Explore Suffolk: 7 historical homes to marvel at
PUBLISHED: 12:22 09 January 2017 | UPDATED: 12:22 09 January 2017
Enjoy a day out to the magical places opening their private doors this year through 'Invitation to View', the Suffolk success story that's now a national phenomenon
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to live where history hides in every nook and cranny? Perhaps you’re a tad curious about who takes on the challenge of a truly eccentric home, or maybe even why? Make 2017 your year to take up some irresistible invitations to view and enjoy exclusive property tours with welcoming owner-custodians around some of East Anglia’s most hidden town and country gems.
With over 20 Invitation to View properties in the Suffolk portfolio alone, there’s always another fascinating something to discover, from medieval hunting lodges and fortified farmhouses to a watermill, monastic college or mad, new millennium masterpiece.
Wallow in deep historic detail if you wish, but these gentle introductions are also as brimful of character as the houses and owners themselves, making stately homes far from stuffy stuff. Tales of Harry Potter, moats and marmite jars, pilgrim-pulling follies, deer parks and garden greats, insistent ghosts and anti-witchcraft symbols – you’ll find them all in the mix, and might even come face to face with dragons or a unicorn too. Places like these were often designed to impress or welcome, so it’s not surprising your hosts are not just guardians of the past, but passionate about giving their home a future, and really enjoying it in the process. All in all, be prepared for some totally entertaining days out.
1. A medieval pleasure dome
Letheringham Lodge near Wickham Market, the “mad pad” home of Pauline and Matthew Bickerton, is not just the smallest occupied moated site in Suffolk, but a prestigious Tudor hunting lodge which proved to have more history than the couple could ever have imagined, when they bought it back in 2012. On a hilltop location, hidden away up a long drive, the timbered building is ‘jettied’ on all four sides, retains its massive original dragon beams, Tudor fireplaces and a Jacobean staircase. With oodles of enthusiasm for the place and the help of county historians and dating experts, the passionate owners have slowly pieced together the picture of a lavish ‘palace’ built for banqueting and picnics, courtship and pleasure – perhaps even with a lantern roof.
In a nutshell: Built 1472 by John de Wingfield, Edward IV’s right hand man. Grade II* listed.
Don’t miss: Impressive dragon beams; anti-witchcraft symbols on the fireplace lintels; tea on the island terrace – oh, and Pauline’s unicorn in the guest room!
2. A bishop’s palace in the Waveney Valley
There are few places in Suffolk where you can feel history in the landscape – or the landowner’s love of it - more than at South Elmham Hall. John Sanderson is the third generation of his family to farm sustainably the ancient remains of an episcopal estate at South Elmham near Harleston, dating back to the 7th century. His family home, the former medieval palace where mighty bishops held court, sits within an idyllic four acre moated site and contains some of Suffolk’s earliest domestic wall-paintings. A walk with John across the meadows of the ancient deer park leads to the enigmatic ruins of South Elmham Minster, an 11th century chapel perhaps built on the back of the site’s earlier Saxon heritage to attract the attention and donations of passing pilgrim travellers.
In a nutshell: Moated palace site, home to an entire community in 1300-1400s. Minster ruins. Grade I listed. Original rural landscape farmed and managed sensitively for wildlife.
Don’t miss: Wall-paintings even in the bathroom (similar to ones in Norwich Cathedral c. 1270); tea in medieval Bateman’s Barn with its ancient hexfoil ‘graffiti’; romantic gatehouse ruins on the island; wooded Minster ruins.
3. More than just Suffolk’s longest barn
Possibly an early court hall, the great barn at Crow’s Hall near Debenham makes for a magnificent venue as well as a unique Invitation to View visit - and Caroline Spurrier, great granddaughter of Daisy Countess of Warwick, who bought the estate a decade ago, is a born hostess, renowned equestrian expert and highly experienced farmer. Her award-winning restoration of the red brick moated hall, combines stately style with an eco-approach to today’s country living - a fascinating mix of techno and Tudor.
In a nutshell: Hall built 1599 by Sir Charles Framlingham for his wedding. Grade II* listed.
Don’t miss: Gardens on moated site (designer Xa Tollemache); haunted garden corner; a nose at the biomass boiler which tunnels under the moat to heat the house.
4. All a bit of a front
Viewed from the A12, Glemhall Hall looks distinctly Georgian as it sits amidst its ancient oaks, but that’s only because its 18th century owners were keen to keep up appearances and out to impress. Behind the austere façade lurks a fascinating Tudor house with a haunted staircase and delightful gardens. Tours can’t fail to be entertaining and full of unexpected stories with the exuberant owner, Major Philip Hope-Cobbold, a former High Sheriff of Suffolk and local football patron. A refined must for Ipswich Town Fans.
In a nutshell: Built 1500s. 300 acre park designed by Repton. Grade I listed.
Don’t miss: Grand Hall; cellars; servants’ quarters; football memorabilia and sculpture park.
5. Just the business
From 18th century Letheringham watermill to Wingfield’s 1362 chantry college, über-haunted statesman’s house, Roos Hall, or even Grade I listed Hintlesham Hall, now a luxury hotel, there are plenty of ‘purposeful’ Invitation to View properties in Suffolk, but it’s worth nipping up to Norfolk to experience one very special place, built with impressing business associates in mind. Clifton House in King’s Lynn is England’s most complete merchant’s residence including a warehouse wine cellar and tower from where the owner could show of his ships on the quayside. It’s a true catalogue of building periods from the middle ages onwards with amazing historical finds now cleverly incorporated into what is a real family home.
In a nutshell: Begun 1250. 1570s tower with Jacobean murals and wonderful Great Ouse / King’s Lynn views. Largest secular medieval tiled pavement in England. Grade I listed.
Don’t miss: The whole tour and tea with its famous historian-owner, Mr Simon Thurley.
6. Out on a whim
Some country houses seem just sheer folly, entertaining and indulging their owners’ absolute eccentricity. Norfolk’s Grade 1 Arts & Crafts edifice, Home Place aka ‘Voewood’ near High Kelling, is practically Gaudi-esque in its proliferation of architectural influences all in one building, but there are other Invitation to View mad masterpieces closer to home. Belle Grove is the bonkers brain-child of owner-designers- builders, Nick Fisher and Jo Jordan, and a turreted bit of Westhall wizardry stuffed with straw bales and topped with a dragon, which recently took just six years from sketch to sign off. A baffling place which defies description – you’ll just have to visit!
In a nutshell: Completed 2011. Eco, exotic and oh-so-Suffolk. Homebuilding & Renovating award-winner.
Don’t miss: Tree trunk staircase; sedum roof; Dunwich Douglas firs in the tower; garden temple and the chimney dragon.
7. A place to share
At moated farmhouse, Columbine Hall near Stowmarket, owners Hew Stevenson and Leslie Geddes-Brown, enjoy the idea that historic houses love to create the right impression and how the space somehow comes with a licence to collect. Play spot the difference as tongue-in-cheek Hew gets you to pick out original features from his mate Melvyn’s masterful fake disguises. Hear how they saved the property from dereliction, found 83 marmite jars in the part filled moat, and how 1914 tenant farmer, Harry Potter, lost his property for not being productive enough for the war effort.
In a nutshell: Built 1390. Timber-framed farmhouse with defensive moat. Grade II* listed.
Don’t miss: Gardens and meadow vistas; Hew’s Garrett family connections/ memorabilia; curious key, carvings and kitchenalia collections.
More entertaining offers from Invitation to View:
- Colchester’s Mercury Theatre - behind the scenes tours
- Warner Textile Archive, Braintree - introductions to really colourful stuff
- Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey – a unique and exclusive hard-hat experience
Did you know…?
Established in 1998 with just 14 properties all in Suffolk, the Invitation to View co-operative now includes 90 property members throughout England and Wales.
Read more about Invitation to View here