The tale of two Medieval houses #atozchallenge

CSome 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. 



Tower is visible in front of church.

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.

Columbine Hall

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.

Sign up to Rachel’s Readers for the First Chapter of The Women of Heachley Hall



  1. This amazing! Being an historian (fave period, Medieval!) this is straight up my street. Great photos lots of interesting info. Haven’t visited this part of the world yet.


    1. East Anglian has plenty of Medieval buildings left in tact – well worth a visit.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Will get there!


  2. You’ve created an impressive blog here. I’m much in awe, and appreciative of the research you’ve done and the fine presentation. Thank you.


    1. Thank you. The challenge is keeping it up for the whole month!


  3. Loved this so much! Thank you for teaching me something new, too! I’m looking forward to more posts!


    1. Thanks for stopping by!


  4. It’s amazing that a timber structure could last so long. Wonderful post!


    1. Timber should be covered in plasterwork and it probably protected the wood from weathering. Exposed timbers and painting them black was a later fashion that the Victorians encouraged. It’s amazing how long timber can last!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for the tidbit on this part of history! I enjoyed the pictures so.
    Once Upon a Time


    1. Thank you for stopping by.


  6. Cool. Medieval houses and castles are a passion of mine.


    1. A couple of years ago I did my a-to-z on Castles – you might like to check it out on the menu. Thanks for stopping by.


  7. I really like the look of that wine cellar – perfect place for a murder 😉 You could have a cosy mystery and a half in that house! Columbine Hall also looked like a fascinating building.
    Tasha’s Thinkings – Movie Monsters


    1. Looks a little spooky doesn’t it! Old houses have such potential for great stories. 🙂


  8. What a wonderful post, filled with history and beautiful photos! I love to visit these medieval buildings and imagine the past. Can’t wait to see what you post tomorrow!


    1. Something different for each day, I hope!


  9. It does sound like quite an undertaking to keep one of these old keeps! Great work, catching up now and can’t wait to read more!
    Jamie Lyn Weigt | Theme: Odds and Ends Dragons | Writing Dragons


  10. Tracy Smith · · Reply

    My grandfather was the farm manager during ww2 and the family which included my mother lived in the house throughout that time.
    I have photos of them there with some of the land girls too


    1. Tracy Smith · · Reply

      At Columbine Hall


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