Is your idea of the perfect weekend get-away staying in a charming Tudor manor house, full of original features, nestled deep in the peaceful, English countryside and within reach of several fabulous, historic, Tudor properties? Would you like to wake up in the morning to bird song, a stroll around a pretty English garden before tucking into an ample home-cooked breakfast in what is quite simply a splendid, old dining room, full of character and warmth? Then West Stow Hall in Suffolk is for you.
Staying at West Stow Hall is a Tudor time traveller’s dream. The drive up the short, tree-lined path that leads to the front of the manor opens out to give a fine view of the splendid gatehouse, with its russet-coloured stones and adjoining timber-framed superstructure, the latter being added sometime after the gatehouse was built in the 1520s. The gardens which look upon the gatehouse are delightful; typical English country cottage style, and overflowing with an abundance of pretty flowers in the height of summer.
A Brief History of the Manor
It is believed that the current manor is the remains of an early sixteenth century, moated house and gatehouse. It was built on the site of an existing medieval building; the now infilled moat, which predates the current structure, attests to that fact. No trace of this earlier building survives.
The crowning glory of the manor is, without doubt, its magnificent, brick-built gatehouse. It is three-storeyed with polygonal turrets and was originally detached from the house, standing on the opposite side of the moat. In the late sixteenth century, the two were linked by a brick colonnade and rooms were added to create a continuous two-storey structure. Today, this forms a pleasant, shaded walkway beneath the upper floors, leading from gatehouse to the main entrance of the hall. The present house was in use as a farmhouse in 1813 and was altered during the early nineteenth century. Nevertheless, many original Tudor features can still be seen.
Sir John Croftes Builds a Fine Manor House
The manor of West Stow was leased to Sir John Croftes by the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds in 1526. Sir John was a substantial flockmaster, or sheep farmer, who would eventually purchase these lands from the Crown in 1540, after the Dissolution of Bury Abbey. He was most likely responsible for building the gatehouse. Sir John Croftes’ other distinction was that he was Master of the Horse to Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk, whose main country residence was at nearby Westhorpe Hall. This may well account for Mary Tudor’s coat of arms being present, inlaid into the fabric of the gatehouse; although, in truth, nobody quite knows how it got there. One story is that it might have been taken during the violent demolition of Westhorpe Hall, rescued and placed in situ over the entrance to West Stow.
Inside the building, one of its finest features is a set of Elizabethan wall-paintings. These were discovered during nineteenth-century renovations in a small room on the second floor of the gatehouse. These depict, in naive form, a hunting scene and the Four Ages of Man: a young man out hunting, inscribed ‘This do I all the day’; a man embracing a woman – ‘Thus do I while I may’; a middle-aged man looking on – ‘Thus did I when I might’; and a bent old man, leaning on his stick, who says ‘Good Lord, will this world last ever’.
Staying at West Stow Manor
The owners of West Stow Manor clearly love the property and make very welcoming hosts with tea and cake provided in the sitting room on arrival – how very wonderfully English! I also fell in love with the resident dog, Monty, who was always ready to be petted as I came and went on my daily adventures.
One of the very definite highlights of my visit was the personal, guided tour of the house by our host, Eileen. It was fabulous to get up close and personal with the hall’s many quirky, Tudor features; a tour which, I understand, the owners are happy to give to any enthusiastic time traveller. You just have to ask!
So, in summary, I can highly recommend a stay at West Stow if you are exploring the southern part of Tudor Suffolk; great places to visit with strong Tudor ties are:
- Bury St Edmonds (the final resting place of Mary Tudor, Queen of France)
- Framlingham (both church and castle, immortalised now as Ed Sheeran’s ‘Castle on the Hill’!)
- Long Melford Hall and Church
- Kentwell (which describes itself as having, ‘the biggest, most comprehensive, and most authentic Tudor experience you will get anywhere’)
Finally, want a touch of history on your night out? Visit the cocktail bar in the basement of The Angel Hotel, right in the centre of Bury St Edmonds; great cocktails served in a fan-vaulted medieval cellar. Fabulous!
For more details of the accommodation, please check out West Stow Hall’s website: www.weststowhall.com
Owner’s Contact Details:
Mrs Eileen Gilbert
West Stow Hall
Bury St Edmunds
Phone: 01284 728127