Has the decision of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to move to Norfolk spurred on demand?
These East Anglia country houses for sale offer great choice, from beautiful old rectories to historic hall houses – all not too far from the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s new base
When it comes to the sale of grand country houses, it’s not often that rural north-west Essex has the chance to cock a snook at its more fashionable neighbours, but the launch onto the market, in this week’s Country Life, of splendid, Grade I-listed Spains Hall (above) near Finchingfield, 10 miles from Braintree—at a guide price of £8 million through Savills (020–7409 3820)—sees this often-undervalued area turn the tables in style.
In a sublime example of the continuity that underpins life in the East Anglian countryside, only three families have lived at Spains Hall since 1066 and this is the first time that the house has been offered for sale in more than 250 years. Its name commemorates its Norman owner, Hervey de Ispana, whose family held the estate from the Conquest until the end of the 12th century. The original Norman house was succeeded by a moated timber-framed building, parts of which still survive.
Essex enjoyed a glorious Tudor era, and, according to its English Heritage listing, the present great house dates from about 1570, with 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century additions, and incorporates part of the earlier moated house built in 1400–50. An investigation by Essex-based architect Kay Pilsbury Thomas, which carried out a major conservation project at the hall between 2007 and 2011, suggests that the medieval hall house grew slowly with the addition of Tudor kitchens, then the Elizabethan Great Hall and the larger Solar wing.
In a county lacking local stone, the grandest houses in Essex were built of brick and, during the Baroque period, the entire front of Spains Hall was re-faced with a brick façade and Dutch gables. In Georgian times, a large rear wing was added and many rooms were re-modelled in line with fashion; later in the 19th century, another brick gable was added to the front.
By the early Noughties, new sources of income were needed to maintain the house and planning consent was granted for its use as a wedding venue. This allowed the hall’s historic state rooms—notably the Great Hall, the Withdrawing Room, the Dining Room, the Vestibule and the Library—to be opened to the public for the first time. Access to the Tapestry Bed Chamber, with its elaborate Queen Anne bed and adjoining Dressing Chamber, enhanced the hall’s appeal as a unique wedding location.
The house, which is large but not unmanageable, has some 13,800sq ft of living space, including the historic formal rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, six main bedrooms, five bathrooms and various domestic offices. The second floor is largely unused, but has potential for further bedrooms, offices and storage.
Spains Hall stands at the end of a tree-lined drive on the north-west edge of the picturesque village of Finchingfield, in a tranquil rural setting bounded to the west by small country lanes and to the east by farmland. The hall, with its six-bedroom farmhouse, three-bedroom lodge and beautifully refurbished former stable block, is being offered with about 70 acres of formal gardens and pleasure grounds originally laid out in the 18th century to designs by John Adey Repton (eldest son of Humphry). To the south of the hall, some 50 acres of historic parkland are dominated by a string of early-17th-century fishponds and bounded by a bank of dense woodland.
Across the county border in Suffolk, tranquility reigns around the hamlet of Thorpe Morieux (pronounced M’roo), one of those wonderful, lost settlements in the hills between Stowmarket and Hadleigh that are among the few places in the county where you really can’t hear the rumble of distant traffic. This week sees the launch— through Savills in Ipswich (01473 234800) at a guide price of £2.5m— of local showpiece Thorpe Morieux Hall, an immaculate, Grade II*-listed Tudor manor that looks out over formal gardens to a lake bordering the River Brett, four miles from the exquisite wool town of Lavenham.
Originally the seat of the Risby family of cloth merchants, the hall dates from about 1525 and is described in its listing document as ‘a timber-framed and plastered building, considerably restored and modernised but retaining original features’, such as high ceilings, oak panelling and fine fireplaces. Its 7,320sq ft of accommodation is bright and spacious and includes an impressive entrance hall, three main reception rooms, a new bespoke Plain English kitchen, a break- fast room, five main bedrooms, three bathrooms and an unconverted second floor.
The house comes with a two-bedroom cottage, a courtyard with garaging, stabling and outbuildings, with the option to purchase the neighbouring three-bedroom, single-storey house by separate negotiation. The hall’s 30 acres of delightfully secluded grounds include formal gardens running down to the lake with a charming watergarden below and, beyond that, a belt of woodland with the Brett meandering through it.
Another of Suffolk’s many fine Elizabethan houses to enter the market this week is the intriguing High Hall in the hamlet of Nettlestead, between the villages of Little Blakeham, Somersham and Baylham, six miles from the county town of Ipswich. For sale through Knight Frank (020–7861 1069) at a guide price of £1.75m, the compact, 6,025sq ft hall, previously known as High House, stands, as its name suggests, on the top of a hill— ‘or at least as much of a hill as Suffolk ever reaches,’ wrote gardening expert Lesley Geddes-Brown (Country Life, August 26, 2009), who, in the course of her review of the hall’s renowned gardens, described the Grade II*- listed building as ‘a strange mixture of Tudor and early 20th century, which no one has quite been able to decipher’.
The confusion arose from Pevsner’s assertion that High Hall was ‘clearly only a fragment of the Hall of the Wentworth family’, who were powerful landowners in these parts in Tudor times—a view disputed by the architect Eric Sandon in his book Suffolk Houses (1977).
However, a recent Pevsner update accedes to the general view that the hall was ‘on the Wentworth estate and probably built by them as a dower house or, more likely a hunting lodge’, because of its fine vantage points overlooking the surrounding countryside. High Hall’s listing suggests that the present house probably dates from 1620–30 and was built around a ‘fragmentary 16th century core’, with alterations of ‘circa 1930’ by the architect H. Munro Cautley. Excellent family accommodation on three floors includes three main reception rooms, a playroom/cinema, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms, five bathrooms and attics.
Could it be that The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s decision to base their family home at Anmer Hall has boosted demand for country houses in north Norfolk? Ben Marchbank of Bedfords in Burnham Market appears to think so. Much relieved that his fears for the second-home market along the north Norfolk coast following the Chancellor’s decision to impose an additional rate of Stamp Duty (SDLT) have so far proved groundless, Mr Marchbank reveals that ‘so far, it doesn’t seem to have deterred buyers at the top end of the market, and we hope that our experiences in March and April prove to be a bellwether for the months to come.’
He continues: ‘In Burnham Market, we agreed sales on three houses priced at about £2m in March, only one of which, a Grade II*-listed hall close to Sandringham, completed ahead of the imposition of the additional 3% SDLT; the other two buyers acknowledged that they would be liable for the higher rate when making their offers.’
Traditionally, spring marks the start of a period of peak activity in north Norfolk and Bedfords (01328 730500) have already seen Westgate House, one of Burnham Market’s landmark houses overlooking the central marketplace, go under offer at a guide price of £1.95m.
It bodes well for the prospects for The Mill House at nearby Burnham Overy Town, an impressive Georgian mill house with a self-contained cottage and south-facing gardens, which comes to the market in May, at a guide price of £2.2m.
Louis de Soissons of Savills in Norwich (01603 229229) generally does a nice line in Georgian old rectories —always a firm favourite among families with children of prep-school age. He quotes a guide price of £1.5m for The Old Rectory at Weston Longville, nine miles north-west of Norwich, eight miles from Dereham and three miles from Taverham Hall Preparatory School, which continues to go from strength to strength under its inspirational headmaster Mike Crossley.
The handsome, Grade II-listed former rectory, once the haunt of the 18th-century diarist Parson Woodforde, stands in more than five acres of well-wooded gardens and grounds and boasts all the best Georgian features—well-proportioned rooms, shuttered sash windows, original marble fireplaces and a particularly fine staircase. The much-loved family home of its current owner since 1971, it has been the subject of considerable renovation over the years and was completely re-roofed in 2007, with the coach house converted into a separate cottage in 2010.
The main house has 5,689sq ft of living space, including entrance and staircase halls, four reception rooms, a kitchen/family room, a breakfast room, eight bedrooms and three bathrooms.
Another former rectory on Mr de Soissons’s horizon is 18th-century The Old Rectory at Carleton Rode, five miles south-east of Attleborough, which will shortly be launched on the market at a guide price of £1.6m. The ‘nicely restored’, seven bedroom, red-brick house, listed Grade II, incorporates a 16th-/17th-century timber-frame wing and an early-19th-century brick extension and comes with a useful six acres of gardens and grounds.