Period Property of the Month - December 2007
We visit an historic house in the West of England which has been brought back to life by a careful restoration.
Winforton Court is a particularly handsome black and white half-timbered building in the small hamlet of Winforton, set back a short distance from the River Wye and not so far from Herefordshire’s western border with Wales.
Jackie and Stephen Kingdon had been searching for a home that had charm and period features and that would also be welcoming, atmospheric and manageable. In Winforton Court, they found all of these things and more, much more. As Jackie says, “We knew as soon as we stepped inside that this was the house for us. We love and respect old buildings and feel that although you may be the legal owners, you are really just a custodian – the building will be here long after we have gone – so sympathetic renovation must be adhered to.
The history of the building is complex. A substantially different building to the present one is mentioned in the Domesday Book. In 1547, Winforton was granted to Edmund Vaughan and his heirs by Henry VIII – ‘by the name of the lordship of Winfreton, part of the possessions of the Earldom of March’ – and it seems likely that the old house was torn down and a new one built using many of the old timbers.
During the 17th Century, the house was altered to its present ‘H’ design and the timber frame would have been covered by buff coloured plaster. The current ‘black and white’ effect is relatively modern and only became popular after the widespread use of creosote and tar in Victorian times.
The massive studded oak door which greets the visitor is particularly impressive. It dates from the 12th Century and may have belonged to the nearby Eardisley Castle. It has retained its heavy iron strap hinges, their crude shape indicating its early date.
As you enter the house through the main door, the deep, satisfying presence of ancient timbers is immediately felt. Apart from the visual impact of old timber, there is also that evocative, deep, slightly musty perfume; very characteristic of old Welsh oak in the Marches which permeates buildings of this age. The first major room off the entrance lobby is Jackie’s very expressive party piece: her ‘Islamic’ room. Strangely in keeping with the half-timbered ceiling, this room developed after a visit to Morocco. Many pieces were bought at auction when two different local traders specialising in old Indian and Indonesian furniture decided to stop trading locally. What is remarkable is that much of the furniture from the east has the same rustic, dark, chunky feel as old carved Welsh oak.
In the past, the house almost certainly had a chapel but no trace of it now exists. However, there was an enclosed space next to the ‘Islamic’ room, which Jackie felt had the atmosphere of a chapel. By removing two panels in the wall to let in some light, and adding a Victorian lectern from Leominster, a bureau made from old oak panels and various candles, she has created her own ‘chapel’.
The nearby large kitchen dates from the rebuilding of the house in the mid-16th century, as the massive oak beam and huge stand-in fire opening demonstrate and the bread oven is original. Jackie has added an 18th Century Indian window screen to display her Johnson Brothers blue ironstone ‘Indies’ pattern porcelain – (still being made today incidentally) – and underneath is an ancient grain cupboard again from India. The other artefacts include a unique Victorian dairy churn bought from a retired local milkman and a fireback dated 1571 with the Tudor Rose, rescued and repaired by a family relative.
To the right of the main door is the small dining room, often used as a breakfast room for guests. In an earlier age, this was a court room where Judge Jeffreys is believed to have held the ‘bloody assize’ after Monmouth’s unsuccessful rebellion at the end of the Civil War. On the exposed beams hangs another collection of attractive cups whilst the handsome stone fireplace is used to display Jackie’s gathering of porcelain figures.
Immediately through the solid late-Georgian door is the spacious and elegant sitting room with its inviting Georgian marble fireplace incorporating an intriguing burnished steel inset. The various pieces of furniture in the room have all been sourced locally, including the Victorian games table and the reproduction Georgian mirror. In one corner is another of Jackie’s porcelain displays; this one consists of teacups with a different rose from the ‘Roslyn’ series based on the famous Harry Wheatcroft collection of roses.
Naturally enough for a house this size and period, there are two sets of stairs leading to the bedrooms, all of which lead off the long adjoining corridor where more collections are displayed. The largest bedroom contains a king size oak four-poster Tudor bed and is called the de Mortimer suite in memory of Roger de Mortimer, one of the Earls of the March, who lived here. This magnificent bed is a reproduction using old reclaimed timbers and the headboard carvings represent Adam and Eve and the Tree of Life.
As Jackie says, “It’s very rewarding to be told by our friends and guests how much they have enjoyed staying here. It’s a house that comes to life when full of people and we hope that future owners will love it as much as we do”.
There is considerable controversy about the origin of the practice of darkening exterior framing on buildings and different patterns are apparent in different parts of the country. It is probable that much early oak was left untreated or maybe simply limewashed and this practice continued on in eastern counties. The distinctive black and white or 'magpie' appearance, as seen at Winforton Court, was more common in the West Midlands, Lancashire and Cheshire.
Some examples may date back to the 17th Century in certain instances but generally it became fashionable in Victorian times.
Winforton Court in Winforton, Hereford, is available for B&B. For details telephone 01544 328498 or visit www.winfortoncourt.co.uk