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.
Fred Saigeman’s only companions were 82 mainly feral cats, which shared the dilapidated property and its five acres of overgrown garden and woodland in Fittleworth, near Pulborough, West Sussex.
When Fred died last year, aged 78, he left the cottage to a local cat charity — on condition they took care of his pets and prevented his old family home and grounds from being demolished and redeveloped.
But it was only when charity staff visited the site that the details of his extraordinary time-warp lifestyle emerged.
Julie Grant, a trustee of Cat Welfare Sussex, and her husband Tom have decided to restore the cottage to its former glory with the help of donations rather than sell it to raise funds for the charity.