You sometimes hear of home owners uncovering a hidden treasure when renovating their home. Perhaps not money (although that could happen) but walls lined with newspaper that turn out to be worth money on today's market, boarded up rooms, hidden staircases, or even a secret room or tunnel (if you're fortunate enough to own a thirteenth century castle).

Alas, our surprises have been of the nasty kind: rotting floorboards and missing structural elements that leave us wondering how the house has remained standing this long and withstood some bone-rattling earthquakes.

But yesterday, while sorting through tongue and groove panelling that had once graced the walls of what we think was at one time the kitchen - and is soon to grace the walls of our second bathroom - DH made a slightly exciting discovery.

On the back of a piece of timber was a name and a date: 20/10/13. That's 1913 not 2013!

Why did someone write their name and date it and then hide it in the walls of the house? Was it the original builder or owner? Perhaps they were thinking: one day some jerk is going to come along and tear down all this beautiful woodwork and I want them to find me here? Or perhaps it was the person who milled the timber and had it all stacked ready for delivery and wrote the name of the builder and date of collection or payment on the board that was sitting on top of the stack? Or perhaps, as it was waiting patiently on the building site, someone suddenly had a need to write down a name and date - an appointment perhaps - and that was the only item at hand that could be written on.

I don't know. But for us it generated a little bit of excitement, probably because we know so little about the original owners and builders of this house, and have never been able to locate the original plans. It has been chopped and changed so many times - at one time being divided up into four flats (apartments) before being changed back into a family home - that it's impossible to know what the very first floor plan was like. There are a few hints: slight changes in the floor level suggest where fireplaces once stood, a boxed in ceiling section suggests a built in wardrobe in a bedroom, matchstick panelling points to a bathroom (especially when disused pipes were found in the walls), and a timber fire surround with "morning room" written on the back indicates that our living room once had a similar purpose to the one we now use it for even though it appears that at one time it was used as a bedroom. But it's all been guess work.

Now we have something tangible that links us with the past and, more specifically, with the year the house was built. If only we knew what it meant!


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