May Savidge raised the bar for all modern windmill tilters when she saved her medieval house from destruction by dismantling it, ultimately spending the rest of her life rebuilding it by hand out of harm’s way.
After the devastating death of her fiance, May purchased a fixer-upper at Number 1 Monkey Row, Ware, in Hertfordshire. The house had been built in 1450 following the “hall house” pattern of the time, in which the living quarters surrounded a two-story, vaulted minstrel’s gallery. Self-taught in woodworking, bricklaying, and carpentry, she single-handedly restored the house to its former grandeur.
Her triumph didn’t stand long, for in 1953 the city council informed May that her house was in the way of progress and would be torn down to build a road. The council repeatedly denied her pleas to spare the house for the sake of architectural heritage.
No matter. May had made up her mind, saying, “If this little house is really in the way, I would rather move it and re-erect it than see it destroyed.”
For the remainder of her life, May set about climbing scaffolding and systematically dismantling her house in a way that would allow for easy reassembly at her new Norfolk coastal property. Beams were numbered and taken to the truck, shingles were cataloged, and over the years all the pieces were carted off to the rebuild site 100 miles away.
Though it was clear that the project seemed an impossible feat for an increasingly elderly lady, May continued her work with the mentality, “I’ve got nothing to do all day, so I might as well do the job myself.”
During the entire process, with only her dog by her side, May called Ward Hall home regardless of whether or not a roof provided shelter from the elements. Only at the age of 80 did she concede to installing a wood stove to heat her partially finished residence, by which point May had admitted that the cement work was getting “a bit heavy.”
After her death in 1993 at age 81, the shell of a house was left to Savidge’s nephew who wanted nothing to do with the project. His then-wife Christine felt differently, and took up May’s mantle until the Ware Hall was completed. In the process of doing so, Christine’s own marriage fell into ruins, as the house was reborn.
Ware Hall, under Christine’s proprietorship, now offers guided tours.
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- Adams, Christine and Michael McMahon. A Lifetime in the Building: The Extraordinary Story of May Savidge and the House She Moved. Aurum Press Ltd, May 2009.