Long and costly labour of love where one foot re­mains planted in the past

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Heritage - Clive Aslet

Bard­well, in Suf­folk, has a wind­mill. Wind­mills al­ways make me think of the sil­ver-haired Mon­ica Dance, 30 years of whose half-cen­tury of ser­vice at the So­ci­ety for the Pro­tec­tion of An­cient Build­ings were spent as its sec­re­tary; she founded its Mills Sec­tion.

In her me­mory, I stopped the car out­side the con­i­cal black tower of the Bard­well wind­mill, topped with a white head­dress of cap and fan­tail (the fan­tail is a mini­wind­mill at right-an­gles to the sails, used to keep them in the wind). It was a pretty scene, with a charm­ing hid­den gar­den on one side and a brickand-flint cot­tage on the other.

I was just won­der­ing whether I was in­trud­ing when out of the cot­tage came the mill’s owner, an­other sil­ver-haired lady, Enid Wheeler. She has been pa­tiently restor­ing the wind­mill since the 1987 hur­ri­cane tore off the wooden cap and sails, not long af­ter she and her late hus­band, Ge­of­frey, had bought it. She un­locked the great wooden door and told me the mill’s story.

The Wheel­ers had moved from Penn, in Buck­ing­hamshire, where de­vel­op­ment was im­ping­ing on their home. Un­be­known to me, Ge­of­frey had al­ready en­tered my life. In the early 1960s, my eldest brother took The Ea­gle, and it was Ge­of­frey who drew the cut­away pic­tures of steam trains for that se­ri­ous-minded comic.

To­day, one wall of Enid’s liv­ing room is oc­cu­pied by the name­plate of an en­gine – the Isam­bard King­dom Brunel. A wind­mill suited Ge­of­frey’s pas­sion for ma­chin­ery. The Bard­well mill was built in 1823, the shut­ters of the sails be­ing ad­justed by a cen­tral mech­a­nism that worked even as the sails turned.

Restora­tion has been a long and costly haul, but the sails, one of which is laid out be­neath the leanto roof of a work­shop, should be put back in place next spring. Then milling will re­sume, ac­com­pa­nied by the wooden creaks and knocks that are the sat­is­fy­ing sounds of a work­ing wind­mill.

Not that it has en­tirely stopped: next to the mill stands Oliver, the Wheel­ers’ steam trac­tion en­gine, which has been hooked up to the mill ma­chin­ery on oc­ca­sion. On Au­gust 19, there will be a steam-thresh­ing day in the field op­po­site the wind­mill, show­ing how corn was col­lected be­fore the age of the com­bine har­vester.

Bard­well is a per­fectly mod­ern vil­lage – or per­haps that should be im­per­fectly, to judge from some of the more re­cent ad­di­tions. But one foot seems to have be­come wedged in the past. A field at the en­trance ap­pears to have been planted with a bizarre se­lec­tion of his­toric mo­tor ve­hi­cles, among which pigs run.

You don’t have to be in the vil­lage very long be­fore dis­cov­er­ing that it was used as one of the lo­ca­tions for Dad’s Army. The vil­lage hall oc­cu­pies an El­iz­a­bethan tithe barn. Suf­folk was rich in the 15th and 16th cen­turies, and a large num­ber of houses from the pe­riod sur­vive, in­clud­ing one of three pubs, The Old Green Man Inn.

Thatch abounds, along with tra­di­tional Suf­folk pan­tiles; most of the older houses are tim­ber­framed, of­ten cov­ered in plas­ter, with brick mak­ing an ap­pear­ance in the 18th-cen­tury Mansard House and flint be­ing re­vived in the Vic­to­rian pe­riod.

Out­side the vil­lage lies Wyken Hall – El­iz­a­bethan home of for­mer politi­cian Sir Ken­neth Carlisle and his wife, Carla – a farm that has been rein­vented as an award-win­ning vine­yard, restau­rant and shop. Down the road is the Duke of Grafton’s Eus­ton Hall.

Prob­a­bly the best of Bard­well’s early houses, Croft House, on the vil­lage green, is be­ing of­fered by Jack­son-Stops & Staff of Bury St Ed­munds (01284 700535) for £750,000. Ac­cord­ing to the walk­ing guide, spon­sored by the Six Bells and Dun Cow pubs, the hall once had a cen­tral hearth, from which smoke black­ened the roof tim­bers.

Money goes fur­ther in north Suf­folk than it might do nearer Lon­don. A pretty, two-bed­room thatched cot­tage is on the mar­ket with Richard Green, of Bury St Ed­munds (01284 755552) for £189,000; Jan­uarys Coun­try­wide, of Bury St Ed­munds (01284 767 812), has a two-bed­room, Vic­to­rian cot­tage on their books for £159,000.

On the edge of nearby Sapis­ton, Grove House, a rec­tory-sized house built for the Eus­ton es­tate out of Suf­folk white brick, would suit me, if I had £900,000. Ap­ply to Sav­ills, Bury St Ed­munds (01284 731100). Clive Aslet is Ed­i­tor at Large of Coun­try Life.

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