I haven’t posted for a while, partly because I’ve been working through the first draft of Anna and Jonathan’s story, and partly because I gave myself some time off at Easter and visited Essex. It’s a part of the world I’d never visited before and I thought it was delightful – pretty countryside and lots of attractive old buildings.
My favourite was the house of Thomas Paycocke in Coggeshall village, which lies between Colchester and Braintree. Thomas was a cloth merchant, or clothier, at a time when much of the local wealth derived from spinning and weaving the wool for which England was famous. Around 1509, he enlarged an older property into the house which I visited, now in the care of The National Trust.
Unlike many local houses, the frontage does not depend on plasterwork to give it decoration and character; instead, closely arranged timbers are divided by brick and plasterwork panels. Finely carved beams span the whole length of the front, depicting vines and leaves, with guardian figures carved above the doors. Inside, Paycocke’s own study has exquisite linen-fold panelling and a low window overlooking the cartway that led from the street to the back of his house. Through it he could keep an eye on his deliveries and sales, although as an avid reader it struck me as the perfect place to curl up with a good book. Upstairs (up three different sets of stairs) were bedrooms and a handsome dining parlour as well as a modern bathroom.
In the early twentieth century Miriam and Conrad Noel lived in the house and they carried out much restoration and improvement work in the fashionable Arts and Crafts style. As well as breaking through larger windows in several rooms, they created a charming garden at the back of the property. Current displays include the work of local artists and some examples of ‘Coggeshall Lace’ – actually tamboured embroidery work over net – which enjoyed a brief renaissance in the twentieth century.
I love visiting older houses and constructing tales about it in my imagination. Perhaps one day Paycocke’s will feature in my work, although it’s earlier than the Regency – but it must have been there through the period or it wouldn’t be here now! I wonder what it might have looked like two hundred years ago, when news of the victory at Waterloo was brought down the street…?