What’s Wrong With Essex?

The River Stour runs through a magical East Anglian landscape of water meadows, willows and churches to form a natural boundary between the counties of Essex and Suffolk. Both sides of the river were good enough for Constable and Munnings, but for today?s country property seekers, it seems that the boundary between the counties is not just natural, but psychological too. As Tim Dansie of Jackson-Stops & Staff (who lives in Essex) explains: ?Everyone loves to have a Suffolk address, but Essex offers the ?commutability? and the excellent schools which most families are looking for?.

To further confuse the issue, some houses in north Essex have a Sudbury, Suffolk, postcode (to the delight of their owners), whereas others in south Suffolk are saddled with a Colchester, Essex, address.

Cannily described by Jackson-Stops (01473 218218) as being on the ?Suffolk/ Essex borders?, Stutton Lodge at Stutton, near Ipswich, appears to offer the best of both worlds, being located in Suffolk, yet only four miles from Manningtree, Essex, which has fast regular train services to London Liverpool Street.

A guide price of £1.4 million is quoted for the seven-bedroom Regency house, set in two acres of gardens and grounds.

?Essex is a much-maligned county,? agrees Tristram Hill of Bidwells (01473 611644), happily quoting a guide price of £1.1m for the equally wellplaced Boynton Hall in the Suffolk village of Capel St Mary, six miles from both Ipswich and Manningtree. Owned by Queens College Cambridge from 1478 to 1920, Boynton Hall, listed Grade II*, is described by the historian Joseph Pickess as a ?Medieval Raised Aisle Hall?, with subsequent additions.

Recently restored by the present owners, the house stands in 5.5 acres of delightful gardens and grounds, and has three main reception rooms, six bedrooms and five bathrooms, with separate, self-contained, accommodation in the Dairy annexe.

Richard Parry of Strutt & Parker?s Chelmsford office (01245 258201) attributes most anti-Essex sentiment to ?people who have never set foot in the county?. Somewhat enigmatically, he also describes one of the best houses currently on the market in north Essex Grade II-listed Brook House at North End, near Great Dunmow as having ?nothing Essex about it?.

The reason being that this charming, 15th century timber framed house was owned in the 1930s by a shipping magnate who had it substantially altered and extended in an Arts-and-Crafts style more typically associated with the hills of Surrey than the villages of Essex.

On the market at a guide price of £2.25m, Brook House has a huge 16th century banqueting hall (a former tithe barn relocated from nearby Thaxted), three main reception rooms, six bedrooms, three bath/shower rooms, and ?one of the best gardens in the county?.

The picturesque village of Dedham much painted by Constable and home to Sir Alfred Munnings stands right on the River Stour, and can claim to have a foot in both counties, although a Colchester postcode secures it for Essex. Either way, this is one of the Stour valley?s most sought after villages, where good houses rarely come on the market. So Mark Oliver of Savills (01473 234800) was delighted when three came along together this summer, among them the converted former grammar school attended by Constable.

For me, the pick of the trio is Dedham House, a gracious, late Georgian family house built of Suffolk ?white? brick of about 1830, which stands well back from the road in the centre of the village, protected by 1.3 acres of classic English gardens, with romantic walkways and some fine old trees.

The house, listed Grade II, has three reception rooms, a kitchen/breakfast room, six main bedrooms, three bathrooms and 4/5 unconverted attic rooms, as well as stabling, garaging and outbuildings. Savills are seeking offers in the region of £1.95m.

In contrast, Crown House at Dedham, for which Savills quote a guide price

of £1.25m, was built 16 years ago, although in the Georgian style. It stands in 1.28 acres of gardens and grounds, and has four reception rooms, a conservatory, a kitchen/breakfast room, six bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus a summerhouse, swimming pool and pool house.

This article was originally published in Country Life magazine, October 27, 2005. To subscribe click here.