Part 4 Memories and Chronicles

Lavender Cottage over Four Centuries


I feel somewhat defensive in writing on any aspect of Lavender Cottage; after all, it’s our house ­ temporarily. I use that word because having, with others, done some research on the house, I am very aware of its past (and, indeed, its future) owners. But more of them anon. For the moment, perhaps I could defend my position on two grounds. First, by saying that Lavender Cottage’s Grade II* status on the Department of the Environment’s ‘List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historical Interest’, as a ‘sixteenth-century timber-framed and plastered house with cross-wings jettied on the first storey’, relates to its interest as part of the group of old houses in the village centre ­ The Cock, Trudgetts, Manor Farm, and others. Second, by affirming that all paths seem to lead to it.

For a start, in addition to myself and Jeremy Mynott, four contributors to the volume have connections with the house: Sir John Mowbray used to live here; Adrian Taylor used to live here; David Newman tried to live here; and Dr. Burton used to work here. Other villagers have told us of their connections with the house, and the paths extend further. A former colleague of ours, Hamish McIlwrick, who has helped to get this volume produced, was visiting friends of his in Wales. He spoke of his friends in Suffolk and they said oh yes, they used to live in Suffolk; he mentioned Little Thurlow and they said, oh, it was in Little Thurlow that they had lived; he homed in on Lavender Cottage and they said, oh… The ultimate path, if I may coin a phrase, is that Jeremy’s brother Simon, a skilled family historian, has discovered that one Thomas Mynott was married in Little Bradley Church in 1606, so he would have known this house. What he didn’t know was that there was to be a connection between Little Bradley and what has become Lavender Cottage (see below).

The conjectural owners and/or tenants I have been able to trace from written sources are as follows:

Date Owner/tenant House known as
1803 William Osborne, farmer
James Osborne (snr), farmer, married to
Alice William Birch, shopkeeper
In the will of Charles Lamprell of Little Bradley, 1821, he left property purchased in Little Thurlow, off Francis Dickens, to his sons, Wm & Charles, both in holy orders, notably all the advowson, patronage and presentation of the living and Rectory of Little Bradley ‘and all that piece of meadow called Cock Meadow’
Little Bradley Rectory (LBR) [1]
William Casburn of Burwell, farmer
Thomas Gardner, farmer
Samuel Linton (snr)
Samuel Linton (jnr)
John Miles

Alice Osborne, was left LBR by husband James. (She was tenant farmer of Street Farm, owned by Elizabeth Soame.) She let mansion and grounds to Captain Thomas Dench, RN ret., who lived with his wife Margaret, & three sons ­ Edward Augustus (who had been a planter in Jamaica pre-1851), Lt Charles Dench RN, and Mr Thomas Dench. [2] What we call The Loft, which has been coach house, stable, surgery, was let to Thomas Swallow, victualler of The Cock (which was also owned by Eliz. Soame), as a beer cellar

Little Bradley Rectory

James Osborne, ret. farmer, and Eliza, his wife

James Osborne, son of Alice and James (snr), & Eliza sale to Anne Frances Purkis of Wimbledon
A.F. Purkis sale to Henry Hayward
Herbert Alston, Rector of Little Bradley, in occupation
Henry Hayward, carpenter & builder (sons Wm & Walter) let to John Basham, clothier
John Basham let LBR to Harriet Basham
1894 Henry Hayward left LBR to Walter Hayward
sale to Maggie Isabel Dupont and Beatrice Emma Dupont of Bures and Wm Frank
Little Bradley Rectory



Date Owner/tenant House known as
1905­10 John Brown, farmer of Little Thurlow Myrtle Cottage, ‘which messuage was aforetime occupied as a Rectory house for the parish of Little Bradley and has long been known as Little Bradley Rectory, but is now in the occupation of the said John Brown and is called by him “Myrtle Cottage”‘
  Georgina Sybil Reynolds, d. of John Brown, and wife of Wm Reynolds of Gt Thurlow, farmer, sale to (£300)
1911­29 Revd F.W. Taylor, Rector of Little Bradley
(d. 1929), owner, Frances, his wife, son Adrian
and daughter Vivienne
Myrtle Cottage [3] 1926; assent to Myrtle Cottage as double tenement (i.e. coachhouse became part of messuage)
1929­47 Frances Taylor
1938 Dr E.B. Sunderland rented two rooms in coach house as surgery and waiting room ­ lease for 21 years at annual rent of £5
1947 Frances Taylor sale to (£2100) Lavender Cottage (LC)
Louisa Webster
leasehold to (£2750)
Lavender Cottage ‘formerly Myrtle Cottage’
Anne Jane Myfanwy Rake
sale freehold (£3470) to
St David’s ‘formerly coachhouse and stable, now used as medical surgery’
Brigadier R.L.Taverner
sale to
St David’s
R.A. Vestey, owner Sir John
Dr Burton, etc., rented house or surgery
sale to (£23,000)
Lavender Cottage
Mr & Mrs May, owner
sale to (£61,000)
Lavender Cottage (coachhouse / surgery now as garages)
1983 Diane Speakman & Jeremy Mynott,
Lavender Cottage (garages rebuilt as self-contained annexe, The Loft)

Because in this and the last century many houses in both Thurlows became absorbed into estates and were rented out by the various owners ­ the Smiths, the Ryders, then the Vesteys ­ they were not regularly maintained. Lavender Cottage suffered in this way.

As regards the fabric of the house, there are a number of theories and surmises. In the ‘New Shell Guide’ series, edited by John Julius Norwich, the editor of the East Anglia volume (Michael Joseph/Penguin, 1990), Christopher Catling, says Lavender Cottage is ‘a fifteenth-century hall-house with both cross-wings’. I have tried to contact Mr Catling, to ask on what evidence he bases this assertion, but have had no reply.

The late Jack Ravensdale, well-known landscape historian, especially of Landbeach [4], visited the garden, the house, and its attics, and also thought it could be a hall-house of the late fifteenth or early sixteenth centuries (c. 1485­1510), a yeoman farmer’s dwelling with good oak timbers, though no original blackened-with-smoke ones were left as evidence in the central roof area over where an open hearth would have stood. He thought the main brick chimney stack and a floor over the hall could have been inserted about 1560­1640, to create a three-cell unit on two storeys, the upper or north end downstairs being the parlour with solar over (now our living room and my study); and the service or south end being the buttery and pantry and possibly kitchen too (now Jeremy’s study and a ‘glory hole’), with bedroom over. Kitchens were, however, often separate buildings because of the fire risk.

Although no sooty timbers could be found as ‘hard evidence’, there is one interesting clue to support this hall-house theory: there is a change of level upstairs between what could have been the central area and the bedroom over the service area. At the moment, the front door aligns with a rear door leading to the garden and this could possibly have been the site of a screens passage separating the open hall with its central hearth from the service area. The hall space without the huge chimney stack and up to this suggested screens passage would have been about fifteen feet square, but halls were quite often small. The earliest examples of jetties ­ projections on an upper floor ­ date back to the thirteenth century, which tells us precisely nothing. A rather exciting recent find, though (in addition to various pots and bottles), by the builder constructing our conservatory, is the remains of a bread oven in an appropriate spot in the service area’s possible pantry, which is, according to Chambers’ Twentieth Century Dictionary (1983), ‘a room or closet for provisions and table furnishings or where plate, knives, etc. are cleaned’, from French paneterie and Latin panitaria – Latin panis = bread.

As we are, in Little Thurlow, on the edge of various cloth-manufacturing areas ­ Haverhill dealing in fustians then light worsteds by 1622, Clare in says (a fine cloth, like serge) and broadcloth between 1450 and 1530, Bury and Long Melford producing other kinds of cloth in the fifteenth century, I wonder whether Lavender Cottage could have been the house of a clothier ­ one who bought wool, organised its processing and marketed the product. I have no evidence, except for the fact that the house was obviously built and inhabited by people of some wealth. David Dymond[5] in correspondence has said that he would be surprised if Little Thurlow did not have the occasional weaver or clothier, as we are so near Haverhill and the Stour (water is important in cloth manufacture), but the main occupation, borne out by my list above, was (and is) clearly farming. Justin Brooke was a farmer who purchased land in Wickhambrook in 1928. In his and his wife Edith’s book, Suffolk Prospect (Faber, 1963), he describes how the first foreman he had was born in Thurlow and at the age of twelve found a job in Haverhill. He used to walk to work every day and he told JB that ‘as he walked down the village street he used to hear the sound of the handlooms’ ­ so the village has been associated with weaving at least. In the solar (my study), there may be a clue to this activity in the earlier period: one of the structural timbers has a series of holes or sockets, which may have housed frames and pegs on which the warp was wound ­ clothiers did sometimes have weavers working in their homes.

Sylvia Colman [6] did a tour of the house in 1986, but did not visit the attics. She thought there was very little evidence to go on, but that LC was built in the late sixteenth century. She dated the small-paned sash windows (shuttered) to the early nineteenth century and found traces upstairs of several original mullioned windows. She also found some slight evidence for the central room downstairs being a hall with a screens passage, though it was possible that the main entry might have been where the chimney stack now is, with the stairs at the other end of the stack (the present staircase is a nineteenth-century insertion). She did not, however, think the hall was ever open to the roof. The small wing at the rear was probably added as a kitchen in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century, when the house was refronted. Adrian Taylor has an agreeable memory of his father holding a harvest supper or, in Suffolk, ‘horkey’ for all the parishioners of Little Bradley in this building before it was subdivided into hall and bathroom. Below this extension there is a blocked-up cellar, and it had two wells, one on each side (the builder has just uncovered the second storage well), with a pump in the kitchen. The house’s gables were thatched until at least the fifties.

Philip Aitkens, lecturer and historic buildings consultant [7], scents mystery in the house. He thinks that only the north cross-wing dates from a large early sixteenth-century house. He surmises that there may have been a fire which destroyed most of the rest it, with rebuilding ­ probably reusing timbers from the older house ­ taking place in the seventeenth century, when the chimney stack was also inserted.

The original Lavender Cottage seems, he thinks, to have been a development of the ‘Wealden’ type of open-hall house in which the end sections were two-storeyed and jettied, but were not true cross-wings (Thatcher’s Hall at Hundon is an example). This development was known as a ‘long-wall jetty house’, built not with an open hall, but with a two-storey one instead. This early building would have had, in addition to parlour and solar at the upper end, buttery and pantry at the lower or service end and there may also have been a shop (more clothier ‘evidence’!). The later extension wing may have been used as a dairy. A key reason for our building a new conservatory is that practically none of the windows faces the garden ­ the house builder was very preoccupied with its status on the street. Philip Aitkens thinks Lavender Cottage was given an appropriately refined appearance with the elegant front door, the sash windows and the shutters, in about 1820.

Whatever the history of the fabric or the dates of building and rebuilding, several people apart from Jeremy and me, have commented on the happy atmosphere of the house. It may be ascribed to the apotropaic (‘turning aside evil’) marks scratched on the beams of the dining room (a runic ‘butterfly’), or the MAs or AMs (Mary, Ave Maria) of the living room ­ certainly the latter was designed to ward off witches coming down the chimney to create havoc.

But Eileen Power has this to say, in her book, The Paycockes of Coggeshall (Methuen, 1920): ‘A house is like a pipe: it needs to be seasoned… if it seems to have just stopped speaking to you when you wake, if sunlight and twilight and firelight seem equally the best light for all its panels, its corners, its great beams ­ then it is a seasoned house. Years of humanity have wrought it to that pitch of sympathy. For a house is not like a landscape or a cathedral, beautiful in itself and eternally right… A house is only beautiful and right in use; to be good to live in is an intrinsic part of its beauty.’

[1] My theory, which Nesta Evans, lecturer and author, thought reasonable, was that Little Bradley, as a deserted medieval village, did not have, at least since 1638, a rectory and because no dwelling in the hamlet was of sufficient stature to house a rector, they had to provide a home for him in the next village.

[2] Caroline Crick, the daughter of Francis Crick, Rector of Little Thurlow, who died in 1824 and is buried, as she requested, in the corner of Little Thurlow churchyard near the rectory under the clump of elms, expressed in her will that ‘I should like in grateful regard to Captain Dench, he should have a ring or, in lieu of that, let Charles his eldest son, have some memorial of use and value’. The Denchs’ grave has a stone facing the wooden rail by the side of the driveway by the rectory.

[3] I am indebted to Adrian Taylor for information on his family and the house.

[4] R. Ravensdale, The Domesday Inheritance: a History of the Village of Landbeach, Cambridgeshire (Souvenir Press, 1986)

[5] Lecturer and author, with Peter Northeast, of A History of Suffolk (Phillimore, 1985). He has also edited, with Edward Martin, An Historical Atlas of Suffolk (Suffolk County Council Planning Department and Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History, 1988).

[6] Lecturer, writer and former member of Suffolk County Council Planning Department, Ipswich.

[7] Also a contributor to Historical Atlas of Suffolk.