Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Smouldering brick

Yesterday's post sent me to my collection of books to see if I could find more pictures of what had been Angus McBean's house (he died in 1990) and I did.

Flemings Hall was described by a local historian as being "built as an unusually large and high status manor house during the first half of Queen Elizabeth's reign, it was improved and maintained at the highest county level until the later years of the 17th century when it was allowed to slip into fashionable obscurity and eventually into a probable state of near collapse."

These photos, taken after Angus McBean's death, are more about the architecture than the interior decoration of Flemings Hall. In these photos the house, though described in the Shell Guide to Suffolk (written about the time that McBean bought it) as being "with a great moat, a porch of smouldering brick and silhouetted Dutch gables, it is one of the most romantically beautiful houses in Suffolk," is little of the atmosphere McBean created and scant indication except for the photo below of the life he lived there.

What there is is, though, is a record of a remarkably authentic recreation of a house as it might have been when hand-hewn wood had seasoned, the floors had learned to sing, and the walls assumed a crookback posture that settled the house into cranky old age.

We are likely, however functional images are and given the romanticism of the modern day, to interpret what we view, and so it is hard to see houses such as these for what they really are: relicts of past ages in which people in some ways not too dissimilar to ourselves lived, worked and died. They are not the mute witnesses to history as some would suppose but just houses, warts and all.

McBean said of his house "Gone was the panelling described in an old guide as notable, all the doors and even the staircase. All had been ripped out, sold and shipped to Australia." His declared intention in renovating was to make it something similar to what it had formerly been in 1580. " But, "we did not want a museum, we wanted a home."

Photos by Christopher Simon Sykes from Manor Houses of England by Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd and Christopher Simon Sykes which was published by The Vendome Press, 2001.

Quotations of quotations ibid.


  1. Your post reminded me that I want to write about this type of architecture, and I will shortly do so. It has wide appeal, but it's not for me, and I'll explain why. But you don't show any favour, so I think we might be on the same track on this one.