Doors poised to open for the first time

IN the 1930s, as the Nazis threatened the peace of Europe, Britain was developing the technology that was to ensure our survival - and it all happened here in Suffolk.

IN the 1930s, as the Nazis threatened the peace of Europe, Britain was developing the technology that was to ensure our survival - and it all happened here in Suffolk. Today feature writer JAMES MARSTON delves into the secrets of Bawdsey Manor.

BAWDSEY is famous for two things - radar and Pulhamite which is a mixture of shingle and shells embedded in concrete.

It's also famous for being a little bit mysterious.

You could see it from across the Deben estuary at Felixstowe ferry but for years no one really knew what went on behind the barbed wire that surrounded the Bawdsey manor estate or why huge pylons dominated the skyline, or who worked there and what they did.

Today times have changed and as historic houses East Anglia taking part in this year's Invitation to View scheme prepare to open their doors to a fascinated public, Bawdsey too is sharing its secrets.

Described as an 'Architectural folly built by Sir Cuthbert Quilter between 1880-1900; Victorian Gothic, Flemish, Tudor and Oriental styles”, the house stands on a cliff high above the Deben estuary, commanding panoramic views of Hollesley Bay.

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Today the 100-roomed manor and 180-acre estate is home to Alexanders International School owned by Ann and Niels Toettcher.

Ann said: “We bought Bawdsey in 1994 from the Ministry of Defence so we are the custodians of this part of British history. Many people were here during the Second World War and so much happened in these buildings. Bawdsey is one of Suffolk's hidden gems and Invitation to View is a chance for us to share this int3ersting place with others.”

A history graduate Ann admits that history is a long standing hobby of hers.

She said: “This place is full of history. In 1346 this estuary was where the English fleet gathered before the Battle of Crecy in the hundred years war.

“Sutton Hoo is just up the river and this is where the Vikings and Saxons would have arrived. There are a number of Napoleonic Martello towers here and we have one, though now demolished, in the grounds of the house.”

In 1873 Cuthbert Quilter bought the Bawdsey estate and set about building a villa. The estate's project development manager Jane Hart takes up the story.

She said: “I feel in love with Bawdsey a long time ago. It is one of Suffolk's best kept secrets. Bawdsey Manor was built by Sir William Cuthbert Quilter in at least five stages over nearly 18 years, evidently with no idea at the start how the building would evolve.

“Kelly's 1988 Directory of Suffolk describes “a fine new mansion, situated on an eminence and commanding a splendid view of the sea.”

And for 50 years, Bawdsey was the headquarters of a private kingdom. Quilter, born 1841, first joined his father's important accountancy firm of Quilter, Ball and Co before setting up the National Telephone Company which was taken over by the GPO in 1912.

Jane said: “He acquired 8,000 acres north of the River Deben and, having bought the 'Lord of the Manor' title at Bawdsey in 1883, started building a holiday home at the river entrance. As his family grew in size he increased the size of the Manor in a mixture of styles.

“We like to think that he was much influenced by places he saw on his travels: the Red Tower has a 'Jacobethan' look, reminding us of Hampton Court; the white stone west front shows a French influence whilst the White Tower has a hint of the East. Elsewhere on the estate, buildings are firmly 'Merry England', red brick and false timbering.”

Inside, all the principal rooms have richly panelled oak doors.

Jane said: “Walls are embellished with decorative oak panelling, and linen fold abounds. Ceilings are ornate and loosely in the style of Louis XVI. The Great Hall boasts heavy moulded beams, one hammer-beam and a Minstrels' Gallery. The Study is thought to be a copy of one in the Houses of Parliament, walls lined with leather stamped with lions passant and fleur de lys in gold.”

The gardens that surround the house were created largely by Lady Quilter and a team of 40 gardeners, again in a number of different styles.

Jane said: “There are Italianate terraces, in red brick on the south western side of the house, that lead down to a level grassed area, which was a cricket pitch in Quilter's day.

“Built into the terraces, a substantial boathouse once accommodated vessels for boating on the man-made River Jordan. There is an elaborate tea house, in vaguely Jacobean style, that sits on the top terrace. It was once lined with Sir Cuthbert's collection of decorated tiles but many of these were removed as souvenirs by servicemen stationed here.”

The extensive and fascinating gardens are linked to other parts of the grounds with grotto-like underground tunnels, partly constructed with debris from the Tower.

Jane said: “But the most striking feature is the artificial cliff which is 50 metres high and 400 metres long. Faced with the Victorian patented Pulhamite - a mixture of shingle and shells embedded in concrete - the cliff was intended to provide shelter for the gardens.”

The Pulhamite remains in reasonable condition and is currently under restoration.

Ann said: “Pulhamite is one of the things Bawdsey is famous for. It is a very complete walk from the gardens to the beach and is of tremendous historical importance.”

But what is it like to live in a house with so much history attached?

Ann said: “However you feel when you go to bed it is a marvellous place to wake up and look at the views across the estuary. It is very relaxing and invigorating.”

Bawdsey Manor is one of a number of historic homes opening to the public as part of the Invitation to View scheme. Bawdsey is open from 2pm on Wednesday May 23, August 29

and September 12. Entry is £15.

To book through the invitation to view scheme on 01206 573948, for a brochure call 01284 827087 or see

What are your memories of Bawdsey? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

The motto for Bawdsey Manor is French: “Pluto Mourir Que Changer” - which means “Rather die than change”.

BACK in 1936, Bawdsey Manor became the nerve centre of a top-secret research establishment developing radar.

Jane said: “A year earlier, Robert Watson-Watt (later Sir) had been asked by Henry T Tizard (later Sir), chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Survey of Air Defence, to enquire into the possibilities of detecting the presence of aircraft in flight.

“This he did, at Orfordness just north of Bawdsey, when he demonstrated, on experimental radar, that it was possible to follow an aircraft over a distance of 17 miles.

“The importance of this work and the growth of his team, demanded more accommodation than was available on the shingle spit which is Orfordness and in 1936, Bawdsey Manor was acquired and the Bawdsey Manor Research Station came into existence.

“It was from here that a chain of radar stations ran around the South East coast. Within two years, it was possible to fix the position of a target aircraft and estimate the strength of an incoming raid, at a range of 100 miles from the coast. The significance of this in 1938 was obvious and the recruitment of staff to Bawdsey was intensified.

“We share their pride in the fact that Bawdsey Manor played such an important part in the defence of Great Britain in the Second World War.”

After the War, Bawdsey Manor became an RAF training establishment, a function it performed until 1974.

It closed then and re-opened in 1979 as an air defence surface-to-air Bloodhound Missile unit but was finally de-commissioned, at the end of the 'cold war' in 1991.

Mary Wain, chairman of the Bawdsey Radar Group said: “My mother came to Bawdsey as a radar operator at the beginning of the war and my parents met at the Manor.

“This is part of our heritage and Bawdsey is a site of national and international importance.”

The school's art block was originally the site's decontamination centre in case of biological warfare.

Bawdsey escaped major damage from German bombing raids during the war.

Pulhamite can also be found in ornamental gardens on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk.

Cuthbert Quilter had five sons including the composer Roger Quilter.

Bloodhound missiles were stored at Bawdsey during the cold war period.

Bawdsey was one of five radar sites built before the war to guard the Thames, by the time war ended there were 22 across the UK.

Bawdsey Manor's house was finished in 1885, the Red tower was finished in 1895 and the White Tower was finished in 1903.

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