Page last updated at 10:24 GMT, Wednesday, 3 September 2008 11:24 UK

Size is no issue for new tenant


Fay Laslin will have to open her new home in Essex to the public once a week

The tenant of Britain's oldest and smallest council house - which doubles as a museum - is set to move in.

Dutch Cottage, in Rayleigh, Essex, is believed to have been built by Dutch settlers in the 1740s.

Fay Laslin, 33, was chosen to move into the cottage, which measures 20ft in diameter, by Rochford District Council.

Ms Laslin, who is 5ft, will have to open her doors to the public every Wednesday afternoon as part of the tenancy agreement.

Ms Laslin said: "It's reported to be smallest and oldest council house in Britain and it's just such a beautiful place to live - it's really quirky.

If you're 6ft and over you'd be hard pushed because I am only 5ft and I can touch the ceiling
Fay Laslin

"It is thought to have been built by Dutch settlers who came to the East of England to work on the sea defences."

A brick fireplace is the centrepiece of the thatched cottage, with an open plan kitchen, living room and bathroom built around it, with one bedroom upstairs.

The Grade II listed building is so small that furniture had to be specially made for it. The previous tenants had to have their bed lifted through a window as the staircase is just 18in (46cm) wide.

"If you're 6ft and over you'd be hard pushed because I am only 5ft and I can touch the ceiling," Ms Laslin said.

When asked about being responsible for a living museum, Ms Laslin said: "It's nice to be part of the local community and to be able to show people local history."

Ms Laslin was chosen to move into Dutch Cottage by the council who advertised the tenancy in the local papers.

"People had to apply in writing to the council stating why they wished to live here," she said.

"I was called for an interview and I was the lucky candidate.

Tamara Burton, from Rochford District Council, said: "Dutch Cottage is living history because someone lives there.

"It is thought to be 300 years old - although there are no official records - and it's unique as far as council houses go.

"The previous tenant was a young lady who has moved out of the district and before that a couple lived in the cottage for 20 years.

"There is no written record of the origins of the building so it is still open to speculation."

Ms Burton said Ms Laslin was an ideal tenant as she had a good local knowledge, an interest in history and was confident and flexible enough to show visitors around.

"Her size played no role in the decision - one of the recent occupants was about 6ft," she added.

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