Suffolk's prettiest homes: The Old School House in Wickhambrook
PUBLISHED: 15:23 09 April 2019
A farming family learns lessons from the past as they transform an old schoolhouse-turned-warehouse into a stylish rural retreat | Words & Photos: Tony Hall
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The Old School House at Wickhambrook is intriguing. The smart holiday cottage you see today was once an agricultural building and before that a country school.
But just why, exactly, was a school built in a field, well away from the village, down a very quiet country lane?
The explanation is provided by the Hollingsworth family, who have owned The Old School House for several generations, and have recently carried out extensive restoration and conversion.
“When our great grandfather Justin Brooke, came to the farm in 1930, he created a fruit farm,” explains Ed Hollingsworth.
“He employed local families to tend the trees and do the picking. Due to the distance from Wickhambrook, he decided to build a school – one classroom with, we think, just one teacher, to educate the local children.
“It was a very basic structure, with corrugated walls and roof, but lined inside with wooden boarding. By the end of the Second World War the school was obsolete, so it was turned over to a storage warehouse, which it remained for some years.”
Four generations have run the farm, first as fruit and dairy, then in the 1960s as an arable farm. “We started to grow more crops, mainly wheat, barley peas, beans and oilseed rape. For the last 40 years we have been farming with conventional methods.
Then, three years ago, we moved into regenerative farming practices with the aim of returning carbon to the soil, improving its health and structure, and reducing our impact on the environment.”
The schoolhouse-turned-warehouse was in need of major repair, so the decision was made to renovate it completely and convert it into a destination for luxury, romantic holidays, away from it all.
The building was extremely fragile and, had the decision not been made to save it, would have fallen victim to the Beast from the East, other storms and bad weather that happened soon into the rebuilding programme.
Thanks to local builder Ian Linton and architect Richard Dilley, it is now transformed.
“It was very important to us all to give this unique piece of history a long future,“ says Ed. “It was also a major requirement to honour its design and use, wherever possible, as much of the old materials and detailing as possible, preserving the heritage.
“Although the shell now uses modern materials, we have duplicated the look entirely. Instead of the old corrugated iron walls, reminiscent of Tabernacle Chapels, we have used timber vertically and painted black.
“Adding an extension to the side, in natural oak timber boarding that will mellow over time, clearly distinguishes it from the original building.
“I’m particularly proud that we saved enough of the internal boarding to help repair the ceiling, and that we used what little remained of the old floor to create the sliding doors to the bedroom and shower room.
“These are definitely my favourite items. To utilise space, and not have blank walls, the doors are hung from metal bars. Several people have called the finished style, ‘industrial chic’, which is exactly what we were trying to achieve, with the help of an interior designer friend, Franky Ridgeon.”
Boxes and crates used on the fruit farm are repurposed as decorative reminders on shelves in the kitchen, complemented by bespoke units by Rough Living, painted in a muted dark grey.
“I also like the dining table, also made by them, with its well worn look, and zinc top like the kitchen work surfaces.”
The zinc theme is echoed externally on part of the extension roof. Both main rooms retain their original vaulted ceilings, providing a feeling of space, which is enhanced by large bi-fold doors opening into the living area and bedroom. The vintage theme is further picked up with items such as glasses from Antique Lifestyle in Sudbury.
Entering the original lobby, the building opens into what would have been the school room, now an open plan kitchen, dining and living area, with uninterrupted views over countryside.
A door leads off to the shower/cloakroom, while beyond another door leads in to the sumptuous bedroom, complete with a roll-top, free-standing bath, and more of those wonderful views.
The conversion was completed in July 2018 and took seven months. The reaction from friends and guests has been highly complimentary. “We’re finding that it appeals to couples of all ages,” says Ed.
“Young professionals from London or the Cambridge area just love to come and chill, totally switch off. Some bring their dog and really enjoy, not just this truly romantic retreat in such a great location, but the added joy of going for long walks with a stop at a pub for lunch.
“They love the simple and stylish interior of the property, and the bath with a view gets lots of favourable comments. It’s my favourite room.”
For the Hollingsworth family it was paramount to preserve this little bit of their heritage for others to enjoy.
“We couldn’t be happier with the end result,” says Ed. “Our favourite pub is a proper cosy Suffolk pub, The Queens Head at Hawkedon, and this area of west Suffolk is my favourite.
“We also, have a super farm shop at Glemsford for local produce. A most magical moment, has to be just watching the countryside change, almost every hour it seems, with the sun and weather throughout the seasons.“
The Old School House at Wickhambrook is available for holiday lets. Contact Suffolk Cottage Holidays T: 01394 389189 suffolkcottageholidays.com/TOSH