Paycocke’s House and Gardens: A fascinating history

PUBLISHED: 12:50 13 June 2016

Looking towards the terrace

Looking towards the terrace


With much hard work, an overgrown historic wool merchant’s garden in Coggeshall has been restored back to an Arts and Crafts garden with Tudor details. Philippa Pearson tells the story

Pretty Cosmos in the bordersPretty Cosmos in the borders

Wool merchant Thomas Paycocke’s splendid house in Coggeshall was built in 1509 as part of the family cloth making business and then, as now, it is a building to impress. Beams inside and outside are decoratively carved and many have the initials of Thomas and his wife, Margaret, engraved on them.

‘The carvings are beautiful,’ says house manager Karen Marchlik. ‘It is Tudor carpentry at its finest with dragons, jokers and heraldic symbols, plus much more to admire.’

The house and grounds were an important part of Paycocke’s business as the town prospered through the cloth trade during the 15th to mid-18th centuries; it was particularly renowned for its fine Coggeshall White cloth. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Paycocke’s fell into decline and by the end of 1875 the area was almost enclosed with buildings, including maltings, stabling, a cart shed and a large enclosed yard. Between 1904 and 1920 the house was heavily restored by new owner Lord Noel Buxton MP, who added Edwardian embellishments to complement the Tudor house.

The lawn area and bordersThe lawn area and borders

His cousin, Conrad Noel, lived at Paycocke’s and Conrad’s wife, Miriam, designed and laid out the garden, inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement which was fashionable at that time. The layout of the garden today is very much as Miriam had planned. In Edwardian times she divided the garden into sections and added structural features including brick pathways, grid patterned beds and a writing shelter.

Lord Buxton gave the house to the National Trust in 1924 and the house and garden was managed by tenants. The garden had become overgrown by the time the first National Trust custodian, Natalie Simpson, initiated a project in 2008 to restore and rejuvenate the garden to Miriam Noel’s Arts and Crafts vision, and since then a team of enthusiastic volunteers led by Graham Woodcraft have been working hard to create the wonderful garden that you see today.

‘The garden was quite overgrown,’ Graham explains, ‘and we spent a lot of time clearing things away. Some photos survived of part of the garden showing Miriam’s design, but nothing was very clear.’

Mature trees line the gardenMature trees line the garden

A mature wisteria, believed to have been planted by Miriam and adorning the Garden Room she worked in, was rejuvenated, while elsewhere, after the clearing and cutting back in the garden, brick paving and herringbone patterned pathways were uncovered and the layout of the garden began to take shape. Visitors can relax today in a tiled writing shelter on a Tudor-style seat constructed from original oak panels taken from the house during its restoration by Lord Buxton, before taking a stroll to the lawn area to admire the herbaceous borders and roses.

‘We found some old roses when we began clearing the beds,’ says Graham, ‘but have added many more as roses reflect the time line of the garden.’

When restoration began to uncover the Arts and Crafts bones of the garden it was also decided to pay homage to the Tudor origins of the house and create features and planting that was not only sympathetic to the Edwardian restoration, but also reflected Paycocke’s Tudor importance and the other periods.

Close detail of the original timber carving on the front of the house.Close detail of the original timber carving on the front of the house.

The 500-year time span of the garden is mostly apparent in the planting, particularly the historic roses where more than 40 different varieties span Paycocke’s history. Roses include the Apothecary’s Rose, Rosa gallica var. officinalis ‘Versicolor’, a rose of great antiquity which dates from c1400 or before and for centuries was grown for its medicinal qualities. There is also a good selection of Victorian and later roses.

Past the lawn in an area that was once part of Coggeshall’s many breweries in the 19th century is a typical cottage-style vegetable garden and a cutting garden providing flowers for the house. Another area of the garden has a collection of plants reflecting the history of the wool trade. Thomas Paycocke specialised in producing Coggeshall White wool, but he and other wool merchants in the town would also have supplied dyed wool to customers. Plants were used to dye wool and growing in the garden now at Paycocke’s there are madder and woad, dye-plants that were grown to extract red and blue colouring for dying the wool. You’ll also find teasel, which was used to lift the knap of the wool, and woodruff, a scented herb that was scattered on floors to mask unpleasant odours.

Visiting Paycocke’s is an education as well as an inspiration and each step in the garden takes you along a journey through history.

June is rose time in Paycocke's gardenJune is rose time in Paycocke's garden

Visit Paycoke’s

Paycocke’s House and Garden

25 West Street, Coggeshall, Colchester, Essex CO6 1NS. 01376 561305.

The house and garden are open Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays until the end of October. The garden is open 10.30 am to 5pm, the house 11am to 5pm and the coffee shop 11am to 4.30pm. Admission to the house and garden is £5.50 adults and £2.50 children.

Events at Paycocke’s

Plant Swap Shop (Saturday, June 4, 11am to 4.30pm)

Music for a Summer’s Evening (Saturday, July 2, 7pm to 10pm)

Lavender Weekend (Saturday 9 July 9, 11am to 4.30pm)

Weavers, Spinners and Dyers (Friday, October 7, 11am to 4pm)

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