The valley that time forgot
Dream houses abound along the River Waveney’s border between Norfolk and Suffolk
THE River Waveney defines the border between Norfolk and Suffolk, although locals who live along the dreamy Waveney Valley tend to see the river not as dividing the two counties, but as bringing them together. Newcomers drawn to this quiet backwater for its timeless beauty and gentle pace of life will be agreeably surprised at the choice of fine country houses to be found in and around thriving Waveney Valley towns such as Beccles, Bungay, Harleston and Diss and will also be reminded of the area’s historic importance as a centre of power and influence.
The launch onto the market of one of Norfolk’s most remarkable houses, the Grade I-listed, 15th-century Hales Hall (Fig 1)—with its magnificent Tudor Great Barn (Fig 2)—at Loddon, five miles from both Beccles and Bungay and 13 miles south-east of Norwich, highlights the vision and towering ambition of the man who built it. That was Sir James Hobart, who hailed from Monks Eleigh in Suffolk and, in 1478, bought Hales Hall, which then incorporated the 13th-century hall of Sir Roger de Hales, although there has been a house on the site for more than 1,000 years.
Sir James was a brilliant lawyer and judge who went on to become Henry VII’S Attorney General, a post he held for 21 years—a remarkable tale of survival in a volatile era. Highly regarded by his contemporaries, he funded the repairs for the nave roof of Norwich Cathedral after a fire and helped compile the Statutes of Henry VII, the last book printed by William Caxton, in about 1490. His youngest son, Myles, founded the line that built Blickling Hall and his eldest son, Walter, and his family remained staunch Catholics, facing huge fines as recusants after the Reformation.
By 1647, their great fortune had run out and Hales Hall was sold to a local property speculator. The estate later passed to various landowners and, from the mid 19th century, to the Crisps of nearby Kirby Cane Hall. From the 1730s onwards, the house was let to farming tenants and was eventually purchased in a state of disrepair by the previous owners in 1971.
According to its listing, all that remains of Sir James’s great Tudor house is the 8,422sq ft gatehouse range, with its distinctive, octagonal
Fig 1 top: One of the most remarkable houses in the Waveney Valley: Hales Hall, at Loddon, Norfolk. £2.85m. Fig 2 above : The magnificent Tudor Great Barn at Hales Hall