Suffolk's prettiest homes: Tudor Linden House in Eye
PUBLISHED: 10:35 29 March 2019
Elegant Linden House in Eye reveals unexpected Tudor farmhouse tales and stories of outstanding Suffolk sisters | Words & Photos: Lindsay Want
Linden House has to be a perfect Suffolk sanctuary. Retiring slightly from the hustle and bustle of historic Eye’s market place, it sits back in shaded elegance behind a thick row of 150-year-old lime trees and a gravel drive which delivers just the right amount of stately crunch to accompany of the property’s smart Queen Anne-style façade.
In contrast to the crinkle-crankle wall just up the road or the flinty castle ruins not so very far away, it’s an architectural market town masterpiece of regimented straight lines and uncompromising symmetry.
One thing that they all have in common though, is that you sort of have to know they are there to be able to find them.
A ring of the button, lost on the imposing white portico, sends a frisson of excited apprehension down the spine and the gleaming brass door knob a-turning.
The great closed door opens to the tune of a cheery, “Invitation to View?”, and with a warm smile and a wave of welcome, the delightful, diminutive lady of the house introduces herself as Sara [Michell], and leads the way past the portraits and planters of the entrance hall.
The push of a perfectly arched panel-door and brush along the bannister sees the procession move through the back of the house and onto an expanse of lawn with views of a charmingly tranquil, town-yet-country garden and a relaxed throng of companions, already seated, settled and sipping at cups of tea.
Enclosed and understated, the grounds have interest in every corner. Wisps of wisteria drool over the rear brick wall. Potted hostas and pink hydrangeas soak up the dappled shade by the old stable-shed.
Two-tone tulip peonies nod gracefully at the new acquaintances and roses retain just the right degree of decorum, as they dare to ramble around the edges of such a refined setting. Classically Jane Austen. Awesomely English.
No doubt, as the Invitation to View guide confirmed, the perfect backdrop for a Miss Marple mystery.
“Refreshments?” Question number two comes from behind. Yet, in turning to answer, the mouth opens, but no words come out. As if transported to some other Suffolk spot, the wonders of flat classical finesse and Georgian über-symmetry have somehow miraculously vanished.
And suddenly, there you are face to face with eye-candy that’s as hard to resist as Sara’s scones piled with jam and cream, or all the cake in Christendom for that matter. Sweet Suffolk pink, higgledy-piggledy and even slightly on the huh in parts, the back of Linden House with its motley collection of assorted window styles, different pitched roofs and teensy-weensy dormer windows couldn’t be more different or endearing.
In the absence of Miss Marple, Sara’s husband, Charles, steps in to solve the mystery. Holding court from under an irresistibly wonky canopy, added probably when the original Tudor timber-framed farmhouse was ‘Georgian-ified’ around the mid-18th century, the former grenadier, barrister, politician and one-time Mayor of Eye grasps his music stand lectern with both hands and shares the life and times of his family home and the town he loves with an eloquent passion.
Built around 1550 to look out over the marshes of the ‘island’ settlement by the River Dove, the farmhouse was turned around totally two centuries later, when prosperous Eye was second only in importance to Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds.
With the plot possibly restricted by neighbouring lanes or properties, adding an extension to the side in the usual way was not an option, so the enterprising owners doubled the size of the place by building on the ‘back’. Re-orientating the property, the modern street-side build lent itself to a stylish statement frontage. Suddenly the humble farmhouse had earned itself a place on the Eye map.
But making a statement and being of high profile in the town is something that seems to have come naturally to many of those who have called Linden House home. A portrait of Sara in mayoral dress also hangs on the wall above the white dado panelling of the dining room.
Years before Sara set about making the place a family home amid political career paths, Margaret and Mary Thompson, two truly remarkable women, had become local magistrates when they retired with their four other spinster sisters, in 1925, to the peace of Eye’s house behind the lime trees until 1952.
They were ardent suffragettes, who had seen significant involvement in shaping the political landscape of their day.
In later life, legend would have them sitting in the Linden House garden with their sisters, knitting jackets for every new baby in Eye.
In their nineties, they also wrote a modest yet deeply moving document, They Couldn’t Stop Us!, about those turbulent times when they were arrested, fined or, in the case of Margaret, imprisoned three times, and endured a hunger strike in their bid to bring universal suffrage to Britain.
Never judge a book by its cover? Never take a building’s façade at face value.
More sanctuaries for Suffolk sisters
Visit Bruisyard Hall near Framlingham where a fine Tudor manor includes traces of the final priory home of Maud (Plantagenet) of Lancaster, great-granddaughter of Henry III, who founded the Poor Clares. Her abbey at Campsea Ashe was renowned for its illuminated manuscripts. In Bruisyard the nuns embroidered lavish covers for their holy books.
Try these 16th century farmhouse treats – in the Waveney Valley, Heath Farmhouse, near Bungay, retains its Tudor colouring, and has evidence of original shutter grooves and mysterious protection marks, as well as the use of St Cross bricks from The Saints around historic South Elmham Hall.
To experience Easter Tudor style, hop across the western border to find Parsonage Farm garnished with willow catkins and smelling of simnel bread baked by owner and Tudor enthusiast Brigitte Webster.
You are invited...
Invitation to view offer visits to privately owned houses which are rarely open to the public and where normally the owner takes charge of the tour.
Linden House, Eye: August 2, 9, 14, 16
Bruisyard Hall, nr Framlingham: May 15, June 12, September 18
Heath Farmhouse, nr Bungay: May 2, 31, June 27, July 24, August 21, September 18, December 23
South Elmham Hall, nr Bungay: May 23, August 22, September 26
Parsonage Farm nr Bishops Stortford: April 14 Apr (Easter tour), May 22, July 6, August 7, September 14, October 30, November 23 (Tudor Christmas feast).
Info and tickets: invitationtoview.co.uk T: 01946 690823. Tour prices from £15 per person. All tours include light refreshments as a minimum. Group tours available on request T: 01284 827087