Tuesday, 21 August 2007

Thatcher's England

The phrase 'Unmitigated England' comes from John Betjeman's poem Great Central Railway Sheffield Victoria to Banbury. He was in turn quoting Henry James, who used the phrase to describe thatched roofs. So there can possibly be no better example of Unmitigated Englishness than this remote cottage on the Sudbourne estate in Suffolk. The hall has vanished, but all around can be seen perfect examples of the 'picturesque' cottage style, none better than this dwelling on the road from Chillesford to Orford. It's called 'Smokey House', and I've wanted to photograph it for thirty years or more, but it's either been raining, about to rain, or I've been in too much of a hurry to get into the Orford and Butley Oysterage. A truly rural idyll, windows peeping out of the great hump of thatch, runner beans and chickens supplying the shelves of a little wayside hut half tucked away in a hedge. Every time I think about it I imagine lying in bed up in the roof, the sounds of the night creeping in through the dormer window from the surrounding woods.


Philip Wilkinson said...

What a gem! The thing that surprised me about this cottage was how tall it is. Here in the Cotswolds, we're used to low-slung cottages with first-floor dormers, but this one has a proper first floor and then another set of rooms in the roof. Almost high-rise picturesque. Amazing.

John said...

I was lucky enough to live in Smokey House from 1964 to 1971, I was 5 years old when myself and 5 brothers and sisters moved in. My Father, John White, was Head Forester for Tunstall. My bedroom was up in the thatch on the right in the picture, it was the most wonderful house to grow up in, There was no mains electricity and my Father had to borrow £60 from the Forestry Commission to install a generator in one of the out buildings. It had an orchard, soft fruit garden and the remains of some old kennels and some lovely old garden walls.
On a recent return trip, I was pleasantly surprised to see it almost as we left it over 30 years ago, if somewhat dilapidated. Very happy memories, if possible I would buy it like a shot!