Nick Churton of Mayfair International Realty tells the story of a remarkable house and garden with a history dating back almost two thousand years into Early Medieval England and the very beginnings of Christianity in Britain. The subject of a Channel 4 Time Team archaeological dig and its covering TV episode several years ago this property is being given star marketing treatment by MIR member, Durrants, who are relative newcomers in comparison, having only been in business since 1853 when Queen Victoria was on the throne.
It took faith and vision for Anglo Saxons in the 7th century to build a church on a raised piece of ground beside the River Blythe in Suffolk, England. It took vision and not a little spiritual self-interest on the part of Henry I, who in 1120 granted the same land to the Augustinians who built a large priory there in the Norman style of the day.
Then Henry VIII in a famous and religiously divisive fit of pique destroyed the lot between 1536 and 1541. But that was far from the end of this story. A new and secular life for this land lay ahead. About a century later a charming house in the Elizabethan style was built in these grounds – alongside a private chapel constructed on earlier 14th century foundations. By then the property lay aside a sleepy lane leading to the magnificent 15th century Blytheburgh parish church – so big that it became known as the Cathedral of the Marshes. And so the new house remained largely unaltered for the next four hundred years when its next chapter began.
Just before the start of the First World War, and seeing more potential in the property, the Victorian artist John Seymour Lucas had the original Elizabethan house doubled in size in the Arts and Crafts mode. It was a very inspired, comfortable and successful marriage of styles. A garden in the manner of Gertrude Jekyll was planned but it was another hundred years before this was largely fulfilled.
No house stays current. It must evolve to remain relevant and useful. So about ten years ago the current owners bought the property and set about bringing this historic layer cake of a building delicately and sensitively into the 21st century. The result is simply remarkable. It is living archeology. But this is no museum or National Trust showpiece, although it certainly could be. Instead it is a house for today that has its roots and echoes deep in the past. It is a house with style for occupants with style. It is a house with presence for occupants with presence.
Now it is time for the house to change ownership again and a new custodian will take over the stewardship of this important but almost hidden piece of English history. Once upon a time this area was one of the most populated and important political, religious and commercial areas of Britain. Not any more. Now it has become a restful, relaxing sort of place where time ticks by slowly and neighbours take the trouble to talk and care.
The new buyer will need vision to take this remarkable house forward. He or she will also have to want to join in a tight-knit community – for this house has an important place in that community. In return the house will give back a hundredfold – just as it has done for four hundred years and the grounds have done for a great deal longer than that.