One man, his dog, a paddleboard and some dynamite….
….a brief history of QuerQuay
The construction of QuerQuay was truly a labour of love and in many ways a work of art. Many visitors are surprised to learn that the house isn’t hundreds of years old, as the exterior stonework might suggest, but rather only about 25 years old.
At QuerQuay form, function and setting combine with spectacular result thanks to one man – this is the story of John Sumption; a man with a vision, an old digger and a strong pair of hands. John had a unique outlook to life and construction and it took him 11 years to build QuerQuay, because apart from the plumbing and electrics he did everything himself. He never bought something if he could make it, find it or borrow it.
The house literally grew out of its environment. Replacing a much smaller single-storey railway hut and series of allotment gardens, John actually dynamited sections of the hillside cliff to both create space and provide the stone for the house walls. All the slates for the flooring and timber for the house were reclaimed. Indeed the massive ceiling beams throughout the house were salvaged from a disused and dilapidated Royal Navy pontoon across the river. John would paddle across the Dart on his trusty windsurfer board, with his dog on the back for company and labour for days and nights to wrestle the 20ft long beams from the old structure. Of course he then had to tow them back across the river on the board and manhandle them up the ferry slipway to QuerQuay. To most people the beams would have looked beyond use, following years of damage and rot, but John had the time, energy and inclination to shave them down to the good wood inside and prepare the timbers for their new role. The strange holes and iron nails that remain in view today are a testament to their previous life.
John did not see the need to hire expensive scaffolding; instead he built his own scaffold from spare timber and driftwood, all lashed together with salvaged rope. It would not have passed a health and safety inspection but John had little time for meddlesome beaurocracy and was entirely comfortable with the risks he was taking. The various squares niches left behind in the inside and outside walls are a permanent reminder of John’s unique scaffolding.
Almost everything inside the house was made by hand from recycled wood and metal. The scrap-wood doors and hardwood mullion windows with their crafty locks and handles were made to John’s own artistic and quirky, yet perfectly functional, designs.
John always planned that the ground floor could be isolated as a holiday apartment. The stairs between ground and first floor are cleverly hinged using railway sleeper bolts to fit between the ceiling beams when not in use.
When John sold the house and left Dartmouth in 2002, there were some unfinished tasks (for example, none of the internal plasterwork had been painted – something simply not important to John), but the next owners took on the mantle of finishing John’s work, whilst being sympathetic to his original ethos and methods: making rather than buying whenever possible. Notably they also added the fantastic boardwalk that guests enjoy today as well as the compact Bolthole kitchen area, made by local craftsmen.