Home for Christmas
PUBLISHED: 12:42 08 December 2015 | UPDATED: 12:43 08 December 2015
After a lifetime in the theatre, David Blyth and Hugh Hales can't resist putting on a bit of festive show at their elegant Halesworth home. Words and pictures by Tony Hall
As you might expect from a couple who have spent a large part of their lives in the theatre, David Blyth and Hugh Hales certainly know how to stage a first class Christmas show.
Recently retired, David was property director for the Ambassadors Theatre Group, while Hugh, who retired a few years ago, was previously theatre manager at the Piccadilly Theatre. He was born and bred in Holton, near Halesworth, so when the time came to leave the bright lights of London, it was to Halesworth that he returned with David to make a home.
“David and I have been together now for over 33 years,” says Hugh, “and with David still working at the time, Halesworth was our preferred choice, with its train service to London.
“We first bought a small cottage in 1990 to see if we would both like living here, before I retired.” The couple got so involved in renovating it, that it was only when it was finished they realised that what they actually needed for a permanent home was a town centre location and a bigger property.
“Otherwise we would end up killing each other! One weekend we heard that Barclays Bank were selling their old offices in the town by closed tender at the end of that week. I was in Edinburgh, but David managed to come and look, so I agreed a bid without even seeing it.”
David recalls the impression the offices left on him.
“Wood chip wallpaper – dreadful! But I was immediately impressed by the period building, which was grade two listed. It had been built in 1750 as the home for the bank manager. Fifteen years later the grand elliptical staircase was added. I was delighted when our bid was successful.”
Hugh had trained in massage and holistic medicine, so when they got the building organised, he decided to take a new direction offering massage and hypnotherapy.
“Also, as we had several bedrooms we started a B&B, which is very popular. One of my favourite way to waste time is just sitting by the window in the drawing room – my favourite room – just people watching.” The couple are enormous fans of Christmas.
“We start early,” says David, “certainly by the second week of December, putting up the decorations.
“Having such a high ceiling, with its beautiful mural in the oval entrance hall, allows us to get a really big tree. Luckily we’ve both been collecting antique Christmas decorations for years, so have enough to fill the tree.
“Often we’re joined by friends who stay with us over the festive period. On Christmas Eve morning before they arrive in the afternoon, I lay the dining table with our ‘Royal’ tableware, bought at Sandringham, together with formal menu cards for each person. While I do that, Hugh – who is a great cook – is doing some preparations for the Christmas Day meal in the kitchen next door.
“Generally after tea with our guests, we take them out in the evening to the excellent local fish and chip shop, Seashells, followed by drinks at home.”
“Christmas morning starts with me in full butler’s uniform,” says Hugh, “serving breakfast in front of the fire in the oval hall, then it’s off to Southwold – with me still as butler – for what has become a firm tradition. We own a beach hut under Gun Hill called Sandpiper, where we serve Champagne and canapés to all our friends. Last year David decided to take part in the annual Christmas Day swim – all part of the entertainment.” Everyone rushes in very enthusiastically, says David, even though it’s cold.
“The secret is not to look a wimp and get out first! But after about two or three minutes the mass exodus begins back to the beach. Exhilarating? Certainly. Mad? Definitely!”
Then, says Hugh, it’s back home in time for the Queen’s speech, and later the Christmas meal. This year it will be Arbroath smokies, goose with all the trimmings and Christmas pudding to follow.
“David has built up a collection of single malt whiskeys over the year,” says Hugh. “I bought him a special one with his name on it for his birthday. So in the evening, it’s down to our large cellar for a tasting. A great way to end Christmas Day.
“On Boxing Day it’s a walk on the beach in the morning, a traditional light lunch at Tilly’s tea room and restaurant in the Market Place, then in the afternoon or evening our guests and friends depart.”
Hugh and David’s house is the perfect setting for Christmas. Over the years they have collected some lovely antiques, often at auctions on their travels. They now enjoy going to Yoxford Antiques Centre to search for interesting items.
Each room is themed, from Georgian, through Edwardian to Art Deco. Open a door and there’s another great surprise.
In the drawing room, one of the armchairs faces out to the street. On it is a large collection of teddy bears and a toy dog, which all like people watching, of course. What is now the study – a favourite of David’s – was once the bank’s strong room. They’ve created a new entrance, but have retained on a wall the original heavy strong room door. Opening it reveals a set of shelves for curios.
Besides the main rooms, I liked the kitchen, which opens onto a covered enclosed courtyard, the grand morning room on the first floor, the deco bathroom next to the master bedroom and the magnificent oval entrance hall, complete with a grand piano.
“This is a very friendly house,” concludes David. “It has a lovely atmosphere and it was entirely the right choice. We love being in and part of the town. We’re also delighted to be living here, albeit as custodians for future generations of this handsome period property. Having great Suffolk countryside and the coast so close is the icing on the cake.”
For Suffolk Massage, Bank House B&B and Southwold Beach-Hut call 07799036646