Video: War hero Douglas Bader's childhood home set for new lease of life

BACK in the 1920s, a young boy who would become a war hero clambered onto the roof of Sprotbrough Rectory to stare at the Yorkshire sky and dream of the day he would he would cut through the clouds as a fighter pilot.

His vantage point offered a spectacular view over the countryside and, if the stories are to be believed, were also a fine spot from which to get up to mischief, including firing an airgun at neighbours and passers-by.

Almost a century later, the roof and the house it protects still survive, but a recent survey found that without immediate attention the boyhood home of Group Captain Sir Douglas Bader DSO, DFC, would be damaged beyond repair.

When Bader lived in the imposing Grade II listed rectory it was the home of his mother Jessie and stepfather the Rev Bill Hobbs, and since then it has taken on a number of guises, most recently being run as a guest house.

But the doors are now firmly closed to the public and Mike Garrity, the man who has taken on the task of restoring the house to its former glory, clearly has huge plans to make the 11-bedroom mansion his own private castle.

Mr Garrity is not keen to share exactly how much he is spending on the project, but reveals that work to repair the roof alone is costing tens of thousands of pounds, which is why his contractor is working beneath a giant tent. Four men from Sheffield-based roofing specialist Martin Brooks have been given the mammoth task of replacing every slate, and the huge plastic sheet above their head has protected them, and the house, from the worst of the winter.

Mr Garrity said that he had called in Martin Brooks's contracts director Dale Wright to carry out a survey on the guttering, which he thought was leaking into the walls in rooms which would once have been the servants' quarters.

But when Mr Wright climbed out onto the roof he advised his client that it was not just the guttering that was the problem, and advised a whole new roof was needed before the ambitious restoration work took place downstairs.

Standing on the roof watching the work taking shape, Mr Garrity, a businessman who owns shops across the region, was philosophical about the outlay. "It was just something that we had to do, the house had reached that time," he said.

"They came up and did the survey and quietly mentioned that the roof was really nearing the end of its life and that there were leaks that we could not even see which were doing a lot of damage to the structure.

"The rectory dates from Elizabethan times but was given a make-over by the Victorians. Left much longer, the damage would have been catastrophic so we decided that we would go ahead with the work to secure the house for the future."

The last time the house had work done on the roof, which Mr Garrity estimates was in the late 1970s, part of it was replaced with concrete tiles, but this time each of the 3,500 slates will be made from reclaimed Yorkshire stone.

In all, the 300 sq m (3,200 sq ft) roof, including the lead which has been used for channelling water off the slates will weigh around 50 tonnes, and all of that is supported by oak timbers, which are hundreds of years old. Now the roof is almost complete, Mr Garrity has embarked in his interior work, which will see the house restored to its former glory.

Mr Wright, who has overseen the two-month roofing project, said it had been a pleasure to help save the house where a war hero spent his formative years and work with someone who was "doing the job properly".

He added: "A job like this is all about the planning. We spent six weeks just deciding how we were going to tackle the job and making sure we had sourced enough slates. All the tiles have come from other buildings which means they look the part.

"It's like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle, but when it's complete, it will last for years."

From fighter ace to campaigner

Douglas Bader found fame after he became a pilot of Spitfires and Hurricanes in the Second World War despite the fact that he had lost his legs in an earlier flying accident.

A window in Sprotbrough Rectory still bears the scars of his boyhood fascination with air pistols, with a hole in one of the panes where he shot a pellet through the glass.

After his accident in December 1931, he was fitted with artificial legs.

His story is told in Reach for the Sky, by Paul Brickhill, which was made into a film starring Kenneth More.

In later life, Bader developed a career campaigning for the disabled. He died in 1982.

It was just something we had to do. Left much longer the damage would have been catastrophic.

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