Close to Heaven

23 February 2014
Ben Pentreath

It’s been a weekend of houses and wide landscapes. I’ve been up on the coast again, in Norfolk. It was a dreamy, bright day on Friday, driving up to Norfolk across the Fens, past the great Gothic stone lantern of Ely Cathedral, that takes my breath away every time I first catch sight of it on a drive.

And then down to Suffolk. I stayed a night with my dear friends Charles and Rachel – Charles my old boss from years ago. Then, via another beautiful house, where the new incumbents are cooking up fantastic, exciting plans to bring a sleeping beauty back to life…, then… down to the dreamiest place of all.

I was staying with my friends Veere Grenney and David Oliver at Veere’s perfect house, the Temple in Stoke-by-Nayland. Veere has lived at the Temple for 30 years. Very sharp-eyed readers of the blog will remember that it’s featured once before (in one of the all-time great blogs, even if I say so myself… which you can read here). So you can imagine it was with a bit of trepidation that I took the turning down a small country road from Stoke-by-Nayland and caught my first glimpse of the Temple at a dip in the road.

From the minute I arrived to the minute I left I think it’s true to say I was closer to heaven than I’ve been for a while.  As I stepped into another world, down a neat gravel path, I spied some people walking around the giant canal that faces the Temple. The couple turned out to be my friend Gavin Houghton and his lovely new boyfriend who’s name I can pronounce very easily but it occurs to me now I do not know quite how to spell. Ever since I first spied Gavin’s flat in the iconic World of Interiors shoot back in, I don’t know, 2000andsomething, …well… I think I’ve admired his work more than anyone I know. So it was doubly nice to arrive and find they were staying. Bliss.

The Temple was built by Sir Robert Taylor in the 1760s; it was the fishing lodge to the great Tendring Hall, Soane’s first major country house, tragically demolished in the 50s. There is an air of melancholy in the ancient Parkland that is tangible, quiet, poignant.

P1000761 P1000758 P1000775 P1000767 P1000763Veere and his beautiful almost-white-almost-grey (would she be any other colour?) lurcher reflected in the oeil-de-bouef window added by David Hicks in the 60s. The squashed oval was designed by the architect Raymond Erith. Hicks rescued the Temple from certain destruction.

We walked across the park through beautiful warm sunshine. P1000782 P1000785 P1000788 P1000789 P1000795 P1000794Everywhere you looked spring is bursting into leaf and flower.

We arrived back in Stoke as dusk was falling. There is a startling moment when the tower of the church suddenly rises up above the hills.P1000799


P1000801I forget how much I miss this part of Suffolk until I am in it.

P1000810Back home, and dusk settled across the wide canal.

P1000813There ensued an evening of gin and laughter and happy times and chat of Tangiers, and of an old mutual friend now living in Palm Springs and causing, I suspect, little short of a riot over there.  There was a delicious dinner cooked by Veere, finished with a chocolate mess pudding to a recipe by the dowager Duchess of Devonshire. Of course.

I woke early. I knew that I had too much on my plate to while away a whole Sunday in heaven. Reluctantly, after a perfect breakfast of eggs and toast, I made my excuses and dragged myself away, back to London and real life and piles of paperwork, and to some designs of a potential new extension to a fine little market town in Somerset. It was a strange juxtaposition. Veere’s drawing room is literally one of the most perfect I’ve been in. Life outside the boundary of the Temple seems somehow duller. It’s a strange, enriching time spending a moment with the greatest aesthete of our generation.




16 comments on this post

Sara Wsays:

Further to that: Readers might be interested to know that Erith’s partner and protegé Quinlan Terry lives in the next village, Higham, in a lovely house beside the River Stour. To retain its integrity, there is no central heating! The practice still has its office in Dedham, in one of the houses in the main street. I’m quite friendly with the great architect’s wife.

Sara Wsays:

It’s fascinating to see these photos since I live in the Guildhall at Stoke, just across from the church (the famous tower of which was built by John Howard 1st Duke of Norfolk, C15th Lord of Tendring Hall who was a close friend of Richard III and was slain with him at Bosworth Field in 1485). The Guildhall still belongs to the Tendring Hall Estate as does much of the village, and almost all the land around it. Tendring was the family name of John Howard’s paternal grandmother.

I walk or drive past The Temple at least a couple of times a week, but I’ve never been in it: the house certainly exerts a strong fascination on anyone with the least aesthetic sensibility. The art dealer and curator James Birch (who grew up in the area) once told me as we were driving past it, that Derek Jarman had lived for a while at The Temple, but I’m not sure when exactly.

Debs Evans: the massive vegetable garden with the massive vegetables (and the quince tree, and the medlars) belongs to my neighbour Douglas. He built the house by the churchyard after moving from Scotland Place, down the hill on the other side of the village. Scotland Place (the grand farmhouse at the bottom of Scotland Street) used to belong to Sir Alfred Munnings’ mother, and he records visiting here there, in his memoirs. There are Munnings family graves in the churchyard, and several farmhouses in the vicinity which belonged to various branches of the family, I had great fun unravelling all that with the artist’s great niece, who came to stay all the way from America for the purpose.

The church is of course mostly famous for having been painted by John Constable.

Really its close to heaven! Nice architecture design! Beautiful home interior designing too!

i can’t believe how beautiful that little house is, its the view of the water that makes it quite magical.
would love to visit when i am home in East Anglia.
Enjoyed your article in the weekend FT.
We have a mutual friend in Bobby ( GOrmad St ex lambs Conduit)

Nicki dembysays:

Another Ben Pentreath first. No other blog has brought tears to my eyes with the sheer ravishing beauty of the photographs. Dearest Ben thank you for your generosity in sharing such wonderful moments.

Ben, what a ravishing post!! The view of the canal–to die for *sigh* especially the view of its evening blues through the window, upping the warmth of the lamplit walls inside. (RE the drawing room–I find the blank over-mantel a bit disconcerting–difficult as it would be to be disconcerted in such a serene room.) Thanks for sharing your visit!

It’s interesting, your mention of the dowager Duchess of Devonshire–I’ve been on a Mitford binge for ages now (with side excursions to E. Waugh and Edwardian country houses) and it seems I keep coming across references to them! Any chance you could obtain and share Debo’s recipe with us??

Thanks also for the lovely photos of emerging Spring. It’s still snowing here in western Pennsylvania, USA. Not for too much longer, I hope!




Diane I will do my best to obtain the Debo recipe!!! 😉

you have once again given this landlocked anglophile a glimpse of heaven.
a virtual trip to england.
and england said on purpose. the real england of my dreams. and a reminder of my only one real all too brief visit so far.


Thanks Tammy!

Debs Evanssays:

Dear Ben,

It is indeed lovely! I’m so glad you also noted the fab garden below the church with its wonderful hot air ballon basket – weeding on an epic scale! No idea who gardens here but it is among my favourites in late spring.


Thank you most indeedly, Ben, for the paint colour. I did take myself off to the David Oliver site after reading your post and didn’t find it, but I’ll now put it in the mental pending tray and re-visit until it appears.

(I have shamefacedly to admit that I just failed the sweetCaptcha IQ test when trying to leave this comment. Is an orange technically a seed, I wonder…).

I had forgotten Erith had worked for Hicks on The Temple, though I did recall that he had designed an estate manager’s house and two cottages for Hicks at Britwell Salome, in the early seventies. They are illustrated in Lucy Archer’s book on her father, p210. I was also wondering if ‘The Temple’ was an inspiration for the garage building at King’s Walden Bury, the house Erith designed in the late sixties for the Pilkingtons. There is a marked similarity.

Ok, now we are officially (quoting Scarlett O’Hara)
“Pea Green with envy”. Love


I don’t suppose that somewhere in the midsts (and mists) of all the tangibly melancholic woodlands (bliss), the gins and dowerly puds, the talk of this and that, mention was made of what the glorious pink in the drawing room is called and from whom it is bought? I know Cyril Connolly didn’t speak of paint colours (mere bagatelles after all) but some of us must scamper after them because we have hallways that need to be pink but which are grey. And pinks like that ain’t a dime a dozen and don’t come along like number nine buses.


Ah!!! It’s ‘Temple Pink’ in the New David Oliver paint library collection… not sure if it is out yet…

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