Peterborough grandad lives in caravan in France for four summers to build dream family home

As the dream of buying a holiday home in France for his family kept hitting stumbling blocks, John Davis decided to take matters into his own hands... by building it himself.

Saturday, 5th January 2019, 5:00 am
Updated Thursday, 10th January 2019, 2:26 pm
The house built by John Davis with the help of his family

Four years and one new hip later, the two floor timber-frame house in northern France is now ready for the 72-year-old’s five children and numerous grandchildren to enjoy for decades to come.

Living on his own in a caravan with just a radio for entertainment, former self-employed builder and teacher John put to good use the skills he had learned as an apprentice joiner at the then Peterborough Technical College back in the early 1960s.

Guided by the influential Ben Iredale, John of Mayfield Road in Park ward served a five year apprenticeship which decades later helped make his family’s dream a reality.

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The caravan John lived in

John was also fortunate to have been employed by Tony Howarth in a small building firm called S.A. Hughes, where he was guided by foreman Cyril Grout.

He said: “It was the best thing that happened to me, other than getting married, and gave me the skills needed to go into the world of work in construction.”

The ex-serviceman lives with his wife Marie, who managed the project, which cost nearly £29,000 from start to finish.

John recalled: “After retiring the wife and I decided to get a place in France. We looked at many properties to renovate, covering 1,000 miles in one week, but they all needed demolishing and starting from scratch.

The house at its early stage

“The next idea was to self-build.”

John and Marie were able to acquire the land before submitting a planning application through a French-speaking Englishman.

John then travelled to the village of Prétot-Sainte-Suzanne in north-west France every summer for four years, working on the house with just a radio for company.

That meant many hours listening to Smooth Radio, Radio 2, Radio 4 and Radio Jersey while doing his best to overcome the language barrier.

Marie Davis helping out with the house

“My knowledge of French is pretty basic - I know holiday French. To communicate I did it graphically with a sketch or a demonstration,” he said.

“I found the French people very helpful. My neighbours were absolutely wonderful.”

John was also very grateful to his family who visited to help with the building and decorating.

He added: “Building the house was hard work and meant living alone in a caravan and doing my own cooking and washing, but it was equally hard for my wife living back home in the UK.

John working on the house

“It all stems from good training and I hope that all school leavers interested in construction will read this article and remember what Nelson Mandela said: ‘Everything seems impossible until it’s done’.”