PUBLISHED: 09:57 12 May 2015 | UPDATED: 09:57 12 May 2015
There are countless happy memories to be found for Elizabeth Wastnage in her home at Creeksea Hall near Burnham on Crouch and the home she never wanted to move to has become the one she never wanted to leave. Pat Bramley tells the story
After 40 years at Creeksea Hall, a red brick Grade II listed country house in almost ten acres just a mile from the sailing centre of Burnham on Crouch, Elizabeth Wastnage is weighing anchor and moving on.
Since her husband Geoffrey, a paint manufacturer, died at the early age of 59 from Parkinsons Disease 13 years ago, Elizabeth has been rattling around, as she puts it, in this five-bedroom house, getting on with life as active as ever, which is probably no surprise to her friends and family because that’s the way she’s always been.
However, with her son, his wife and their four-year-old daughter living in a small cottage by the garage block in the drive, they want a property more suited to accommodating two households. Geoffrey and Elizabeth’s daughter, Lucy, is married to the entrepreneur Sir David Tang. With three houses in London and two in Hong Kong, she’s more of a fleeting visitor, but she’s right behind the decision to sell her childhood family home.
They’ve now seen somewhere which, if it comes off, would be perfect. Elizabeth explains: ‘It was built as a clubhouse — a horrible 60s place, but I can see the potential. It would need a lot of work.
‘We’ve already identified how we can carve it up so we have our own space. It’s only just down the road from here. I wouldn’t move away from Burnham. I’ll buy it with the proceeds from the sale of the hall but,’ she adds with a laugh, though you can tell she means it, ‘I’ve told them I’m never going in a care home.’
Elizabeth admits she’s always reluctant to move house. ‘I love my home. I’m a home-maker. I put my whole heart into it.’
That was why when her husband found Creeksea Hall all those years ago, she was initially dead against leaving the cottage they owned five miles inland, even though they’d been looking for somewhere close to the river.
They have always been a sporty family. By then their two children had reached the age when they were hopping on bikes and cycling into Burnham to meet friends and go sailing. ‘They were still only young,’ remembers their mum. ‘We were worried about their safety.’
Despite that she still jibbed at agreeing to move to the place her husband wanted to buy. One of its previous owners soon after the war was the poet brother of the children’s author AA Milne, a bit of an Eeyore himself according to local legend. ‘He didn’t want people straying onto his land. He sat in his garden full of brambles and let them have both barrels. His language was quite colourful,’ recounts Elizabeth.
‘By the time we arrived, the interior had sixtyfied,’ says the current owner with a shudder. ‘I think they paid scant interest to listing in those years. Most of the period character had been stripped out. Geoffrey had a company manufacturing specialist paints, waxes and varnishes for beautiful furniture. He loved his antiques.
‘I saw the house three times and went back to the cottage and cried three times. Geoffrey could see its potential. I couldn’t. He told me he’d buy it, get all the work done and if I still didn’t like it when it’s finished, he’d sell it. Well it was an offer I couldn’t refuse, could I? Of course, by the time it was finished I was with him. I liked it as much as he did. The work took a year.’
As you’d expect, the specialist manufacturer of top quality products to enhance furniture reinstated the integrity to his English country house.
Elizabeth points out: ‘The previous owners, local people, had loved their home, they’d looked after it, but they’d made it cottagey, which we didn’t feel was right at all for the period of the building. It was an anathema to Geoffrey. There wasn’t a cornice or a dado rail left in the house.
‘He put back the dado rails and moulded cornices, reinstated the fireplaces which had been sealed off — at that time it was all about central heating, that was what everyone wanted — and he renovated the beautiful hardwood Victorian conservatory which was in a bit of a state.’
Luckily the sash windows and Georgian doors escaped the purge to give the décor the sleek Scandinavian style that was all the rage in the middle of the last century, as it is now.
‘When we arrived,’ Elizabeth reports, ‘the oldest 16th century back part of the house was typical of the Victorian era with a lot of tiny rooms. We knocked walls out and now we have a heavily beamed dining room and a country kitchen with an Aga and a round table which pulls out and seats six — it’s brilliant. I love round tables; they encourage conversation,’ adds the hostess, who is in her element when her children and grown-up grandchildren come home. ‘Just off the kitchen, the table in the dining room seats ten, the family always say how much they enjoy coming here.’
Creeksea Hall now has five bedrooms (two en suite including a master suite with a balcony), three bathrooms, four reception rooms and a huge cellar. There’s also the self-contained cottage which has three main rooms: a bedroom and two reception rooms. Altogether the living area at the hall is more than 5,000sq ft.
But that’s just the accommodation. What has contributed just as much to the pleasure of living there is the elevated position and the extensive grounds.
The house stands at the end of a 170m drive bordered by poplars with sweeping 180° views over countryside and along the tidal estuary. Creeksea Sailing Club is only a stone’s throw from the hall and the land that belongs to Elizabeth is bordered on two sides by Burnham Golf Club.
Of course it was the sporting amenities that brought the family here in the first place.
There was already a grass tennis court within their curtilage of more than nine and a half acres. That court is still there, but they built another which was resurfaced last year, and also added a swimming pool. There are stables, a tack room and a barn of 1000sq ft as well as six acres of paddocks.
Being close to water is probably what they love most and they won’t be sacrificing that after the move. When Geoffrey’s Parkinsons advanced to the point where his wife was worried about his safety in a sailing boat, they bought ‘a vintage gentleman’s motor launch’ called Trivial Pursuit. It is no ordinary boat. Elizabeth reveals: ‘It had been the tender to Sir Bernard and Lady Docker’s yacht Shemara. As Geoffrey said, “A lot of expensive bottoms have sat on her”.’
Trivial Pursuit is still Elizabeth’s pride and joy. She goes out on her to watch her son racing, but with a couple of acres of formal garden to care for, that’s what takes up most of her spare time. ‘I have gardeners in a couple of times a week to help with the borders, but I do the lawns. I have a ride-on mower and a Hayter for the stripes — I’m an addict for stripes, I don’t like anyone walking on them after I’ve cut the lawn. I spend 16 hours a week mowing the grass,’ she reports cheerfully.
But now Elizabeth is gearing up for an even greater challenge: deciding what she wants to keep when she and her son and his family move to the new place.
‘Extended families are common place for other cultures,’ she says. ‘The different generations help each other. I love having my young granddaughter around. She runs into the house and asks me to do her hair. For the older generation, living with family avoids the dreaded care homes with their ruinous fees. There are benefits for everyone.’