Taking a careful approach to a crafty old fox

A project with both preservation and enhancement at its heart

The Old Fox Full Width

The Old Fox, a historic listed public house, served its patrons for almost 300 years.

Built in the late 1600s, with its timber-framed L-section added a few decades later, the white-painted face of the building is Grade II listed. The property was run as a public house, and one would imagine that there may also have been rooms for passing travellers.

Reminiscences from patrons up until the early 80s, from university students and locals alike, talk about the pub’s quaint, unusual set-up. Reportedly the beer (Morland of Abingdon) was racked in the small back kitchen, where it was drawn straight from the barrel and passed through a hatch in an enamel jug. Patrons would sit on a bench outside or in one of two living rooms.

The Old Fox became a private residence later in the 1980s, after which further additions included a single-storey mid-gable and, in 2015, a two-storey dormered stone end wing. At this time planning permissions were also obtained for a second two-storey addition to the rear of the property, but it was not executed.

When the new owners contacted us at Barr Build in 2022, they were keen to build the last section of the planned additions and to streamline the whole property into one cohesive family home. However, passionate about its character and heritage, they were adamant that interventions would not impact the authenticity of their centuries-old residence. Where replacement of heritage elements was required, there were keen that great care was taken to source or specify carefully matched alternatives, whilst still serving to improve its thermal efficiency.

Having worked with architectural designer Henda Knobel on several occasions, the Barr Build team were confident in her ability to carefully navigate Grade II-listed planning obligations and the modernisation requirements which would make The Old Fox a comfortable, sustainable family home. Ceilings and the doorways between rooms were in some places incredibly low and our clients, who are both tall, would need to be able to walk from one section of the house to another without risk of decapitation! They were also hugely aware of the environmental impact of running a family home without good insulation and modern glazing interventions. All of this whilst staying true to the heritage of the property.

As well as building the new matched stone two-storey extension, the Barr Build project objectives at The Old Fox were to improve the property's thermal elements, the improvement of head height in key areas, and modernisation infrastructure where required. Works included reinstating the original fireplace and chimney breast (through dismantling and rebuilding the main chimney stack), replacement of two staircases, lowering the playroom floor level, raising bedroom ceiling heights, and a whole first-floor renovation, all to Henda’s careful, heritage-approved plans.

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EIGHT BELLS 3639 lo res

“The most fulfilling aspect of my work is seeing the client’s enjoyment and moments of enchantment around their newly refurbished and extended properties,” says Henda. “These moments are achieved through careful analysis of the existing structure, creative problem solving, attention to detail, and a skilful project team that works towards making the vision for the property a reality. We created many such moments around The Old Fox, each of which showcases the strength and determination of the project team to deliver a highly functional and beautiful home whilst keeping alterations to the historic fabric to a minimum and complying with stringent current building regulations.”

A beautifully crafted new secondary staircase, which appears to be carved around the existing historic structure, delivers access and additional headroom at its landing, where it is needed most.

“Through careful analysis of the structure and materials in the guest bedroom of the timber-framed 18th-century extension, we increased the ceiling height by a meaningful margin by exposing the original ceiling joists,” says Henda. “It is now a room where the original structure is fully celebrated with the much-needed additional headroom.

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EIGHT BELLS 3633 web

“The original chimney, visible against the property's 300-year-old gable-end, was found to be unsafe and had to be completely dismantled during the build. The chimney was rebuilt to appear exactly as the original, having been the recipient of a considerable amount of structural engineering to keep it safe for many generations to come and made fully compliant with the latest fire regulations.”

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The result of the completed works is a beautifully preserved heritage property set for sustainable modern living. We thank our clients for allowing us to share their story and, along with Henda Knobel and SOLID structural engineers, for working with us to find solutions to the challenges thrown at us by this crafty Old Fox!