Meet the family who renovated a Victorian isolation hospital – during the pandemic
But for Emily Radford, returning to the area where she grew up to raise a family was a long-held dream – so long as there was a project for her to pour her creative energies into.
‘I loved my job and our house in Herne Hill, but having children and working part-time in that industry is tough,’ Emily says. ‘Plus, although we had our daughter’s name down at the local nursery before she was even born, we couldn’t get a place. We started to panic.’
Emily and husband Aaron, an accountant in the green energy sector, decided on a big rural move to be closer to her family and have greener, cleaner spaces in which to raise Ruby, now five (they have since welcomed baby Sid, too, now ten months).
Having sold their London home for a good price in 2018, the couple moved in with Emily’s parents, using it as a base to view nearly 30 houses in their hunt for the perfect project. With the comparably far lower prices in Staffordshire, they knew they would get something substantial for their budget.
‘It was a lovely position to be in,’ Aaron says, ‘but we had to make some big decisions. Did we want to buy our forever home or something smaller to start with? We even considered buying a plot of land and being self-builders.’
They settled on the forever home and, as so often happens, found it by chance.
‘We were viewing a house in a village nearby, when the agent called and said this former isolation hospital in Wombourne had just come on the market,’ Emily says. ‘We headed over and knew the handsome red-brick building was the one. There were, however, a lot of hurdles to overcome before we could transform it into our dream home.’
In December 2019, the couple paid £640,000 for the building, which is in a rural spot about a 15-minute drive from Wolverhampton. And over the course of the next two years, they would spend about £185,000 on its restoration.
Being sold as a single property, it had been divided up into two homes in the 1950s, with two bedrooms on one side and four on the other, two kitchens and separate drainage and utilities. The full structural survey revealed a litany of problems, including rotten floorboards and collapsed drains, plus interiors that would need ripping out – think lino, chipboard and polystyrene ceilings.
‘It was just the challenge I was looking for,’ Emily laughs. ‘Although, of course, it was ironic that after buying it, we would find ourselves isolating here during Covid.’
In the Victorian era, the hospital was used to keep scarlet fever patients away from the rest of the community. ‘We found a photo of the house with the nurses and doctor outside with some of their patients,’ Emily says. ‘Above, more patients stare out through the windows, like little ghosts.’
Source of data and images: metro