On paper, it’s easy enough to confuse enchanting, Grade I-listed Giffords Hall at Wickhambrook, near Newmarket, Suffolk, with its larger and more famous namesake, Grade I-listed Giffords Hall at Stoke-by-Nayland, Suffolk, 20 miles to the south-east. But there the similarity ends, for although both houses were owned by the powerful Gifford family in the late 13th century, the hall at Stoke-by-Nayland was built mainly of brick, and semi-fortified by the Mannock family between 1450 and 1530, whereas the present Giffords Hall at Wickhambrook, built by the Heigham family in about 1485, is almost entirely timber-framed, its sole protection a wide, unfortified moat.
Giffords Hall’s present owners, Sir David and Lady Rowland, who have lived at Wickhambrook for the past 18 years, are still captivated by the quiet magic of this delightful house, set into the hillside of a wonderfully unspoilt corner of west Suffolk, with its rolling countryside and vast open skies. Their children and grandchildren have enjoyed the house and its grounds to the full, but the time has come to move to something smaller, so Giffords Hall, with some 50 acres of gardens, paddocks, lake and woodlands, is for sale through Savills (020-7409 8885) at a guide price of £3.5 million.
The original house and estate remained in the Heigham family until the 17th century, when it was bought, along with neighbouring Clopton Hall, by a charitable trust set up by Lord Maynard of Easton to provide poor children with a decent start in life. In 1844, Giffords Hall was sold by auction with ‘a substantial dwelling house, a malting house, stabling, barns and 112 acres of land’.
According to Country Life, the house then ‘passed gradually into a condition of neglect and dilapidation’, before being rescued and restored by Mr A. H. Fass in the early 1900s. He carefully renovated the ancient fabric, added a new, Lutyens-style north wing, cleaned out the moat and surrounded the house with charming gardens. The north end of the moat was filled in when the new wing was built, but could easily be reinstated, the agents say.
Having bought Giffords Hall in the early 1990s, the present owners thought long and hard about the best way to make a historic architectural gem work as a modern family home. With commendable support from English Heritage, they opened up the ground-floor reception rooms, created a new front porch, a new kitchen/breakfast room and, perhaps most importantly, four new bathrooms. The entrance hall and dining room in particular were decorated with help from Timothy Easton, an expert in early paintwork.
The dominating feature of the house is the Great Hall, with its mighty carved oak beams, fine panelling, ancient glazing and Tudor fireplace, all of which are replicated in the remarkable Great Chamber (now the master suite) above. This earlier part of the house also has a charming ground-floor study remodelled in Charles II’s time, two first-floor bedrooms and three second-floor bedrooms.
The Arts-and-Crafts style of Mr Fass’s 1908 north wing blends admirably with the older part of the house. The upstairs serves as a guest suite, with a smaller twin bedroom (for accompanying children or snorers, Lady Rowland suggests), a bathroom and a small kitchen; downstairs is another sitting room and a study-Mr Fass’s original library. In all, Giffords Hall has 7618sq ft of living space, including four main reception rooms, two studies, a games room, eight bedrooms, four bathrooms and attics.
The Rowlands have not only restored the house, but have also redesigned and replanted much of the garden, with the help of George Carter, a gifted gardener who also designed the oakwork in front of the house. In addition, waterways have been dredged, hedgerows coppiced, field margins reinstated and native grasses planted with oxeye daisies along the front drive. A vegetable garden has been established, and a swimming-pool garden created in part of the farmyard. Old maps of the grounds show dovecotes, orchards and extensive stew ponds-fish ponds used by the house until the 1550s. The ponds still remain and, together with an island edged by woodland, are a paradise for wildlife, birds and adventurous children.
There is a gentle air of timelessness about the 781-acre Moor Place estate at Much Hadham, a charming Hertfordshire village that was, for centuries, the country seat of the Bishops of London. At the heart of the estate is a classic Georgian house built in 1779 on the site of an earlier Elizabethan mansion by the talented but relatively unknown architect Robert Mitchell; its south wing was rebuilt in 1907 by Sir Ernest Newton for City grandee Frederick Henry Norman. With its four-bedroom dower house, five cottages, Grade II*-listed stable block and three farmyards, set in 600 acres of farmland, woods and parkland, Moor Place was a development opportunity too good to miss for local conservation specialists Foxley Builders of Stansted, Essex, who bought the estate in July 2010.
Two of the estate’s most iconic buildings, Grade I-listed Moor Place, with its own private drive and 60 acres of parkland, and the Elizabethan stable block (currently arranged as a staff flat and cottage, but ideal for conversion to two houses) are being offered for sale as they stand, at guide prices of £4.95m and £700,000 respectively, through joint agents Knight Frank (020-7629 8171) and Mullucks Wells (01279 755400). An unlisted three-bedroom gate lodge with a private garden is also available at £450,000. The remaining houses and estate buildings will be gradually developed by Foxley as part of a long-term project.
In the 18th century, architect Robert Mitchell described the main house at Moor Park as ‘built upon a rising ground, in a park well-planted with trees of a stately growth and commanding a prospect of a rich and agreeable country’-all of which is still true today. The Georgian core remains the heart of the house, with its charming library and dining room, light-filled drawing room and cantilevered stone staircase leading to six upstairs bedrooms, with five smaller bed-rooms on the second floor. Newton’s four-bedroom nursery wing houses the present kitchen and breakfast room, which need updating.
Meanwhile, should a new owner wish it, plans are being worked out on ways of balancing the layout of the house with a new south wing, similar in proportion to that of the north wing.