Through the keyhole: Appletree Cottage, Saxlingham
- Credit: Archant
Tony Hall visits a classic home nestled in the Norfolk countryside
"One of the big joys of living here in such a lovely village as this," says Chris Clements, "is the beautiful architecture of the properties, spanning the centuries, and the rolling, undulating surrounding countryside, which reminds me so much of the West Country where I was born and brought up."
Chris came to Norfolk with his family when he was 14 years old, as his father joined Jarrolds on the publishing side. He went on to Norwich City College, then Keswick Hall for teacher training and when qualified it was back to home territory in Torrington, Devon, for his first teaching job.
He moved around the country gaining experience, finding himself at Bridport in Dorset as a deputy head and ready to look for a headship. And with mum and dad still in Norfolk he headed east. "I was successful in gaining that position at Blofield School, a very happy, very good school, with a great team where I then stayed for 29 years, retiring on a high in 2010."
Stephen, Chris's partner, is a Norfolk boy who went to the Sir Thomas Moore school in Norwich. He then joined well-known local company Arthur Brett as a trainee cabinet maker.
"My grandparents were hoteliers," says Stephen. "They were very much into hospitality and were also interested in the theatre. Often artists would stay with them during their performances.
"That influence must have brushed off as I enrolled for the Saturday morning speech and drama workshops, meeting performers and crew. Being creative and interested in performance guided me to a hair and make-up two-year course at Great Yarmouth College.
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"I was then thinking of going to work on a cruise liner, but one of the tutors who had a Norwich hairdressing business offered me a job.
"Luck was on my side as, three years later, he decided to sell the business, which I bought. I have now owned West One in Old Costessey for 37 years. I have also been involved in hairdressing for location filming for Anglia Television and on special effects for films such as Terra Nova and Scott of the Antarctic. I am more recently also involved in wigs and prosthetics for clients after surgery, or for cosmetic reasons, alongside theatre and TV work."
In 2002, Chris and Stephen bought their first home in the village together, Stephen previously living in a Victorian Colman's House in Norwich. Over the following years, they used to walk past Appletree Cottage and decided, should it ever come on the market, they would try and buy it.
"We knew the owners, Mike and Jane. When they decided to move next door to the old local store and post office, we jumped at the opportunity," says Chris. "A fascinating fact is that the cottage built in 1628, was then acquired in 1813 by William Whiting, a school teacher, and it became the first private school in the village. The school closed in 1833. So it was a case of history coming full circle. With my love of history and architecture, it was totally fulfilling a dream."
"It is such a pretty, quintessentially English period cottage," says Stephen. As a very keen cook I was particularly struck by the Rayburn, as I love making and baking cakes and scones. I think you will agree that it has a very serene and cosy atmosphere and guests say it's just as you imagine, out of a fairy tale book."
I ask how they went about choosing the interior design and style. "That was so enjoyable," continues Stephen. "I was very involved in theatre set building and design and we both enjoy rummaging through antique and junk shops.
"We also have family heirlooms. The big event was having to take out the main upstairs window to get the sofa in. The man who did it was an expert!"
Downstairs, besides a spacious rear courtyard, this picturesque cottage has a large entrance hall leading onto an open plan kitchen and dining room with a door to the front garden. There is also a lovely double bedroom.
"We both love all the beams and period features," says Stephen, " but the big surprise and our favourite room is the living room, upstairs, with its lofty elevations to the apex, the chimney breast and the oak plank floorboards reputed to be from ships' timbers.
"There is also an other double bedroom up here. In addition to our antique finds we also find interesting items at Crocks in Bungay. We are spoilt for great walks as there are over 11 miles of walks around the village.
"With our love of history, Norwich Cathedral is a must and for contrast a visit to Southwold, looking around the shops and Adnams.
"Away from the madding crowd Bungay, with all the independent retailers, especially in Earsham Street, is a regular place to visit, with the countryside between here and there our favourite part of this county," says Stephen.
"Opposite Appletree Cottage is the village war memorial and shelter. It was commissioned by Lady Steward, who lived at the Old Hall. She loved the buttercross in Castle Combe, Wiltshire, so much she had it made as a duplicate. Another West Country connection.
"We have an abundance of wildlife, around, says Chris, "as we are surrounded by two country estates, so a very natural environment, so a proper rural village feel, yet we are only 15 minutes from John Lewis in Norwich, the best of all worlds. Saxlingham Nethergate is a great community and we both agree it's a very good place to call home."
Appletree Cottage, Saxlingham Nethergate, is available for holiday lettings through Norfolk Cottages at Holt, 01263 715799. norfolkcottages.co.uk