open halls, inglenook fireplaces and minstrels' galleries.

They range from two-bed cottages costing around pounds 55,000 to four-bed farmhouses at between pounds 90,000 and pounds 125,000, only fractionally more than conventional construction. This does not include the cost of land, as buyers provide their own sites. They can also keep the price down by equipping the inside themselves, relying on Border Oak's skills only for fitting together the frame and roof.

'We avoid knick-knacks and twiddly bits put in for show and this keeps down costs,' says John. 'The timber is not there to look pretty; it is part of the house.' Every home is different. 'We have never sold a house exactly like the drawings.'

After producing more than 300 individual homes, he is now moving up by planning two complete medieval villages. One small difficulty is that they are on the other side of the world - and John hates flying.

Just north of Tokyo, a school is being set up to teach English and the owners felt that students would be more comfortable in 'authentic' surroundings. In a pounds 3.5m project, Border Oak is building 10 manor homes, complete with bandstand, pub and even a crown green bowling pitch.

Meanwhile, the Americans have realised that they can build their own history rather than pinch it from the UK. Discussions are under way for 17 Tudor homes in Alabama as the focus for a Shakespearean centre.

Border Oak 0568 708752

(Photograph omitted)

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