Artistic flair

Hilldrop House

Hilldrop House - Credit: Archant

Home to a famous artist during World War II, Hilldrop House in Helions Bumpstead has many a claim to fame its owners can be proud of, writes Pat Bramley

Dining room

Dining room - Credit: Archant

The walls of Hilldrop House, Colin and Carol Hogarth’s home at Helions Bumpstead, are covered in pictures.

Two have special significance.

Most are copies but among the originals is a painting of a pie and mash shop in the East End of London where the couple grew up.

‘Colin still loves pie and mash,’ laughs his wife. ‘He used to buy it from a shop close to his parents’ home near Broadway Market. This picture brings back childhood memories, so it had to be the original. The style is a bit naïve, but we like it.’

The other picture which stands out from the rest because of its associations is a photograph of an original painting of Hilldrop House by a boy who lived there with his sister as child evacuees during World War II.

The painting is by Peter Blake, now Sir Peter Blake, regarded throughout the art world as the father of Brit Pop Art. The Royal Academician is now 82, but people like him never retire.

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Carol says she and Colin knew nothing about the link with the famous artist, whose best known works are the record sleeves for the Beatles’ album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the original 1984 release of Bob Geldof’s Band ? Aid hit single Do They Know It’s Christmas, not until she found two strangers on the doorstep.

‘No-one who knows us ever comes to the front door,’ she says, ‘they always come through the back. If anyone comes to the front door, they won’t have been here before.’One of the strangers who rang the front door bell turned out to be the grandson of the lady who gave young Peter and Shirley Blake a home away from the bombing raids on London in the 1940s. Carol says they were delighted to meet him and they’ve since become friends.

‘He was very close to his grandmother and has fond memories of staying with her. He lives in Somerset now, but comes back to the village from time to time.

On one of his visits, he told us, he met a cousin who showed him a painting of the outside of the house signed by Peter Blake dated 1948. He’d already sent us a photograph of a painting he’d done of our hall.’

Carol and Colin bought the house 31 years ago, the same year that Peter painted the cover for Do They Know It’s Christmas. The day they moved in, Susie, the younger of their two daughters, was ten days old.

Previously they’d been living in a one-bedroom cottage in the neighbouring village of Steeple Bumpstead. ‘The cottage was lovely but we needed

more space,’ Carol says. ‘We also wanted something with character. I’ve always lived in an old house since I was born.’

She adds: ‘We viewed a lot of places, some further afield, but there was always a drawback. In the end we decided we wanted to stay close enough to where

we lived before, so the girls could still go to the school there. Steeple Bumpstead has a very good primary school. Most of the children in this village use it — there’s a bus but you can walk there — and there’s also a bus to a very good secondary school in Saffron Walden.

‘It’s always a priority when you’re moving house and you have children.

The first question is, what about the schools. That was certainly important to us.’

Helions Bumpstead is two miles from the Cambridgeshire and Suffolk borders. Carol enjoys the close-knit community of a small village. Like most places, the locals have a common bond in protecting their amenities. ‘Until recently we had a very nice pub. Unfortunately it’s closed, but the village is trying to buy it.’

As for the house, Carol continues:

‘We could see it needed work, but it ticked our boxes and it was within our price range.’ It has three bedrooms, two reception rooms and a lovely garden.

‘We were able to move in while we did the remedial work. We put a new floor in the dining room and two new ceilings upstairs. We’ve refitted the kitchen and bathroom and we’ve done quite a lot of work to the outside, but we haven’t made any structural changes inside.’

One of the improvements was the conversion of a couple of outbuildings. Both are now weatherboarded.

Carol adds: ‘One was originally a stable and the other was where they kept a pony trap. The stable has become a garage and the shed where they kept the pony trap now houses the central heating boiler. There was no central heating when we came here.’

The couple are not sure exactly how old the house is, but they think it’s early Victorian. The sash windows and most of the doors are original. Under the rendering there’s a timber frame.

‘Some of the houses around here are brick built, but most of the older ones are timber-framed because timber was readily available and cheaper than brick.’ From day one the Hogarths entered into village life to the full. Carol helped to form a garden club and, along with other keen gardeners in the village, she opens the garden at Hilldrop House to the public most years.

Each year she’s pitched in to help clear the churchyard of leaves in the autumn too.

Carol laughs: ‘One year one of my daughters got in the way of my pitchfork. Her foot soon recovered. She was fine.’

Both girls now live in London. Both went to the local schools and now have demanding careers. Victoria is a Cambridge graduate and a qualified art historian. She works as a speech and language therapist. Susie has a degree in English literature from UCL. She’s an artist — maybe she picked up the vibes from Peter Blake. When she isn’t painting murals or working on commissions as a designer, she’s a behavioural analyst.

Last November Carol retired from her job as technical director for a City-based global insurance broker. With her husband retired too and both in their

60s, suddenly they’re free to plan the next stage of their lives.

When he was working, Colin also travelled up to the City from time to time. Like Carol he caught the train into Liverpool Street from the station at Audley End, a 20-minutes drive away.

‘It was an easy commute,’ he says. But those days are now behind them.

‘We fancy living by the sea,’ Carol reports, her eyes lighting up. ‘We’re looking for a house in Devon.’

Now it’s for sale

Hilldrop House is for sale through Mullucks Wells in Saffron Walden for a guide price £355,000. Call 01799 520520 for more details.