With masterly understatement, Pevsner describes the exquisite, Grade I listed Thurston End Hall at Hawkedon, 10 miles from Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, as ‘quite a showpiece’. Its English Heritage listing describes the hall as ‘a fine early- 16th-century timber-framed manor house, built circa 1500… enlarged circa 1607… extensively and well restored in the 20th century’.
In his book In Search of the Perfect House, 500 of the best buildings in Britain and Ireland, former Country Life architectural editor Marcus Binney highlights the charm deriving from the building’s lack of precise symmetry, ‘the gables all being of varying size, the timbers close set (a sign of wealth) and the bricks between laid herringbone fashion, but with intriguing variations at some corners-a diagonal placement that was not only decorative but also practical: it locked the bricks in position’.
For owner Prof Adrian Keane, an internationally renowned authority on the law of evidence and a former Deputy Dean of City Law School, City University London, this lack of symmetry was part of ‘the magical, fairytale quality’ that inspired him and his late wife to fall in love with the hall and buy it without hesitation when it last came to the market, through Savills, in 2005. Now, the professor is downsizing and a refurbished Thurston End Hall is being launched in this week’s Country Life, again through Savills (01223 347147), at a guide price of £2.5 million.
The original manor house, described in Domesday, was almost certainly surrounded by a moat, parts of which can still be seen. The present hall, which may well have been built as early as the late 15th century, has been altered only three times in its history. Firstly, in 1530-40, when the huge chimney stack was added and, then, in the early 1600s, by Richard Everard whose family held Thurston End from 1552. He added the porch, dated 1607, replaced the original stairs with a six-flight staircase and panelled some of the principal rooms.
The final alterations took place in the 1920s, when Bernard Gaussen and his wife, France-Doucha (a direct descendant of the Bonapartes), restored the house and added the scalloped bargeboards on the gables and the intricate wood carving that add a final touch of enchantment to this remarkable house.
Over the years, Thurston End Hall has had a succession of illustrious owners and many famous visitors. One of these was Will Kemp, a contemporary and close colleague of William Shakespeare, who helped finance the building of the Globe and played key roles in many of the Bard’s plays. One of Kemp’s exploits was a nine-day morris dance from London to Norwich in 1600. Passing between Clare and Bury, he stopped off at Thurston End Hall for a meal ‘with the very bountiful… widow Everet… and above thirty gentlemen’ and remarked on ‘the riches and plenty that abounded in everie corner of the house’ and the ‘plentifull variety of good fare sildome seen in any Commoners house’.
The good times have apparently been rolling ever since. Timeless Thurston End Hall sits in 31 acres of mature gardens, woodland, paddocks and water meadows on the banks of the River Glem, on the edge of the quintessential Suffolk village of Hawkedon, with its traditional village green, 15th-century St Mary’s church and quaint medieval houses. Minimal alterations carried out by Prof Keane include a new kitchen, a wine cellar and new bathrooms.
In total, the hall has some 7,000sq ft of accommodation, including four main reception rooms-all remarkably light and bright for a house of its age-along with a breakfast room, a playroom, various utilities, four principal bedrooms, four bathrooms and four further bedrooms on the second floor.
It comes with an intriguing, timber-clad, three-bedroom cottage and a traditional courtyard of historic outbuildings, along with such modern essentials as a heated swimming pool and an Astroturf tennis court.
Across the county border in Norfolk, time and country-house prices have stood still for the past five years, but Louis de Soissons of Savills in Norwich (01603 229229) is hoping that the turning tide will benefit several impressive country houses he has recently launched on the market.
Judiciously offered at a guide price of £1.95m, with the three-bedroom Lodge Cottage for sale separately at £250,000, Grade II-listed Burfield Hall near Wymondham, 11 miles south-west of Norwich, is a classic Queen Anne country house, built in about 1709, with a later, 18th century west wing. The house stands in 18.6 acres of gardens and grounds, with 7,814sq ft of accommodation on three floors, including five reception rooms, a conservatory, a kitchen/ breakfast room, five main bedrooms, four bathrooms and four second-floor bedrooms. It comes with a two-bedroom cottage and a range of traditional outbuildings.
The present owners, who bought the hall in 1998, have restored and refurbished it, retaining much fine period detail, notably a splendid main staircase lit by a Venetian window with an ornate plaster ceiling overhead. They have also installed a new custom-built kitchen, upgraded the bathrooms, added the conservatory, restored the barn and created a formal parterre garden designed by Verity Hanson-Smith.
Old Georgian rectories are as popular in Norfolk as elsewhere in England, and, at a guide price of £1.685m, The Old Rectory at Yaxham, two miles from Dereham and 15 miles from Norwich, is probably as good as it gets for a classic late- Georgian house built in 1820 and is set in more than five acres of gardens and grounds.
The former rectory, listed Grade II, was designed by the architect Robert Lugar for the Rev John Johnson, a cousin of William Cowper, who edited the poet’s work in his study at the house The current owners bought the house in 2005 and have carried out major improvements, including the addition of a conservatory, a heated indoor swimming pool and a new garage block as well as the conversion of the coach house into a separate three-bedroom holiday cottage, which produces a useful income.
The imposing main house stands at the end of a long drive and has 6,897sq ft of accommodation, including five reception rooms, a large master suite, five further bedrooms and four bath/shower rooms. The north wing could easily be used as a separate, self-contained annexe, suggests Mr de Soissons.
Encouraged by the recent swift sales of Knodishall Place at Aldeburgh and The Lavenhams at Lavenham, at guide prices of £2.5m and £1.35m respectively, Suffolk agent Tim Dansie of Jackson-Stops and Staff in Ipswich (01473 218218) is optimistic about the prospects of elegant Rockalls Hall at Polstead, which has been relaunched onto the market-jointly with Knight Frank (020 7861 1779)-at a guide price of £2.95m.
Set in 33 acres of gardens and parkland, the handsome Queen Anne-style house, built in 1905, has an eight/nine bedroom main house, has outbuildings, stabling and, the pièce de résistance, its own private cricket pitch and pavilion.
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