A family home away from it all in Uggeshall
ONE of the joys of this job is the hidden surprises I sometimes come across. Despite having lived in the area for 30 years, I never even knew Bullions existed, so rural and secluded is its setting. Yet it’s quickly accessible from Southwold, Walberswick and the Heritage Coast.
It is a delight to meet owner Jonathan Copley, and to hear his collection of evocative memories of a Suffolk childhood.
“Our family came originally from The Midlands”, he recalls. “My grandfather started as an apprentice toolmaker in Derby, at a newly founded company called Rolls Royce, where he laboured at the same workbench for more than 50 years. My father, Miles Copley, also worked there as an engineer, testing jet engines, before entering the priesthood in the Church of England.
“My father’s first living was as rector of Banff, on Scotland’s North-East coast. We returned to live at The Vicarage in Wangford, in Suffolk, in 1965. On the way home my father bought a vintage Rolls Royce car for £500. This became a notable feature of my childhood and was often to be seen parked outside the churches of Wangford, Sotherton and Uggeshall where my father was rector for nearly 30 years.
“In those days, Bullions was a tied cottage on the estate of the Earl of Stradbroke. It was occupied by an elderly farm worker, Herbie Etheridge, and my father, in his role as Parish Priest, regularly visited Herbie during his last days. After Herbie died, my father asked if he could buy the cottage as a place to live in his own retirement.
“I first saw Bullions, as the cottage is still called, in 1977. I remember driving with my father down a country lane of compacted earth and pebbles, shrouded by Suffolk elms that met overhead to form a protective green tunnel. At the end of this long Lane, on the very edge of the marsh separating Wangford from the hamlet of Uggeshall, lay a small, square cottage with a kitchen garden, no electricity, no mains water, just a hand pump outside, reaching downwards to a well, and a small black-iron bread oven, set in the wall of the tiny kitchen. This is how I remember Bullions that very first time.”
“The daylight floods in from both the east and west, filling the space with the slightly melancholic yellow light of the winter setting sun”
Jonathan attended Henham Primary School in the late 1960s, then went as a day-boy to Eversley School, on Southwold Common. He then moved to Woodbridge School, but it was at St John’s College, Cambridge, that he met his future wife, Julia. They were married by his father in Wangford Church.
After completing a PhD in engineering at Cambridge, Jonathan worked for eight years on government research projects for a university spin-off company called Topexpress Ltd, before joining Landis & Gyr in Switzerland, now a part of Siemens.
“The great attraction of Bullions, apart from the natural beauty of the countryside, is its seclusion,” he says. “Living here is the ultimate ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ experience. It still lies on a footpath leading over the fields between Wangford and Uggeshall. This was probably one of the many paths used by agricultural workers to reach the location of their daily labours since medieval times and before.
“I remember returning to Bullions during the university holidays and discovering that one of the very few intrusions into the rural calm was the occasional pheasant shooting party, especially just after Christmas. On one notable occasion, two promptly dispatched cock pheasant landed in our garden, and I recall rushing outside to retrieve the still warm carcasses to stock the freezer. I don’t know exactly when
Bullions Cottage was built, but I believe it was sometime in the mid 1800s.”
After Jonathan’s parents died, the cottage needed renovation. The best option was to convert it into a Suffolk coastal holiday home, which the family could visit from their base in Switzerland, and, at other times, could provide travellers and holidaymakers with a little taste of Suffolk remoteness.
“I gave the task of renovation to Trevor & Stephen Clarke (Trevor Clarke Homes, Ltd), both of whom I had been with at primary school in the 1960s, but had hardly seen for more than 40 years since,” says Jonathan. “Under the guidance of Vaughan Keal & Associates, architect, they opened up the living space, created an open plan kitchen-diner, with panoramic views over the corn fields towards the setting sun to the north-west, and over the marshes to the south. We added an additional bedroom, to sleep eight in total, and two additional bathrooms.
“Jessica Cattermole, of Two Peas in Framlingham, was recommended to me by Suffolk Secrets, for the interior design. I asked her to enhance the rural atmosphere and introduce a costal feel, reflecting the proximity to the North Sea at Southwold, and I’m delighted with the results.
“I love the feeling of space in the newly-renovated house and the way the various rooms form a natural circulation. The daylight floods in from both the east and west, filling the space with the slightly melancholic yellow light of the winter setting sun. The kitchen-diner is where I feel most relaxed, cooking for friends. The bar between the kitchen and dining spaces is the perfect spot to open a bottle of Champagne and enjoy some casual chat while finishing off the cooking.”
Jonathan’s favourite item is the cream coloured wood burning stove.
“I like every aspect of it – lighting a fire with kindling, smelling just a hint of smoke, and then lying on the adjacent sofa, absorbing the warm glow of the fire, and reading a book while the wind and rain blow horizontally off the cold North Sea, across the flatlands towards the marshes of Blythburgh and Wangford.
“When staying at Bullions, I enjoy cutting wood for the fire, using a hand-held ripsaw, the old fashioned way, and most especially, I love the combination of the exercise and breathing the cold air when the winter sun is shining and the sky is azure blue.
“Sometimes my son Sebastian helps me, and reminds me of the times I spent cutting wood with my own father in the same location in the deep-set, dark green landscape more than 30 years ago. Let the saw do the work, relax the muscles in your arm, take your time, keep your thumb tucked-in, well away from the blade!”
Tragically, Julia died in 2011. “So now we are just three – Livia, Sebastian and I,” says Jonathan. “Bullion’s has been an anchor point throughout all the adventures and our lives, so we are always delighted to return to our roots in Suffolk, as and when circumstances allow.”