Each day, inch by inch, I chipped away at the white gloss. A 200-year-old house has an aura and I felt its suffering – it was suffocating. So, my attempt to remove the paint with a heat-gun having failed, I took a chisel to all four walls of the guest room. Three months later, the roof on Cromford Hill let out a sigh so deep that all the delicate tufts of horsehair in the ancient plaster shivered in its wake.
The place still shuddered when a truck passed by, laden with blocks of lime from the quarries, which was every half-minute or so, and tried as I might, the grime would never come off the diamond tiles on the entrance floor, their black engrained as ancient soot and red caked as dried blood.
I made a day-bed. When time allowed I would rest, the building’s gentle breathing sweet reward for all my patient toil. There, I listened to the Derbyshire souls as they stopped outside in the street to greet each other or pass the time of day. Then, curious and grateful, the ghosts of the labourers, grimy children worn and starved, denied their childhood, wafted in to see what I had done. Shy at first, soon their chatter and clatter drifted down from the upstairs weavers’ quarters as the Derwent pushed the water wheels and the cotton looms spun their counts, while Arkwright filled the order books and planned more mills.
I looked out over the terraced homes snaking up to Ashbourne, where I’d move after just a year, though I didn’t know it yet. A mother, with plenty else to do, I would chide myself: my little boy was two-and-a-half, asthmatic; the next owner could slap the paint right back. Some things you should regret, but don’t.