Peep through the grimy leaded window panes of Fulling Mill Cottage and it looks like a meticulously constructed film set for a period drama. The floor is worn red brick, covered by a layer of dirt and straw. The oak-beamed ceiling appears to be held up by cobwebs. The grubby plasterwork crumbles to the touch.

There is even a Miss Havisham-esque plate rack in the scullery full of cob-webbed dishes that have not been touched for decades. Yet this is a real house — where a reclusive former teacher eked out his lonely and frugal existence for nearly 30 years, surrounded by his books and the memories of his parents and grandparents who lived in the thatched 15th century cottage before him.

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