Crow’s Hall barn, moated manor and gardens make for one amazing backdrop for wedding celebrations. But every year, there are other dramatic goings on at this stunning remote home.
Could this smart, classic venue actually be Suffolk’s Glyndebourne?
Anne Gould from a regional East Anglian magazine talked to Crow’s Hall owner, Caroline Spurrier, a few years ago and shortly after renovations at Crow’s Hall were completed.
Since then through annual opera offerings, the Suffolk venue is slowly edging its way onto that elite list which also includes Glyndebourne and Stanley Hall in Essex.
There’s the unpredictable vagaries of our English summer to contend with, sorting out endless supplies of Pimms and strawberries and not least clearing out a barn that’s been used as a fertiliser store all winter.
For Caroline Spurrier though hosting La Traviata in her barn has only one aim – to help raise money for the Suffolk Foundation.
As the owner of the recently renovated 16th century Crow’s Hall in Debenham, she’s also keen to share her unique, unspoilt and quite magnificent home with others.
Beautiful Backdrop: Crow’s Hall moated manor house »
Already it’s on an elite list of 54 historic ‘Invitation to View’ Houses and gardens throughout East Anglia, last month it hosted a country fayre and there’s a jazz event coming up too.
“In many ways the notion of hosting a charity opera in your back garden is something quite extraordinary, challenging and delightfully British. I want to use Crow’s Hall as more than just a private house without going down the commercial venue and lots of weddings route. Opera seemed a good idea.
This is the second London Festival Opera to be held on her property – last year they put on The Magic Flute and despite the rain everyone managed to squeeze into the barn for their picnics at the end of the evening and a good time was had by all.
This year hopefully the weather will hold off not least because the moated grounds of Crow’s Hall are quite magnificent.
Beautiful Backdrop: Xa Tollemache designed gardens at Crow’s Hall »
Of course, in part that’s down to the stunning architecture created by Charles Framlingham who built the house back in 1559.
But Crow’s Hall as opera goers will see it in June is as much down to the hard work and dedication of Caroline and her team of architects and builders who pulled the property back from the brink some 440 years later.
She explained that when she purchased the hall back in 2005 there were gaping holes in the roof and like many old homes new plumbing and wiring had to be installed.But making all these repairs to a grade II listed building sensitively and with regard to the history and modern sensibilities require skill, patience and courage. It was a gargantuan task and it’s little wonder that she was an approach by a TV company to film the restoration.
“I can’t remember whether it was Grand Designs or Country House Rescue, but I decided that as we were going to complete on time and on budget it would not make good television”.
The work was so extensive that she made the decision to use new rather than reclaimed materials, but the craftsmanship involved has been of the very highest quality, so it’s worked brilliantly well – in fact the renovation is so good that it has won awards.
Now that the interior is finished she’s working on establishing Tudor knot gardens – seeing what works and what doesn’t.
Beautiful Backdrop: Tudor Knot Gardens at Crow’s Hall »
But the interesting thing is that the longer she has lived at Crow’s Hall, the more she realises that she has an affinity with the place.
“The money to build the property in the first place was inherited from Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick known as Warwick the King Maker. “I am the great grand daughter of another Earl of Warwick and it was my inheritance that I used to renovate Crow’s Hall, “ she explained. But there’s more – hanging in her drawing room is a magnificent old picture of two girls in front of a castle. “My mother and I found it at Christies in 1981. It had previously belonged to our family and shows my ancestors Blanche and Daisy Maynard. And it turns out this picture was painted by a Suffolk artist who had family in Debenham.”
Finally upstairs on third floor is a beautiful old rocking horse that had been purchased in the 1980s in London, but soon after fell apart. “It fell to bits and I took it to a restorers who repaired it but unknown to me made a copy for use in a BBC drama. Imagine how I felt when I discovered it was filmed at Crow’s Hall.”
Caroline’s research on the history of the hall is ongoing but in the meantime she’s focusing on getting vaulted barn, the longest in Suffolk, ready for the opera.
Beautiful Backdrop: Crow’s Hall 13th Century Long Barn »
“All the fertiliser is out and we’ll be putting in a red carpet and there will be drapes on the walls and tickets are starting to sell. Last year it was just friends and their friends that came along, but word has started to grow a people from further afield who I’ve never heard of before are buying tables for ten, at £550 apiece. It will be a good evening. ”
Feature published Faces & Places/ Essentials Magazine Suffolk (June 2011).