The new romantics
The Waveney Valley home of portrait artist Stuart Pearson Wright and wife, Polly
Iam always delighted when I come across wacky, unusual or seriously eclectic homes. This one immediately drew my attention – a substantial, timber-framed, 17th century dairy barn, built within the walls of a 14th century ruined castle, complete with gatehouse and tower, all set within nearly three acres of paddocks, trees, gardens and herb gardens in rural Suffolk. There are Victorian greenhouses, and the remains of the original manor house can be found in the front paddock. Even before I met the owners I thought they probably came from the creative side of life. This turned out to be correct, but what I didn’t know was that the owners, acclaimed portrait artist Stuart Pearson Wright and his wife, Polly, have a profound love for the romance of ruined buildings.
“I think it’s the history of the ruins,” explains Polly, “the sense of what once was there. In your imagination, it’s a glimpse of what was, how it was, the people who lived there and the lives they perhaps led. All that history, maybe forgotten. Their plans, their romances, their families. It’s deeply fascinating for creative people like us, and it’s what attracted us to this unique location, our first home in Suffolk. We’ve always loved visiting ruins, searching them out on our travels across the countryside, so it’s no surprise we fell in love instantly with the castle and barn.”
Apart from the wonderful natural surroundings and romantic setting, something else clinched the deal. As part of the internal layout, the barn also offered a very large studio, which was essential for Stuart, whose well known work hangs in the The National Portrait Gallery. Born in Northampton and brought up in Eastbourne, Stuart had a love of art and painting from a young age, something his history teacher and form tutor encouraged. He went to Slade School of Fine Art and sold his entire degree exhibition to collectors, many of whom subsequently commissioned him to do portraits.
It was a chance meeting with actor John Hurt in Covent Garden that presented Stuart with an opportunity to ask him if he would consider having his portrait painted.
“That really was a big stepping stone,” says Stuart. “He loved the painting and the National Portrait Gallery bought it and commissioned me to do some other famous people, including J.K.Rowling.” Portraits of actors Timothy Spall and Christopher Lee, and Mike Leigh the film director followed, not
commissioned but purchased from an exhibition the NPG hosted called Most People are Other People.
Stuart also holds an exhibition of his current work every two or three years at The RifleMaker Gallery, in Beak Street, London. In 2018 he was due to exhibit at the Humber Street Gallery in Hull and at the Heong Gallery at Downing College, Cambridge. He met Polly through a musician friend’s gig in London. They got together and lived in a converted factory in Mile End, East London, but after having son Wulfred, now six, they wanted to leave the city, for a more rural environment.
“My parents were living at Somerleyton,” adds Polly. “We used to come up at weekends and liked the area, so started looking on the Internet and, after a failed attempt at a house in Brooke (Norfolk), we found here in January 2014.
“To be honest we really wanted a Georgian property or a manor house. We found one but it was too big. The idea was high ceilings, good proportions but as soon as we spotted this, which is a barn, with low ceilings and lots of beams, which we have now white washed to make it lighter, we were smitten.
“Although it was the exact opposite of what we were looking for and on arrival the grounds and trees were overgrown – a real chainsaw massacre job – being total romantics, the ruins, the setting and the history plus, of course, the studio totally won us over immediately.”
Polly is no stranger to rural life. She was born and lived in Upton, near Acle in Norfolk, until her father, whose job was in the oil industry, moved the family to Singapore. Like Stuart, Polly was creative from early year, with a love of music, so she went on to study a classical music course at Goldsmiths College. She focused on the clarinet, which she had played since age 12, but also now plays piano and organ. She has formed her own band, The Tiger’s Bride, writing and recording music, as well as getting involved with live theatre at venues such as Hoxton Music Hall, as well as at The Moscow Festival, entwining Russian ballerinas with folk music.
“When we moved in,” recalls Polly, “it was a case of what to do first, so we got stuck in with the painting and the gardens, which are full of wildlife.
“I used to go to Gazes auction every week to find furniture and artefacts, plus items from Matthew Higham and The Bell Jar (now closed). The whole thing is an ongoing project, including sourcing 18th century flooring from a redundant building. I love antiques, grand pieces, the patina and the history. Stuart with his vast experience of colour
knew just what to do. Having limewashed all the beams inside we intend to do the same outside, like a house in Lavenham.
“We love the double height hall, our favourite room, and I love the built in seat in the kitchen, which was dead space. We’ve really settled in now and enjoy the surrounding area, which is unspoiled. We love going to The Locks Inn, at Geldeston, which is lit by candlelight, and we get wood fired pizzas from Suffolk Stone House in Bungay.
“Besides walks around the ruins and local lanes, Outney Common with the dog along the tow path is very peaceful. Further afield, there’s the beach and Gun Hill at Southwold, and the children love going to Bewilderwood, followed by a picnic at Salhouse Broad and a trip in our five-seater canoe.”
Polly says she and Stuart know they have done entirely the right thing with this move and are creating a very special house in an amazing location. So much so they’ve decided to offer it for film locations through East Coast Productions in Norwich, so others can see it and enjoy it. Keep your eyes out for it next time you go to a romantic movie . . .
This location (ref: smc-351) is available for film shoots. Contact East Coast Productions, Norwich T: 01603 728978 eastcoast productions.co.uk
The Tiger’s Bride firstname.lastname@example.org
Stuart Pearson Wright, portrait painter stuartpearsonwright.com
TOP RIGHT: Polly and Stuart
RIGHT: The garden room and entrance hall
ABOVE: The greenhouse at Stuart and Polly Pearson-Wright’s home in the Waveney Valley
ABOVE RIGHT:A cosy, colourful living roomRIGHT: The homely kitchen
ABOVE LEFT:The romantic setting among the ruins captured Polly and Stuart immediately
ABOVE: The master bedroom
BELOW: Wulfred’s room
RIGHT: Stuart’s studio