Some houses change over time, others don’t. Before the days of listed buildings (protection orders on historical buildings), owners simply added, removed and did what they pleased to keep the exterior and interior of their home functional and maintained. Theses days, you can’t just simply knock down an outside wall of a Medieval listed building or alter its character. Yet, in the past, this is what happened. Here’s two examples:
Clifton House, Kings Lynn – merchant’s house and watchtower.
Begun in 1250, Clifton House underwent alterations during the Tudor, Stuart and Georgian eras that have left their mark for future generations and hidden many of the original features out of sight. Starting with the Medieval undercroft and wine cellar – the earliest brick structure in Norfolk – and after the addition of the five storey garden tower in 1570, the house had always been the home of wealthy merchants.
The first major refurbishment was undertaken by Thomas Snelling in the late 16th century. He inserted floors, chimney stacks (because not all houses had them), panelling, and the brick tower. The Elizabethans and Jacobeans liked to use garden towers as banqueting houses. (Go take a look at Ashby de la Zouch castle where one of the towers was used as a banqueting house). Later, the tower was used by merchants in the 16th century to observe ships travelling up the Great River Ouse. During excavations in 1960s glazed tiles were found below the ground level and are believed to be very rare.
From the outside, it’s hard to imagine this house being so old. I associate timber with medieval homes, not brick. The property is now in the hands of private owners who are restoring it.
So when I think Medieval, this is more like it – Columbine Hall, Suffolk – a 600 year old timber built house surrounded by a moat that is thought to date back to the days of fighting marauding Vikings.
The manor was called Thorney Columbers after its Norman feudal overlord, de Columbers, but the residents of the manor house built in 1390 were the Hodots. The original great hall is gone and so its shrunk a little in size. What is left is actually the gatehouse range with its overhanging upper storey.
In 1520, the Hodot heiress married the daughter of Sir James Tyrell, notoriously linked with the murder of the Princes in the Tower. Luck didn’t work out for them and they fell on hard times and sold the place in 1559. The house was bought by Sir Robert Carey, a favourite Elizabeth I, who upon her death rode north to Scotland to tell James VI he was now James I of England.
Columbine Hall was sold again in 1611, then again in 1730 to a merchant whose daughter married an earl. Lived in by tenants, it was sold in 1914 to the Potter family. With its extensive farmland, the house was used as a base by the Land Girls during the second world war. The current owners bought the property in 1993 and it is a lovely location for a wedding.
It’s exterior maintains the Medieval look and feel, the interior has morphed over the years to reflect its occupiers: freestanding baths with French tile splashbacks, C18 panelling and elm floorboards that pre-date the Victorian ones laid on top.
I’m in awe of people who buy these old Medieval properties and endeavour to return them to their former glory. It takes real commitment and dedication.