First in the queue

PUBLISHED: 11:03 02 September 2014 | UPDATED: 11:03 02 September 2014




Nobody knew better than John and Rosemary Talbot that you needed to move quickly to get the house of your dreams in Coggeshall, so they had been watching Cromwell Lodge for years before they finally moved in

Speak to people who live in the Essex village of Coggeshall and you will find the vast majority absolutely love the place. So being the first to the punch to win a property in this coveted location can be a tricky business. In fact, John and Rosemary Talbot had had their eye on Cromwell Lodge for quite some time before they got their dream move.

18 years ago, in September 1995, Rosemary and John, a lawyer, were living less than a stone’s throw from Cromwell Lodge when the owner decided to move.

The Grade II listed, five-bedroom property in East Street has a separate coach house and a beautiful walled garden with nut tree, crab apple tree and ancient fig tree. It’s a fabulous home for a growing family.

‘We’d had our eyes on it for a while,’ John says with a laugh. ‘We coveted it for many years.’ It is a close-knit community in Coggeshall and the Talbots knew the lady who lived there. ‘We lived up the road in number 19. We’d been to Cromwell Lodge socially and we made it known we had an interest in buying her property. We just felt the house was right for us.’

The timing could have been better when the chance came up to buy the house they admired so much as Rosemary was heavily pregnant with their second daughter.

‘Our elder daughter, Lucy, was a toddler and I was about to give birth to Frances. The house we owned at the time was big enough for us but we wanted a larger garden. We’d thought we would wait until after the baby was born before looking for something else, but when the lady who owned this house decided to sell, we immediately made her an offer.’

In fact, Cromwell Lodge hasn’t been on the open market for more than half a century. It has changed hands in that time but always through private sales.

‘It happens a lot,’ says Rosemary. ‘It’s not unusual for houses to be bought by someone already living in the village. They don’t want to move away. If their circumstances change, they find something that suits them here.’

Like many houses in Coggeshall, Cromwell Lodge dates from medieval times, but it was substantially rebuilt around the beginning of the last century. The decorative plaster pargetting on the rendered outside wall of the main house is believed to date from 1902. The stained glass windows either side and above the front door are another feature from that period.

Rosemary says: ‘We understand the rooms we use as a drawing room and study [the two rooms on the end of the house closest to the carriage entrance] are Victorian and were used as a bank and the teller’s office at one point, that’s what we’ve been told. The coach house was once upon a time a chapel. It isn’t medieval, like the oldest parts of the house. Parts of the panelling are still there.’

Even though they loved the main house, they’ve made a few changes over the years. When they first arrived they put an Aga in the kitchen, replaced the worktops with cherry wood and painted the existing units. They also created a boot room and new cloakroom and refitted the main bathroom, but the biggest job was adding to the living space by installing a shower room and kitchenette to the ground floor of the coach house and converting the first floor into a studio.

‘We’ve used the coach house for lots of things — sleepovers, children’s parties, all sorts. We had the window fittings and lights specially made as copies of the original by Jim Lawrence. The studio is a lovely bright room. When the girls were younger and went to dance classes it was a useful space where I could spread out materials and not have to tidy up each night when I was making costumes for their shows. Lucy is still a keen dancer.’

Anyone who has lived in a house for a long time and brought up children there will know how a home is the heart of family life. Almost every piece of furniture and room in the house at Cromwell Lodge has a story.

The baby grand piano in the sitting room was bought by Rosemary’s grandfather for her grandmother.

‘My father learnt to play on it, I learnt to play on it, my girls learnt to play on it, but unfortunately nobody plays it much now.’

The red walls in the dining room were painted by Rosemary in a rush before Christmas one year. ‘We’ve had some lovely family Christmases here,’ Rosemary adds. ‘We move in a second table and we can seat 14 or 15 with ease. There was grey wallpaper in the dining room before. It’s a large enough room to take a strong colour and I liked the red. It made the oak furniture and the marble fireplace sing.’

The portrait of the judge on one of the walls is a relative of John’s. The crimson walls create a suitable setting for him, too. Three of the downstairs rooms have fireplaces. One of them was blocked up by the previous owner, but two of them work. The fireplace in the drawing room, which was once a bank if the stories are right, is the one the family use most. ‘We have a log fire in there in the winter, and roast chestnuts.’

The breakfast room next to the kitchen has evolved from being the girls’ playroom in the early years. ‘I could work in the kitchen and be able to see what they were doing. As they grew up they did their homework round the table and it became the breakfast room. It was carpeted when we arrived. We thought we would replace the carpet, pulled it up and found the beautiful original quarry tiles. I spent evenings on my knees getting the gunge off to clean them.’

The five bedrooms are all a good size. The master suite shares a vast bathroom with the second bedroom. There’s also a shower room which is en suite with the fifth bedroom, but it’s accessible from the L-shaped first floor landing too, making it a free-for-all.

Now, with John recently retired, Lucy off to Paris for a year having just finished her second year reading languages at Cambridge and Frankie heading for uni, the Talbots are planning to move as well. However, unusually for residents of Coggeshall, they won’t be buying another house in the village.

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