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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Labour of love transforms eyesore into stunning home

Charles Dickens is said to have once referred to the landmark Allonby Reading Rooms as a hay barn.

He would change his mind today after an intense labour of love that has turned this seaside eyesore into a stunning, desirable home.

After eight years of back-breaking work, geophysicist Byron Beck and his teacher wife Judith Faye Ashton have almost completed their conversion of the derelict building.

The couple bought the decaying rooms on the seafront in 2005.

They have since restored the outside, putting on a new roof and rebuilding the building’s old clock tower.

The grandest features are the huge windows with spectacular views across the Solway Firth.

The outside still resembles a building site, partly because scaffolding was needed after the recent storms blew tiles off the roof.

But inside there is a mixture of grandeur, intimacy, modern and traditional.

The couple’s daughter Flossie Ashton, 21, gave a guided tour of the converted building this week.

The couple also have a son John, 20, and another daughter Lou-Lou, 14.

Flossie said the family had enjoyed an international lifestyle and her father’s work took him all over the world.

She said: “They were living in Pakistan when I was born, although they came back here to have me.

“We have lived in India and Kuwait. I did my primary schooling in Kuwait before coming to boarding school in Britain.”

Judith’s parents, John and Grace Ashton, were from Carlisle but moved to Workington where Judith attended Workington Grammar School. The couple then moved to Allonby.

Flossie added: “We spent all our holidays here and mum and dad, who met at Leicester University, bought a cottage here which you can see from the house.”

The children were allowed to design their own bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms.

That means a heavily decorated Kuwaiti bed in Flossie’s room, a roll-top bath and “girlie” features for Lou-Lou, and black, silver and red with a touch of traditional Star Wars for John.

The master bedroom, which looks out onto the beach, is notable for the splashes of colour from the soft furnishings and curtains, all from India.

Off the master bedroom is Judith’s bathroom.

Flossie said: “Mum has her own bathroom. She says it’s the secret to a happy marriage. Dad uses the other bathroom on the same floor.”

The kitchen is at the heart of the home. It is warmed by a double-oven Aga. The tiles were designed by Byron and individually made.

Flossie said: “They feature the fleur-de-lis which is a motif throughout the house.”

She said it was in homage to the reading rooms’ architect Alfred Waterhouse, who used the design a lot.

Waterhouse also designed the Natural History Museum in London and Manchester City Hall.

Flossie added: “It was the large local Quaker community that built the original reading rooms. I think they employed Alfred Waterhouse to rebuild them after Dickens’ remarks about the hay barn.”

Finally, there is a mezzanine area which will eventually become a library.

Flossie said: “We are waiting for the built-in bookcases to arrive and at the moment it is just the place where we are storing everything.”

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