Me And My Home: Drinks are on the house

Gwenda Brophy talks to Deborah Nichol about her converted 18th-century pub
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The Independent Online

Deborah Nichol lives with her partner, Mike Lawes, in an 18th-century pub she converted in the village of Great Bromley, Essex.

When I bought this place I was the archetypal Eighties yuppie. Like my partner at the time, I was working in the City. I suppose we were the typical "Thatcher children" of that era - we worked hard, and felt if you wanted anything you should just go for it. It was a massive investment and needed total renovation, but it was also full of character, with its timber frame, and dormer windows peeping out from the roof, topped off by an old redbrick, off-centre chimney. We bought it in mid-1988 and it hadn't been occupied for well over a year. There was something of the Marie Celeste about it - the Christmas decorations were still up. I think most of our friends and family thought we were totally mad to be taking it on.

"We worked solidly for a year, only taking one weekend off. During the restoration, I continued to work full-time in London which was hard-going. Although the property was derelict, some of the original features had survived. We were keen to retain the original form of the property as much as possible, so we kept internal changes to a minimum.

"Upstairs, we turned an old pub lounge into a fourth bedroom and downstairs we converted the old beer-barrel storage room into a bathroom. We were keen to reuse any original artefacts left behind, and in the small room just off the former saloon bar, which we made into a library, we were able to use part of the original bar when we were fitting it out. The original Shove Halfpenny board was still attached to the top of the bar. All the internal soft furnishings inside the place had to be destroyed, though, as they were in a terrible state.

"I can still remember the excitement of discovering that there was a vaulted ceiling in the former public bar. That is now our drawing room. One thing about buying a pub is that there is no shortage of reception rooms. We use the old saloon bar as our lounge. The door has a sliding peephole which I presume was used to keep an eye on the locals to check they weren't getting too rowdy. The majority of doors in the house still have their original furniture.

"What we really liked about this room was the large inglenook fireplace. When there is a big log fire roaring away in the grate during the winter months, it is very easy to become a hermit. I give quite a few dinner parties, and a real fire creates a very cosy, welcoming atmosphere for guests, many of whom come from London. It amuses me that they often seem terrified of driving in the country, but are fine doing it in London.

"In the summer months we spend a lot of time in the conservatory. Because this is a Grade II-listed property, before you carry out work you have to comply with the appropriate regulations, and it took nearly a year to get permission to erect the conservatory. The garden is naturally picturesque and even has a little brook running through it. There is also a magnificent old yew tree. When you buy a former pub you are not always so lucky - you can end up with a car park for a garden. We were also spared the pleasure of dealing with pub urinals, as the toilets were situated at each end of the detached stable block, so these were removed when we had the stable restored.

"Even though the Spread Eagle is no longer a pub, there are still several pubs in Great Bromley if we fancy a drink. If we want to eat out, we tend to drive to Colchester, which is a few miles away, or to places like Dedham or Wivenhoe. The nearest Tesco is about five miles away, but Great Bromley still has its own village shop which also incorporates a post office, as well as its own primary school, which is quite good nowadays for a village. It means that the infrastructure a village needs to survive and thrive as a community is still there. I still commute into London, which takes about 50 minutes into Liverpool Street, and though I was tempted to move to London in my mid-twenties, I have always preferred to live out of the capital. I am now definitely a country girl.

"We are planning to move to Suffolk to buy a property with more land, as we want to buy horses in the not-too-distant future. I am also learning to carriage drive at the moment which is a totally new venture for me. I'll be sad to leave the Spread Eagle. The Eighties seem a long time ago now. Recently I found a book by a local historian, entitled Where the Broom Grows - Great Bromley in Old Post Cards and Photographs. It features a lot of old photographs and background information on the Spread Eagle. On one of the old photos, c.1904, the sign on the front of the former public house says 'Nicholl & Co. Ltd, Fine Ales'. Spooky or what?"

The Spread Eagle, Brook Street, Great Bromley, available for sale through John D Wood and Co (01245 344222) at £360,000.