35-year-old Ben Sansum isn’t very impressed with high-tech gadgets, modern appliances or the internet. Instead, he prefers the old-world charm of the 1940s. So when he purchased a small four-room Victorian cottage in Godmanchester a few years ago, he worked very hard to transform it into the perfect period house. Now, he lives surrounded by furniture and appliances that are all from the forties or older, and even adopts a 1940s-style dress code.
Ben’s strange interest in the forties began at the age of 12, when his Great Uncle Stan gave him a 1940s radio. “I guess I was always the funny boy at school that had this strange interest,” he said. “Gradually, as I grew older, I loved the music and the fashion. I’m 35 now, my parents probably think I’ve grown out of it, but I will always live by this now. I know I will never grow out of it. I shall probably die living like this. But that’s fine, because I’m ensuring that their way of life isn’t forgotten.”
“I couldn’t live in a modern house now with modern interiors,” Ben admitted. “I like this period, I like the community spirit. I don’t want to glorify the war, I like all the things that took people’s minds away from the war, the music and the fashions and the cars. Things were British-made and built to last.” And he’s filled almost ever corner of his house with these old objects that look as good as new. Right from an Aga that heats a large white kettle, to the several tea tins and boxes of war time food stacked up on his shelves, everything in his house serves as a reminder of the good times. He makes his tea in a period kettle, and serves them in 1940s tea cups.
According to Ben, the ‘heart of the house’ is the Victorian range in the kitchen. It’s from the 1890s, fully restored and in perfect working condition. “It’s marvelous, I use it all the time in winter, it’s fantastic. Endless supply of hot water, great fun. But hard work – blacking the range every day is filthy.” He also loves his Victorian age master bedroom. “It’s more Victorian up here, because in the thirties visitors used the best room, so it’s the best where you have all your art decor and modern stuff,” Ben explained. “But the older part of the house where the visitors wouldn’t see, you have all the hand-me-downs, the Victorian furniture.”
Ben inherited most of his collectibles from his relatives, but he’s worked hard to hunt down some of the great pieces of furniture in the house. The 1930s three-piece suit that he now uses as decor, and his set of flying ducks, came from a nearby house. Some pieces aren’t originals, but well-made replicas of things that were used in the forties. He uses an Ewbank carpet sweeper to keep his lounge spotless, and he even has an original lavatory in an old outhouse in the garden. There’s also a gas mask ready for use in case of an air raid, like they had during the war in the forties.
“My absolute pride and joy is our locally made mangle here,” he said gleefully. “My grand mum actually used this, it belonged to a neighbor of hers. It was made right here in our town and it’s Victorian, again. It’s survived a hundred years. What can you buy now that you’ll still be able to use in a hundred years’ time? It’s incredible, really.”
But some of the things in the house are so old, they don’t work very well anymore. Like the old-style telephone that Ben can only use to receive calls. He has to plug in a modern set when he wants to make a call. And he does admit to a few modern conveniences that are well-hidden in the period house. “I’ve got one or two concessions. I don’t do microwaves or dishwashers, I don’t go that far, but I do have a fridge, I’m afraid,” he said rather sheepishly. “I hide my flat-screen TV behind a vintage magazine rack and keep the mangle in front of the washing machine.” He also used to have a 1939 Morris 12, but now he drives a Vauxhall Meriva for work.
Although he uses a few modern appliances, Ben says that he finds it quite difficult to keep up with the modern world. “I have a very, sort of modern life in once sense – I’m BA cabin crew so I’m jetting off. But then when I come home, I retreat and go back in time in my own little period house,” he said. “It think it’s so true now that the world moves so incredibly fast. I mean, I’m 35 and I can’t keep up with it. I don’t understand Twitter and iPhones and I really don’t understand technology. It moves so fast. So I think we are more isolated today. I’m just trying to hold on to some of the old-world charms of that period, for as long as I can.”
Interestingly, Ben is in a relationship, but he doesn’t share his home with his partner. “I think years ago, I used to hope that one day I’d have someone live with me and be sort of compatible. But I think my interest is so extreme that my partner has a modern house and I have a period house. So we have a house each, it’s great, because not everyone wants to live like that. I appreciate that.” But Ben does know a few others with similar interests, like his close friend Jonathan Jefferies, whom he met after his extraordinary life was covered in the news. Together, they attend 1940s events and frequently meet to discuss one of their favourite subjects – the war.
One of the things Ben loves most about his house is the location. “The view outside the window hasn’t changed for actually a thousand years. It’s a pity about the modern traffic, can’t do much about that.”