WHAT was once a disaster scene is now a picture-perfect piece of history.
Terry Henderson and wife Sheila were lucky to escape with their lives after a five ton limb from a beech tree smashed through their guesthouse and home.
Fast forward six months and £200,000 of repairs have been carried out to restore the historic Ye Olde Cop Shop Guest House, on Washington Village Green, to its former glory.
Fortunately, guests were out for dinner in September last year when the 400-year-old tree, believed to be the oldest in Washington, crashed on top of the house.
The couple, who have had the guest house for 26 years, have missed six months of bookings after workmen repaired the damage while maintaining the period features of the Victorian property.
But now they are happy to say that the guesthouse, which attracts visitors from around the world, is back in business.
Terry, 71, said: “I dread to think what could have happened that night. I had been in the spot where one of the branches came crashing through the roof just 10 minutes before.
“It was like something out of a film.”
A huge crane was drafted in to remove the giant limb, but the rest of the tree remains in the garden of the neighbouring Hill House Farm.
Sheila, 69, said they had suffered an ongoing saga with the tree.
“It’s 19 years since the first branch came down,” said Sheila. “In the past we’ve had to apply for planning permission to cut overhanging branches down, which we’ve paid to have done. It’s dangerous.”
Work done at the guesthouse, which was once the village police station, includes a new roof, ceilings, lighting, en-suite bathrooms and decor.
Sheila said: “We’ve really missed being open. I much prefer working to what we’ve been through, but we’ve had lovely cards and letters of support from people who’ve stopped here which has kept us going.
“We didn’t think we would miss it as much as we have.”
She added: “The workmen did such a brilliant job, it’s hard to imagine what it looked like a few months ago.”
The guest house is a former police station, built in 1866, which had a residence for a sergeant and six constables.
It was a holding station before prisoners were sent to court at either Durham or Gateshead.
The adjoining bungalow was built in 1929 and during the depression was used to give the poor hand-outs, also referred to as “the parish”.