The William Pring House, home of the Hamilton Guesthouse, was built in 1855. There have been plenty of interesting characters living here, plenty of fascinating stories, from the macabre to the beautiful. We have done our best in the past 8 years to learn as much as we can about the building and its history, from previous owners and residents, from neighbours and local historians, from archives and old records. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance to share some of the stories we’ve uncovered.
Many people who live in old houses find interesting things when they poke around in the attic or the basement, or when they take down a wall or remodel a bathroom. Unfortunately, this house has had very little continuity of ownership over the last 165 years and previous owners have not always been respectful in their renovations. Working with knowledgeable friends, we’ve tried to piece together which features of the house are original, which are simply old, and which are modern.
For example, when renovating the basement shower in 2017, we discovered a huge fireplace, which had been long ago bricked up. The span (at least twice as wide as the existing fireplaces on the upper floors), seemed to have been bricked up into a smaller opening, and then later bricked up entirely. It wasn’t at all ornate, but just simple red bricks. Could it possibly show us the location of the original kitchen?
At some point, the heating in the house moved from wood or coal
fireplaces to a central furnace. We don’t know exactly when. But in 2018 we undertook some extensive restoration work of the exterior stone, a project that was triggered when we noticed that the south-east chimney was starting to bulge and lean out into Cannon Street. While the stone masons meticulously deconstructed and re-built the chimney, they discovered the source of the damage – when the chimney was lined to allow a furnace to vent through it, the work was done quite poorly, and the stones were pushed out of alignment, allowing water to seep in and the freeze-thaw cycle to gradually damage the house.
Between regular aging and the leaning chimney, our roof started to leak. No one likes a leaking roof, but while we were up there putting buckets under the drips, we discovered some cast off remnants of the past. At one time, the house was lit with gas – we’re not sure if it was that way originally, or if it was introduced some time later. However, when the
gas lines were removed to upgrade to electric lighting, some of the long pipes were left in the attic. Among them, we found a single hall sconce, which had clearly been damaged and was left in the attic. Maybe a former owner had intended to fix it and keep it, or they simply didn’t throw it away at the time.
In late 2019, we did some upgrades to our kitchen and the ground floor bathroom, moved things around and changed the staircase to the basement. While the ceiling in the kitchen was open in order for the electricians and plumbers to work, we noticed the place where the old basement stairs used to be and, at the top of them, a door. Upstairs, our contractor pulled away the drywall and plaster layers to reveal the old basement door. It would have opened up under the existing spiral staircase, in an out-of-the-way corner. Rather than remove it, we opted
to display it – even if it’s just in a bathroom.
Hopefully we’ll have the chance to share more stories of the Pring – of the building, of its former residents, of the good, the bad and the fascinating. We lack a great many records, and we can only guess from what we find in the house itself. But we’ll do our best to unearth as much as we can of the last 165 years in our little piece of Hamilton.