Caroline welcomes weddings, operas and visitors every year to Crow’s Hall – but always only a handful. Even from the earliest days of sharing her home, her philosophy has been to keep things personal and special. Read more
EADT Suffolk Magazine’s Tessa Allingham met Caroline Spurrier around the time or her early adventures into events and weddings at the magnificent moated Crow’s Hall.
“There’s nothing like the prospect of visitors to get you mucking out, is there?” Surfaces in Caroline Spurriers’ Aga-warm kitchen are largely an irrelevance. Household paraphernalia and towering heaps of paperwork compete for space with house plants clinging to life, lots and lots of packs of Trebor mints – presumably treats for the horses – and back issues of Horse and Hound. It’s a busy, welcoming place.
A briskly efficient rummage brings to light a brochure, brand new, very classy and designed to present Caroline’s’ home to visitors. “The designer has done such a good job. He really understands me and what I am trying to achieve here.”
Which is what? Caroline, who is engaging, funny, friendly and whose pair of rescue Westies and Molly the greyhound, are rarely far from her side, lives at Crow’s Hall, Debenham, a moated Tudor manor house set on a rise above the Deben Valley. The silence and views are unnervingly lovely. Horses – she has four and these are her first passion if the photographs around her house are anything to go by – graze the pasture beyond the moat, and a barn owl pauses fleetingly on a post. This is a special part of Suffolk.
It’s been Caroline’s part of Suffolk since 2005 when she bought the dilapidated hall following the sale of her family home, Easton Lodge in Great Dunmow, Essex. Over recent years she has renovated and extended it to create a home that’s as comfortable inside as it is spectacular form the outside.
And it’s a place that Caroline is eager to share. At the time of our meeting, she was about to receive the first Invitation to View visitors of the year, followed by the return of the London Festival Opera to perform arias from Bizet’s Carmen, and afternoon of live jazz, and the fifth annual Country Fayre. She also has an August wedding in the Great Barn in the diary.
“I’ve got Invitation to View down to a T now,” she says. I tidy up, get in the cakes, and open the door. We have about 30 visitors at a time. Often people just want a good nose, some just come to look at the curtains, but that’s fine. I’m the custodian of a lovely historic building and it’s fun to share it with interested people. And it pays the gardener!”
“ What’s unique about the visits scheme is that these are private homes that are rarely open, and it’s usually the owners that show visitors around. The idea is that visitors feel like personal guests and see far more than on a conventional guided tour.”
Occasionally, visitors turn out to be knowledgeable, Caroline pauses by an enormous picture of two girls, aged around 10 or 12, Daisy, Caroline’s great grandmother, is on a pony, her younger sister Blanche stands next to her. It’s a picture Caroline and her mother found at Christie’s back in 1981 and one that her family had previously owned. ”One very elderly lady visitor stopped at this picture and said ‘I’ve met her.’ It turned out she had indeed met Daisy (Countess of Warwick, the famous beauty, socialist socialite, and lover of Prince Edward, later to become Edward VII). Daisy was very involved in the early women’s rights movement and set up Studley College in 1898, an agricultural college for women. The lady had studied at the college many years ago. It was incredible to hear that connection.”
It later transpired that the picture was by a Suffolk artist who had family connection with Debenham. ”It’s definitely back in the its rightful place!” says Caroline.
As a chill wind whistles and dead leaves swirl, it takes an enormous leap of faith and imagination to picture a summer reception here. But shut your eyes, forget the functional lighting, sacks of fertiliser and the trailer that are stored here through winter and you an impossibly romantic spot. The beams that hold the magnificent structure are subtly lit, maybe softly draped and be-flowered, tables are laid with sparling glassware and there’s a carpeted floor. “You really do need some vision!” Caroline admits, laughing. “Some people might be a bit daunted, but it really does look beautiful done for a wedding.”
While Caroline is instinctively developing her approach to weddings along similar lines. “I’d like to do maybe eight a year, no more,“ she says. “I want to keep it low-key, personal. I’m not interested in becoming a mass market venue with back to back bookings. “
Crow’s Hall Suffolk wedding barn venue»
The fee includes the hire of the vast vaulted Great Barn – apparently the longest barn in Suffolk – for a whole week, and there is the option for the bride and groom and maybe a few key guests to stay overnight in the house.”
Crow’s Hall Weddings – Exclusive full week venue-only hire »
The annual visit of the London Festival Opera has become a highlight in the Suffolk calendar as well as a valuable fundraiser for various charities, this year the children’s cancer charity, Clic Sargent. The following day’s live jazz raised money for St Mary’s Church, Debenham.
Keeping Crow’s Hall in good repair and developing – but not over-developing – the opportunities it offers is clearly a life project for Caroline, and immensely demanding. “Sometimes when we were working on the brochure or some aspect of marketing I would go a bit glazed or my mind would drift.” She laughs at the memory. “He’s so lovely, my designer would say ‘off you go, Caroline, time you to get on your horse’. No doubt the designer didn’t need to repeat his suggestion for Caroline to be out enjoying a long, head-clearing ride. After all, it’s either that or mucking out.
Feature published EADT Suffolk Magazine June 2013.