Take a peek into this historic mansion
PUBLISHED: 10:08 02 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:08 02 August 2016
As a treasured family home over many centuries, Croys Grange in Great Easton has welcomed many guests, including future monarchs
Croys Grange in the village of Great Easton is a quintessential Grade II listed English country house built in 1550, three years after the death of Henry VIII.
The house is mentioned in Nikolaus Pevsner’s Buildings of England and originally belonged to Tilty Abbey, when it was named after the old English word for ‘cross’. By 1556 a licence was granted for the price of 21 pieces of silver (silver shillings having entered the coinage around 1503) for the tenure to pass to new people.
Fast forward 350 years and by then it was owned by the Countess of Warwick. It was among the lots when her Easton Lodge Estate was sold at auction by Knight Frank & Rutley and Savills on the first day of July in the summer of 1919.
By then the name of the grange had been changed to Bridgefoot Farm and the Clarke family were in residence. They’d arrived from Somerset in 1894, bringing with them all the stock from their holding in the West Country and the head of the clan was William Clarke.
William’s great grandson, Nick, has since researched the history of his dynasty. He points out in his account that traces the lives of earlier generations: ‘The move from Somerset would have been a logistical challenge. Full details are not known, but a special train may have been used, combined with an extensive drive of cattle by road.
‘William Clarke had a large family with Bridgefoot and other family farms being a focus for more than 40 years. He appears to have been a reasonably successful farmer,’ William’s great grandson observes. ‘Bridgefoot remains a family legend to this day. The toilet facilities made an impression on the children in particular. There was one flush toilet in the house reserved for adult use and another ‘double seater’ in a shed in the garden, disconcertingly close to the stream. Even at night youngsters had to make the trip outside.
‘It is worth recording that the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, visited the farm on more than one occasion while on shooting trips or similar activities. He is believed to have taken refreshment in the kitchen. For many years the family had the chair (now lost) on which he is reputed to have deposited his large frame.’
One of William’s sons, Charles, Nick’s grandfather, became an engineer and founded the company in the West Midlands that still bears the family name, another became a sea captain and served on convoys throughout World War II. The youngest son, Victor, was killed at Gallipoli in 1915. The eldest son, named after his father, along with one of his brothers continued the family tradition of farming – ‘a number of descendants still live in the area, some possibly still involved in farming,’ adds Nick.
After the Clarke family ceased to live at Bridgefoot, it changed hands at least twice before the present owner, Nicola Woollaston, arrived. She and her family moved to the house 28 years ago and by then the name of the property had reverted to Croys Grange.
Nicola explains that it hasn’t been unusual to go to the door and find descendants of people who have lived there in the past standing in the porch. It’s at times like this that she produces a copy of a photograph Nick has given her of the different generations taken at the house around 1901 with a list of who’s who.
‘When I’ve shown it to them as they’ve looked round the house after I’ve invited them in, it’s usually the first time they’ve seen it. Thanks to me having Nick’s notes, some of the branches of the family have been reunited,’ explains Nicola.
The original house, built in the middle of the 16th century, was considerably extended in the 1800s. Nicola had previously lived in an old forge not far away in the village of High Easter, but Croys Grange seemed like the perfect family home.
‘With two young children, we wanted more space. My elder son was one and my daughter was three – my younger son was born after we moved here. I saw Croys Grange advertised in an estate agent’s window, thought it looked nice, came to see it and I thought, my gosh, it has everything we’re looking for in a family house’
It has a lovely, lovely feel about it. The rooms are a good size but not over large so there was nothing we needed to do structurally to change the layout.
‘I bought a new Aga for the kitchen and we did the usual things like re-wiring and re-plumbing – we were pulling up floorboards one day after we moved in and we found two dog tags (wartime identity discs) hidden there by servicemen from the American Air Force base up the road. The 386 Bomber Group flew 263 missions from Little Easton – perhaps the owners of the dog tags were among the 200 who were lost, which is why they never came back for the tags.’
The grounds of the grange include a heated swimming pool, stable block and several outbuildings including a two-storey pool house which incorporates changing rooms, a shower room and a double garage on the ground floor with a games room above.
The main house has four reception rooms. The 27ft drawing room flows into what Nicola calls the winter garden – the conservatory where she overwinters semi hardy plants like geraniums. There’s also the dining room and a study as well as ‘the children’s sitting room’ which is almost open plan with the farmhouse kitchen which includes a separate utility room and a pantry. Upstairs are five double bedrooms and four bath/shower rooms including a guest suite and master suite which also has a dressing room.
‘We’ve had so many marvelous times here,’ Nicola says merrily, ‘the house just seems to expand to accommodate however many are at home, but when they’ve gone you don’t feel like you’re rattling around.’
The property’s other great asset is its position. It’s a six-minute drive to get to the shops and boutiques in Great Dunmow, a 45-minute commute into London by train from Stansted or 35 minutes from Bishop’s Stortford. To drive to London to see children who live in Clapham and Battersea takes Nicola an hour and a quarter door to door.
Nicola is always dashing off here and there, but is never happier than when there’s something going on in the village and the house is full of friends and family.
‘Village life is fantastic. Last weekend, we were among the 21 people who opened our gardens to the public. We had 150 visitors here wandering through the garden. It was also my grandson’s first birthday so we had a lunch party for 30 on the top lawn.’ Nicola loves having a house full.
The level lawns in the 2 acre garden are ideal not just for feisty games of croquet but also as sites for marquees.
‘When my daughter got married three years ago we had a marquee and 150 guests. Catering for large numbers outside is never a problem – we have quite a lot of little outbuildings and places for keeping drinks and food cool in fridges. I do enjoy my garden very much, but I’m not a slave to it. It doesn’t rule my life,’ says the hostess who’s now considering future options.
After 28 wonderful Christmases and other festivities celebrated in style at this family seat, Nicola is ready to downsize. Although, like the Clarkes’ children and grandchildren, hers have always returned for get-togethers on special occasions, Nicola feels its time for a new, young family to put down roots at this historic property where even a future king of England has been given a right royal welcome at the kitchen door.
Now it is for sale
Croys Grange is for sale through Beresfords Country & Village with a guide price of £1.625m. Call 01245 807265 for more details.