The car stopped outside Hintlesham Hall. A table of food was set up. ‘What would you like?’ the man asked. ‘Quail? Wine?’ Then Carrier bought the dilapidated building without even seeing inside
PUBLISHED: 01:45 24 January 2017
Hintlesham & Chattisham: The Story of Two Suffolk Villages − a tribute by two Londoners who moved to Suffolk and love it
Long before “celebrity chefs” such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay and Paul Hollywood there was Robert Carrier. He might have been a New Yorker, but the charismatic restaurateur, cookery writer and presenter came to love understated Suffolk, and made it his home.
He brought a big smile and a big sense of style. You can see how much from this anecdote in a book about Hintlesham. Most people who travel through the village near Ipswich know it for its tight bends but mostly for Hintlesham Hall – today a swish country house hotel but nearly 50 years ago rather down on its heels.
Farmer Douglas Bostock bought the hall and land from Lloyds Bank in 1971, selling the building and 11 acres nine months later to the gourmet chef. “The metal beds that were used when the house was… a convalescent home for wounded men in the Second World War were still upstairs. I sold them for scrap,” Douglas later recounted.
“The house was in a very bad way when I put it on the market. The woodwork in places crumbled if you touched it and the eaves and gutters were solid with leaves but Strutt and Parker phoned me to say there were two people who were interested.” The prospective buyers duly arrived for a viewing.
“In went the first man… to look round, and I went over to the second man, whose party was setting out a table with food. ‘What would you like?’ I was asked. ‘Quail, smoked salmon, a glass of wine?’
“The second man was Robert Carrier. He was a famous chef, although I didn’t know it then. ‘Look here,’ he said. ‘The goddam chap is not going to have this house. He’s already pipped me to a place in London I wanted. Now tell me how much you’ll take for it.’ I told him a figure and he said ‘Done’. He hadn’t even looked inside.
“The first man came over after his inspection and said ‘Right. I’ll buy the place when I get back to London.’ ‘Sorry,’ said Carrier. ‘I’ve already bought it.’”
He paid £32,000, according to Wikipedia, though the bon viveur spent a fortune reviving its glory. “Those years at Hintlesham were full of charm for me. I loved saving that old building,” he’s quoted as saying in Hintlesham & Chattisham: The Story of Two Suffolk Villages. Carrier opened the hall as a hotel and restaurant in the summer of 1972. Michelin-starred, it was a touch of glamour in the countryside. “I loved doing the cookery school, and I loved making the world come – the stars. Sometimes we’d have eight helicopters landing on the lawn. They came from Japan, France, Denmark – everywhere.”
Like all dreams, though, they come to an end. Carrier brought his enterprise to a halt in the early 1980s and then sold the hall to Ruth and David Watson, who turned it into a hotel with 33 bedrooms and an 18-hole golf course.
The couple stayed for about six years and Ruth became nationally known as TV’s The Hotel Inspector. Robert Carrier lived in France and Morocco, but also returned for spells in Suffolk. He died in Provence in 2006, aged 82. No-one living in Hintlesham when he was there will forget the buzz of that era.
It’s funny how many “incomers” are moved to sing the praises of their adopted county after upping sticks to Suffolk. People like the women who have written the book.
Audrey Lorford was born in Chelsea in 1932. She married Michael and had a son after moving to Duke Street, Hintlesham, in 1965.
Audrey taught in Suffolk primary schools and became involved heavily in village life, including as clerk to the parish council.
It was in the 1960s that she stepped forward to fill a gap as the first village recorder – chronicling local activities – as no-one else seemed keen. Until then she’d had no particular interest in local history, but began filling the treasure-chest of photographs and documents that fuels the book. She’s even taken Latin lessons in order to translate medieval papers!
Diane Chase was born in Islington in 1947, married Roger in 1969 and came to Chattisham (Hintlesham’s neighbour) in 1980. Diane taught in several primary schools, too.
She and Audrey staged a local history exhibition. Then, with neighbour Jane Henderson, Diane in 1995 published a book of photographs called Chattisham and Hintlesham – Then and Now.
Audrey and Diane held several other exhibitions of photographs, and back in 2008 the idea for this 380-page book was planted. After much (much!) research, it finally came to fruition.
It’s no dry old tome but is packed with memories as it celebrates communities whose lives were full of colour. Yes, it talks about buildings and land, but the focus is on the people who lived and worked, played and loved, in and on them.
Diane writes: “The first thing that we were aware of when we moved into Chattisham in 1980 was the friendly community spirit. Our neighbours became our friends…
“In the book we have tried to capture this inspiring sense of community from past and present generations, with confidence that it will continue into the future.”
The book looks at aspects such as churches and chapels; the way the poor were looked after; schooling; pubs and shops loved and lost; craftsmen such as clockmakers and thatchers; the impact of war; farming; fetes and pageants.
There’s something fascinating on every page, such as the sad yet hope-inspiring story of Michael Ryan – son of Gerald and Lady Hylda Ryan of Chattisham Hall.
Michael was a pilot with 235 Squadron, flying a Bristol Blenheim IV. He took off in the early hours of May 24, 1940, from RAF Bircham Newton, near King’s Lynn.
The pilot’s role involved escorting Lockheed Hudson bombers from Borkum in north-west Germany to the mouth of the river Ems. He was attacked by two Messerschmitts and shot down at about 8.30am. His aircraft disappeared into the sea.
He was just 20 years old.
Here’s the interesting angle to this tragedy: Michael was buried on an island off the west coast of the Netherlands. As the book explains, he was “given full military honours by the German soldiers stationed on the island, who laid a wreath of pine needles and flowers on his coffin”.
Hintlesham Hall, its Georgian façade harbouring an earlier Tudor hall, is a near-constant presence in the book and offers much material.
One former owner, Anthony Stokes, is described as an incurable optimist and genuine eccentric. Cooking was one of his hobbies, “edible fungi being his speciality, but he was apt to set fire to the kitchen”.
The brother of Labour MP Richard, he bought the hall just before the Second World War. Anthony was a director of big Ipswich engineering firm Ransome and Rapier.
In France as a 19-year-old, during the First World War, he’d been left blind in one eye and partially deaf when shot in the head. “A bullet entered his head below one ear and exited beneath the other. On its way, the bullet destroyed the roof of his mouth and this in turn prevented blood from reaching his eye, resulting in blindness in that eye.”
He might have been a skilled inventor of heavy machinery but Anthony’s passion was the arts. In 1951 he started an annual music festival at the hall that would run for 20 years and earn an international reputation for programmes that included opera, Shakespeare plays, folk music, poetry and jazz.
Tony died in 1970 – sadly, but in a way fittingly, during the 20th festival.
Hintlesham is first mentioned in the will of an Anglo-Saxon noble-woman, and both it and Chattisham feature in the Domesday Book of 1086. Flint implements from the Stone Age, however, show there were people in the area long ago.
In 1969 a polished-flint axe-head just over six inches long was found in a Chattisham field. It was thought to date from between 4000BC and 2351BC – “within the same timescale as the construction of Stonehenge”, says the book.
“Hintlesham” is likely to have come from the name of a Dane: Hinckle. Ham means a homestead.
Chattisham was first recorded in Anglo-Saxon times as Ceattes ham (Ceatt’s homestead). Ceatt is also Danish.
But the book is not an academic history, points out Audrey. “It tells of the characters who have shaped life in this corner of Suffolk and of those who are shaping it now.
“Walk through the villages today and you will see old and new side by side with farms, large modern houses and smaller cottages. History can be read from these buildings…
“Farming has changed, as have many things, but what remains constant is the age-old ‘village feeling’.”
* The book is available for £20 from Keith Avis Newsagents, 68 High Street, Hadleigh (01473 823131) or via the Chases on 01473 652359 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What would Ofsted have to say today?
“In November 1925, the head [of Hintlesham and Chattisham school] records the temperature in the Infant room and class 3 as 38F (3C) and 32F (0C) in class 2.
“In spite of large fires being lit, the next day one class was still below freezing. However, in September 1929 a hot water heating system was installed and this was used for the first time in October.
“Although an improvement, the log book still records coldness and trouble with the heating.”
A lucky horseshoe to take to war
Blacksmith Bill Hurren – the East Anglian tennis champion, apparently – made a small horseshoe as a lucky keepsake for each local man going off to serve in the Second World War.
He stole three eggs. How do you think he was punished?
From the Ipswich Journal, February, 1900: A labourer from Hintlesham in the employ of Mrs Mary Freeman of Washbrook was charged with stealing three eggs valued at 3d [old pennies]. He pleaded guilty and, as he had two previous convictions, the Bench sentenced him to three weeks’ imprisonment with hard labour.
Keeping life moving
White’s Directory of 1855 records a long list of occupations in Hintlesham and Chattisham, including carpenter, postmistress, corn miller, vermin destroyer, bricklayer, shoemaker, butcher, gamekeeper, dressmaker, brewer, laundress, dairywoman, solicitor’s clerk, and groom.
Hintlesham Hall was reputedly haunted – considerably haunted, it’s said – including during the late 18th Century, when the building was owned by Richard Savage Lloyd.
“His second wife became so jealous of her young stepson and starved the unhappy child to death, so the story goes. The wails of this ghostly babe were said to echo thinly through the attics of the hall.”