Dream houses abound along the River Waveney’s border between Norfolk and Suffolk.
The River Waveney defines the border between Norfolk and Suffolk, although locals who live along the dreamy Waveney Valley tend to see the river not as dividing the two counties, but as bringing them together. Newcomers drawn to this quiet backwater for its timeless beauty and gentle pace of life will be agreeably surprised at the choice of fine country houses to be found in and around thriving Waveney Valley towns such as Beccles, Bungay, Harleston and Diss and will also be reminded of the area’s historic importance as a centre of power and influence.
The launch onto the market of one of Norfolk’s most remarkable houses, the Grade I-listed, 15th-century Hales Hall (Fig 1)—with its magnificent Tudor Great Barn (Fig 2)—at Loddon, five miles from both Beccles and Bungay and 13 miles south-east of Norwich, highlights the vision and towering ambition of the man who built it. That was Sir James Hobart, who hailed from Monks Eleigh in Suffolk and, in 1478, bought Hales Hall, which then incorporated the 13th-century hall of Sir Roger de Hales, although there has been a house on the site for more than 1,000 years.
Sir James was a brilliant lawyer and judge who went on to become Henry VII’s Attorney General, a post he held for 21 years—a remarkable tale of survival in a volatile era. Highly regarded by his contemporaries, he funded the repairs for the nave roof of Norwich Cathedral after a fire and helped compile the Statutes of Henry VII, the last book printed by William Caxton, in about 1490. His youngest son, Myles, founded the line that built Blickling Hall and his eldest son, Walter, and his family remained staunch Catholics, facing huge fines as recusants after the Reformation.
By 1647, their great fortune had run out and Hales Hall was sold to a local property speculator. The estate later passed to various landowners and, from the mid 19th century, to the Crisps of nearby Kirby Cane Hall. From the 1730s onwards, the house was let to farming tenants and was eventually purchased in a state of disrepair by the previous owners in 1971.
According to its listing, all that remains of Sir James’s great Tudor house is the 8,422sq ft gatehouse range, with its distinctive, octagonal chimney stacks and four-centred archway, to the west of which is the moated site where the vast main house once stood. To the south of the present house is the 184ft-long Great Barn—at 5,568sq ft, the largest brick-built Tudor barn in England—which was re-roofed by the previous owners in 1996 and further restored by the present owners, who bought Hales Hall in 2011. The barn is currently used as a successful wedding venue, generating a gross annual income of £120,000 to £150,000 a year.
Louis de Soissons of Savills in Norwich (01603 229229) quotes a guide price of £2.85 million for Hales Hall with the Great Barn, two cottages and the two-bedroom Garden Room annexe, set in about nine acres of extensive moated gardens and grounds, orchards and meadows. Exquisitely restored and ingeniously modernised by the owners to Tudor standards that Sir James would no doubt applaud, Hales Hall boasts an entrance and staircase hall, two main reception rooms, a custom-built kitchen/breakfast room, a media/cinema room, a chapel room, a music room, three sitting rooms, six bedrooms and five bath/shower rooms.
‘You get twice as much for your money in this still largely undiscovered area, which is influenced by neither Ipswich nor Norwich: as a result, house prices in the Waveney Valley are probably half those of a property of similar standard in the much better-known Stour Valley, which forms the boundary between Suffolk and Essex,’ says Mark Oliver of Savills in Ipswich (01473 234830), who quotes a guide price of £1.25m for charming, Grade II-listed The Old Rectory (Fig 3) at Starston, near Harleston, Norfolk.
Beautifully renovated by its present owners, who are downsizing after 15 years in residence, the former rectory, which dates from the 1600s with late-18th and early-19th-century additions—7,426sq ft of living space in all—is built in two distinct styles: a 17th-century front façade with a central Dutch gable and a classic Georgian rear section, overlooking 8.4 acres of informal gardens and surrounded by some magnificent trees, including a lovely dark-copper beech said to have been planted to celebrate Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar.
The Old Rectory stands on the edge of Starston village, a mile from the market town of Harleston and nine miles from Diss, which is a 90-minute train ride from London Liverpool Street. The house, which is in excellent decorative order throughout, has three reception rooms, a billiard room, a conservatory, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms, three bathrooms and a shower room.
Mr de Soissons responds with a quote of £1.15m for Rushall House (Fig 4) near the village of Rushall, a traditional former rectory set in 13 acres of land a short hop from the village, three miles from Harleston and six miles from Diss. The current owners, who bought the family- friendly, 3,739sq ft house in 2001, have carried out a thorough refurbishment including re-roofing, the installation of new bathrooms, complete redecoration throughout and, most recently, the creation of a large, custom-built kitchen/breakfast room. In addition, the house offers three reception rooms, a study, five bedrooms, two bathrooms and a shower room.
Finally, a guide price of £1.05m is quoted by Savills (01603 229229) for Dickleburgh Manor (Fig 5) with more than five acres of gardens and grounds in the village of Dickleburgh, 4½ miles from Diss. Described as ‘a most handsome Grade II*-listed Queen Anne country house’, the classically symmetrical, 5,192sq ft manor house, built of red brick under a steeply pitched tiled roof, has accommodation on three floors including three main reception rooms, a well-fitted kitchen/breakfast room, a billiard room, an orangery, six bedrooms and six bath/shower rooms.
The current owners bought the manor about 25 years ago, since when they have carried out extensive improvements, including the addition of the billiard/games room and two porches in 2000, as well as that of the orangery in 2011. The original Victorian glasshouse in the grounds has been completely renovated and, in 2013, the top floor of the house was totally refurbished, providing three double bedrooms, each with bath or shower rooms, as well as a study/sitting room.