Arts and crafts, rock ‘n’ roll or Rebel spirit
- Credit: Angela Sharpe
Sitting at the kitchen table at Voewood House it is impossible not to be distracted. Intriguing, amusing, strange art and curios fill every space – from stuffed birds in a glass case to a tiny sketch of a chimpanzee in a ruff and a Marmite sign.
Intriguing, amusing, strange art and curios fill every space - from stuffed birds in a glass case to a tiny sketch of a chimpanzee in a ruff and a Marmite sign.
It has been called “an arts and crafts house with a rock ‘n’ roll spirit” and there cannot be a more fitting description of this spellbinding house, hidden among the woods on the edge of Holt.
Shaped like a butterfly, it is a fascinating, exciting place where grand country house architecture and scale is tempered by an extraordinary sense of fun and creativity which gives it an informal, lived-in feel.
As owner Simon Finch emerges from his studio, dressed in a checked Vivienne Westwood suit, it is not hard to see where Voewood’s modern day rebellious streak comes from.
“I saw the estate agents’ details on a friend’s coffee table and just had to see it. I had a puppy and toddler in tow, and I knew straight away that I wanted it, it was just working out how. Anyway, I was on my way home and realised I had forgotten the puppy. When I returned he seemed so happy there, I thought this is meant to be and put in an offer. Even though it was a mess I was totally blown away. It is magical.”
When Simon bought the house 16 years ago, he became its first private owner. Built in the early 1900s, the house had always been an institution of some type, including a private boys’ school and convalescence home.
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The architecture inside is as stunning as it is out. It is a maze of rooms, nooks, crannies and staircases, none of which are ever the same. Walls are curved with ceilings at all angles and there are beautifully restored original features at every turn. But what makes it extra special is the life Simon has breathed into it. The walls are full of art, from all centuries and of all styles - from an early original Peter Blake and a rare David Bowie poster to a huge reproduction of The Last Supper.
“This my Vladimir Tretchikoff room,” he laughs, as we explore another bedroom with walls full of the Russian’s iconic paintings. “The art is mostly mine; I am passionate about all styles, it is just what I like. But I also think this house is a work of art and I want people to see it.”
This month he is preparing to host the fourth annual Voewood Festival, which has become a staple addition to Norfolk’s arts calendar. “It is such an intimate festival, I love the fact the artists all mix with the crowd, it is like a big garden party,” he says.
With his own back story as an antiquarian book dealer, club owner and publisher, living all over the world, he is not short of famous contacts.
“I always loved putting creative people together and many of the people we bring here are friends or people who I have managed to persuade to come through various connections I have. But there are also some amazing talented writers and artists in Norfolk - too many to mention - and it has been a real surprise to me. Ultimately, everyone just has a lot of fun, including me. I play guitar so I am very excited as Glen Matlock says he will let me go on stage with him and do one song with him; he has me under strict instructions though.”
His book selling career began in childhood and, having moved from London permanently, he now runs his book shop Simon Finch Norfolk in Holt.
“Even as a child, I was passionate about books. The first rare one I bought was when I was aged 12 - it was signed copy of Tennyson. It cost me £5 but I quite liked Victorian poetry at that time,” he says. “By 19 I was dealing in books. I just wanted to find the best I could, I wanted to hold them in my hands. I have had the first folio of Shakespeare and my dream is to get a first edition of Don Quixote, it is virtually impossible though.”
He is in the process of writing his memoirs – and they are likely to be a riotous read.
“I have already got a lot of material. I ran away with a woman after the Glastonbury Festival when I was 15, I then spent a lot of time travelling around the world by the seat of my pants before returning to university. That was just the start,” he laughs.
As we prepare for a walk around the grounds, he ponders his dream acts for Voewood in the future: “I would love to get Nick Cave or Patti Smith, that would be a lot of fun.”
This year’s Voewood Festival features an impressive and eclectic line up – from Midge Ure, Sex Pistols co-founder Glen Matlock, Peter Hook and teenage singer Sacha Luffman to writers and broadcasters Philip Ardagh, Eimar Mcbride, Katie Puckrik, Chris Salewicz and Mick Wall. Here’s just a few of Simon Finch’s top picks:
Jodi Ann Bickley
“Her book, One Million Lovely Letters is in an inspiration conceived and executed with the soul of a poet. At just 22 she was struck down with a serious brain infection. Unwilling to be defeated by her illness she continued to leave lovely letters where people might pick them up and draw inspiration. Her health is still not perfect and I speak for all here when I say how grateful we are that she is coming.”
“On 16 August 1969, Mike Heron played the legendary Woodstock Festival as a member of The Incredible String Band, arriving in a helicopter with Ravi Shankar. We are honoured to be hosting him in Norfolk exactly 45 years later, almost to the minute.”
Louisa Young and Owen Sheers
“Novelist Louisa Young and poet Owen Sheers both write with compassion and realism about the true human cost of war. Louisa will be talking about her Costa Award shortlisted novel My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You, and its sequel, The Heroes’ Return.
Owen’s collection of verse, Skirrid Hill, won a Somerset Maugham Award and the drama Pink Mist, was commissioned by Radio Four. I am so looking forward to their event. It will be illuminating while pulling no punches.”
DBC Pierre and Martin Parr
“Martin Parr is one of Britain’s best known documentary photographers and DBC Pierre is an iconoclastic and powerful novelist whose first novel, Vernon God Little, won The Booker Prize. We are publishing a book – the first effort of The Voewood Press – of Martin’s fantastic photographs from the festival with an introduction by DBC Pierre. I can think of no better combination to open this year’s proceedings.”
Voewood Festival runs from Friday, August 15 to Sunday, August 17; ticket information, www.voewoodfestival.com; 01603 598636.