The variety found in the National Trust’s property portfolio has been particularly evident in my recent visits as it’s been quite some time since I last wrote about a traditional stately home, complete with complex family tree and convoluted architectural history; instead, I’ve been to a few gardens, a fancy picnic spot and a public park. I’ve now followed up with a trip to Coggeshall in Essex where I’ve ticked off a Tudor cloth merchant’s premises and a barn!
First up was Paycocke’s House & Garden, although the Trust encourages visitors to park at Grange Barn about half a mile away so we did technically see that first, albeit from the outside. We had a spot of lunch at a tearoom in Coggeshall then walked along to Paycocke’s, which you certainly can’t miss once you come to it. It’s a very striking Tudor building with beautifully carved wooden beams and window frames.
Walking through the cartway to the entrance at the back of the house, the pretty cottage garden, complete with striking lavender beds, comes into view. There are also some tables and chairs where coffee shop customers can sit overlooking the garden. We didn’t make use of the coffee shop, having just had lunch, but we did use the tables and chairs as a shady spot in which to read the introductory sheet of information about the property.
Paycocke’s is another very small property so again there was no official guidebook to purchase; instead, the information ‘boards’ in each room are printed on Coggeshall Whites (the white wool baize for which the town’s cloth industry was renowned) and hung on the wall, which was a particularly nice touch.
Thomas Paycocke inherited the building from his father in 1506 and then, in 1509, transformed it into a fancy showroom for his business, a place where he could meet, greet, wine, dine and generally dazzle his clients. As well as his own family wealth, Thomas had married well (I seem to come across these savvy individuals fairly often on my visits!) and he combined his wife Margaret’s initials with his own when he had them incorporated into the house’s ornate wood carvings. As well as floral and heraldic carvings on the various beams around the house, there are also some interesting over-mantels featuring a motley collection of animals.
There are actually two stories presented at Paycocke’s, with Thomas’ story entwined with that of the building’s restoration in the early 1900s. After his death, only one other Paycocke, a great-nephew, owned the property, which then moved by marriage into the hands of the Buxtons, another family of Essex clothiers. Years later, having had a brewery in the back garden and been split into three separate houses, the crumbling building went up for sale in 1904 and a local solicitor contacted the Buxton descendants – well-known for their wealth and philanthropy – to step in to save the building from demolition. Noel Buxton paid £500 for the house and allowed his cousin Conrad Noel and his wife Miriam to live there. It was this couple who hired local craftsman Ernest Beckwith and Malden architect Percy Beaumont to restore the house, and it was Miriam who created the Arts & Crafts style garden.
In 1910, their work was finally done, and Conrad and Miriam left Paycocke’s to take on another project. Noel Buxton and his wife Lucy lived at the house on and off and invited some illustrious friends to stay with them, including Gustav Holst and his family. Finally, in 1924, the house was gifted to the National Trust, but it was tenanted until not long ago, and only opened to the public for the first time in 2008.
Now, I have to admit that I maybe didn’t throw myself into the Paycocke’s experience as wholeheartedly as I might have done had the day’s circumstances been a little different. My excuses are fairly valid, I hope. First of all, the journey to Essex had taken far longer than expected owing to the usual car park at the Dartford Crossing and the fact that we had to divert around not one but two closures on the northbound A12! In addition to that, the weather forecast had promised no higher than 19 degrees and it was nearer 30 when we left Coggeshall later in the day. And I had worn jeans because I believed the forecasters… when will I learn? Anyone who knows me will also know that I am most certainly not at my best in the heat, so I’m afraid I was more than a little tired and grumpy when we arrived. The outlook for Paycocke’s was not good! In the event, the house was blissfully cool inside so I did relax and calm down enough to take in most of what was there. The garden got a slightly more cursory inspection as it had the significant disadvantage of being outside! Fortunately, it is fairly compact and could be circumnavigated quite quickly. On a cooler day – or for those not wearing winter trousers in a heatwave(!) – there are several benches dotted around for some quiet relaxation or for perusing a secondhand book found on the shelves on the top floor of the house.
There were no royal visits or novelty names to register here (although Paycocke’s itself could raise an eyebrow or two!), but I am starting to wonder if I should make a new list of properties that are home to linenfold panelling. It seems a long time ago when I first learned what it was called and now I can’t seem to get away from it! No complaints, though, I’m rather fond of it now.
Highlights: The Tudor frontage, the cloth information ‘boards’
Purchase(s): ‘Sleep, Pale Sister’ by Joanne Harris from the secondhand bookshop