Buy of the Week: The Manor of Olden

This 16th-century house in Constable country offers everything you could want from an historic manor - even a Lordship. Jonathan Christie picks up the story from the Domesday Book
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The Independent Online

There's a saying that if houses could talk, they would tell some amazing stories. In this case, those yarns would thread back some way further than most. The house you see here is seriously old, and its heritage is even older.

The Manor of Olden, on the border between Essex and Suffolk, was built sometime in the 16th century and a dwelling here dates back to the 10th century and is mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086. By 1138 the Lordship was confirmed by King Stephen to the De Vaux family who, during the second and third crusades, joined the knights of the three great orders. The centuries pass with ancestral connections to King John, George Washington and Winston Churchill being documented, finally ending with the present Lord of the Manor, the Venerable Archdeacon Dr Brian Kirk-Duncan.

But history lessons aside, there is much to write about in the present tense. There are now very few houses of this age in such pristine condition around the Dedham Vale, the landscape that inspired Constable's dreamy vistas and scudding clouds and which since 1970 has been designated an Area of Outstanding Beauty, where the Stour and Brett rivers meet and, in the meadows and hills, time stands still. But in the surrounding towns - Dedham, Sudbury, East Bergholt, Hadleigh - the buildings were shaped by the Georgian boom time, when the wool industry and the River Stour brought opulence here.

Most timber-framed houses would have been given a brick façade to bring them in line with the fashion of the time. Not so Olden Manor, which sits so timelessly at ease within its landscape as a result.

Approached through a pair of gargoyle-topped wrought-iron gates, smart gravel paths lead you to the house and round to the gardens beyond. Bounded by yew, the grounds include an orchard of apples and pears and a boating pond. The star, though, is the house itself, with its jettied floors and tangle of beams. Even so, this quietly handsome exterior does not prepare you for the boldness inside.

An imposing studded oak front door opens on to the Great Hall. This breathtaking, double-height room soars into the rafters and sets the tone of the house in an instant. An exceptional Jacobean staircase and fireplace are immediate focal points, but the beams, linenfold panelling, carved plasterwork and decorative figures draw your eye into every corner. The room has a commanding presence and at 26ft x 21ft, this "entrance hall" is larger than the average sitting room.

The triple aspect drawing room extends to 32ft and has a wonderful stillness. There's plenty of panelling, beams and plaster motifs in here as well with the large stone fireplace sporting a colourful carved coat of arms emblazoned above its fat bressumer beam. A small door leads to a walk-in room with a sink - I wonder how many sherry glasses have been raised here?

There's an intimate study packed with panels and carved beams, and a generous rear hall also on the ground floor. A light-filled kitchen, with Aga, has room for a dining table and comes with all the required cupboards and drawers, although this is the one room that may benefit from a sensitive update.

At the top of those dramatic stairs, the landing overlooks the Great Hall and has yet more carved motifs. The south-facing main bedroom has views over the garden and features a plaster crest and en-suite bathroom. There are two further bathrooms and four double bedrooms with numerous beams and open fireplaces.

Olden Manor oozes authenticity and the sense that any buyer is not just an owner but also a custodian of these extraordinary period details is very strong. Bathrooms have been added, rooms have inevitably been altered, but not so as to disrupt the house's character. Dragging in your Ikea bed or even that precious Corby chaise is not going to create harmony or even a convincing eclectic scheme - this house needs an owner that's prepared to get lost in its romance.

And there is the small matter of the title, Lord of the Manor. The Lordship would be a talking point, and, mercifully, there are no duties connected to it - entertaining the Women's Institute once a year on the lawn is purely optional. The draw of this property is its connection to the past and how it continues to thrive.

A 16th-century house with a 10th-century title? Sounds like the ideal set-up for a 21st-century Lord of the Manor.

Get the spec

What's for sale? A timber framed, Grade-II listed 16th-century manor house.

Where is it? Higham village in Suffolk, nine miles from Colchester.

What do you get? Five bedrooms, three bathrooms, Great Hall, drawing room, study, kitchen/breakfast room, utility/cloakroom, double garage, garden store and gardens extending to 0.8 acres.

Any features? Numerous period details including carved King posts and plaster crests, Jacobean staircase, oak panelling and a Lordship of the Manor that dates back to the 10th century.

How much? £950,000, through Knight Frank on 020-7629 8171 or at www.knightfrank.co.uk

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