Caught in The Moat

PUBLISHED: 10:23 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 10:23 10 February 2015




Martin and Sue Brown have enjoyed 26 happy years in their Gestingthorpe home, prompting them to feel like they really landed on their feet when they arrived at The Moat. Pat Bramley tells their story

According to Martin Brown, it was pure chance that led him to the 14th century medieval hall house which has been home to his family for 26 years.

‘A farmer friend told me he’d found a lovely house which was coming up for auction,’ says Martin. ‘He thought I might like to buy it. We piled into his pick-up truck to go and see it, but as soon as we got there I knew it wasn’t right.

‘On the way back he pulled into a drive to turn round, I looked across the grounds and saw this house and I told him, “Now this is the place I’d like.” His pal laughed. “My cousin owns it,” he said, “and it’s for sale.”’

At that time Martin and his wife, Sue, were living with their three young daughters in a cottage in the neighbouring village of Pebmarsh.

‘It was very nice,’ says Martin, ‘but it didn’t have land and the girls were at the age when they wanted ponies.’

As soon as he got home, Martin rang the agent selling the second house he’d seen to arrange a viewing. He and Sue went to view it the next day.

‘We were amazed by the high ceilings and the big windows and the beams. You don’t expect to find high ceilings in a 14th century house. We put in an offer straightaway and the sale went through in three weeks. 26 years ago you just signed a few papers to get a mortgage, it didn’t take the time it does now.’

It also helped that the buyer had a banking background.

The five-bedroom house called The Moat, standing in just over eight acres in the village of Gestingthorpe, has an elite Grade II* listing.

The moat it’s named after partly surrounds the house, but it wasn’t built for defence. Martin is pretty sure of that, believing, ‘it might have been stocked with fish.’

Historians have told the Browns that their home was built as a hall house about 1390 and the first floor was added 150 years later.

‘Just about all the timbers here are original. Those in the roof are blackened from when the ground floor rooms, with their huge fireplaces, were open to the rafters. The fireplaces still work well,’ he adds, ‘they still throw out the heat.’

Because of the high ceilings, the consensus of opinion is that the house was built for someone of importance. ‘The carvings on the architraves around the gothic doors in the drawing room suggest an ecclesiastical link. It could have been the home of a bishop or archbishop.’

Not long after Martin and Sue moved in, they discovered wall paintings in the main reception room depicting a hunting scene in front of a country house with wild boar in the grounds.

The paintings were uncovered when they took off flaking plaster above the fireplace. ‘English Heritage got very excited and said they must be preserved. They offered us a grant of £600 towards the £3,000 they told us it would cost to repair the damage with neutral colours where the paint had come off, but it wasn’t top of our list of priorities.’

The first priority for the Browns when they moved in was to renew the wiring and plumbing. They also had to replace a sole plate, part of the moisture barrier in the foundations. And with the approval of English Heritage, to prevent further deterioration, the wall paintings are now covered with a false panel studded with air holes for ventilation.

The house has three other reception rooms and between the drawing room and Martin’s study is the bar they built.

They placed it there because the ideal conditions existed. ‘There are two, brick-lined old troughs to keep things cold and there’s also a small cellar.’

The room they now call the snug was originally a milking parlour. By the time the Browns arrived it had been turned into an integral garage and the new owners converted it into a playroom and most recently, since the girls have left home, it’s become an extra sitting room.

The dining room, with its heritage red décor and massive inglenook fireplace, is a room that King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table would feel at home in. And these days they’d find the catering is top notch as Sue is a Cordon Bleu chef.

The kitchen had a two-oven solid fuel Aga in it when Sue and Martin bought the house, but the couple didn’t fancy shoveling coal into it every day, so they bought a four-oven oil-fired new one, which fits neatly into the recess.

The kitchen was last refitted about four years ago. ‘We bought the units and had them modified by a top class guy,’ explains Martin. The appliances include a second cooker. ‘The only problem with the Aga,’ Martin complains, ‘is that the kitchen gets so hot in the summer.

We turn it off as soon as we get the first hot spell in early summer and fire it up again about September or October when the temperatures start to drop.’

The Moat has two staircases. ‘Our daughters thought that was wonderful, and so did their friends. The house was always full of children when they were young. They raced up and down the stairs and we never knew where they were. 
We could never catch them when it was time for their friends to go home.’

All five bedrooms are doubles and two of the three bathrooms are en suite.

Martin explains how choosing colours for the décor is Sue’s province.

As well as being a classy cook, Sue is also a tennis coach which was why they built the hard court soon after they turned up.

They also built a ménage and stables for their horses. Jenny, their youngest daughter, now competes at Badminton, though she’s currently taking a break from competitions for a couple of months until after the birth of her baby due this month.

Also in the grounds is a 17th century dovecot, totally unlike most dovecots. 
It has three storeys and staircases inside and out.

‘Nevermind birds, it would make a marvelous granny annexe,’ Martin says, though he and Sue won’t be doing the conversion.

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