Our long love affair with Tudor architecture
These houses from a more confident age were built to last. We explore the attraction of beams and inglenook fireplaces.
Is it the diamond-paned windows? The distinctive wooden frame? The intricate brick patterns, the fanciful chimney, the fireplace, or perhaps a jettied storey above an imposing front door?
Tudor is an architectural style much maligned over the centuries, reinvented by the mid-Victorians and churned out as desirable in thousands of 20th-century mock-Tudor suburbs. In its original form, though, it epitomises a country that was economically thriving and confident in its global position. Perhaps that is why we look at it so wistfully.
“Tudor architecture is some of the most iconic in English history,” says Bruce King, the director of Cheffins estate agency. “Glamorised by programmes such as Wolf Hall and The Tudors, these properties have been brought to the TV screens of the nation. While not to everyone’s taste, few can deny the desirability of large fireplaces and elaborate brickwork.”
So aside from a set of stunning sales brochure photographs, what really makes a Tudor house appealing?
Nick and Elizabeth Harper, who are selling Tudor Cottage in Sandwich, Kent, believe it is the pure pleasure of living in a building of the period. “It breathes its history,” Elizabeth says. “It has such a warm feeling to it. It’s so pleasurable to look for things to decorate the house, and that is part of the enjoyment. The challenge is to make it relevant. It’s not
a museum, so you have to keep a balance between the history and modern living.”
As Robin Gould, the director of the buying agency Prime Purchase, says: “Many people buy very old houses thinking they will adapt them to suit their lifestyle, but if it is grade II* listed or more, you will have to adapt because you won’t be able to knock down walls and create a big open-plan kitchen. A minimalist look doesn’t work in a Tudor house.”
The Harpers’ home, which has three bedrooms, a double-aspect reception/dining room, a sitting room and a courtyard garden, is timber-framed and full of period character. It is on the market for £425,000. The couple, who are retired, are hoping to move to France.
The Cinque Port of Sandwich, like many places with a plethora of Tudor buildings, is something of a time capsule. Such pockets are dotted about the country, telling their tale of trade
links long extinct and industries half-forgotten. Lavenham, in Suffolk, once the centre of the wool trade, Chester and York have some particular gems.
“Sandwich was a very old, important port, until the river silted up,” Elizabeth says. “People didn’t have the time or the money to knock down the houses and rebuild, so that’s why there are so many Tudor examples left.”
Another Tudor home for sale in the town is Bayze House, which has four bedrooms, double-jettied elevations on two sides and a ground floor that includes the original shopfront and is on sale for £599,000 with Colebrook Sturrock. Its name — deriving from baize cloth — is likely to represent the trade of its original occupants.
The important thing to know about Tudor, in architecturural terms, is that it bridges three centuries, from 1485 to 1603. The classic black-and-white timbered cottage is only one style that emerged in that time.
The Tudor era was one of great social change in England and encompasses a period that the historian WG Hoskins calls The Great Rebuilding, when improved economic conditions allowed a nationwide construction and home improvement boom.
This led to new building techniques, including the widespread use of brick. Up to this point, most houses were designed using natural materials found close to hand, such as local stone and wood. An outstanding example of this Tudor trend is at Brereton Hall, near Congleton in Cheshire. This grade I listed country home was built in 1586 and was one of the first Elizabethan brick mansions to be constructed in the county. The mansion is a prodigy house, designed to showcase the wealth and power of Sir William Brereton, a rich landowner. With 12 bedrooms, ten bathrooms and standing in 113 acres, it is on sale for £4.95 million through Jackson-Stops & Staff.
It was not only the countryside that benefited from the boom. Tudor was also the first identifiable style of urban architecture in England. This is evident in a four-bedroom timbered house for sale on the High Street in Warwick, which has open fireplaces and winding staircases reminiscent of a fairytale. It is on sale for £600,000 with RA Bennett & Partners. Believed to be one of the few properties to have survived the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694, it opens on to the street, but has a decent walled garden at the rear. Even urban plots were designed to allow occupants to be self-sufficient in vegetables and livestock.
These stunning properties that we swoon over are among the most outstanding buildings of their time, says Trevor Yorke, the author of Tudor Houses Explained (Countryside Books, £5.95). “Tudor houses that are still standing tend to be those built for the wealthier customers of the period, the homes of the mass of peasants having long since gone.”
For anyone thinking of buying a Tudor property there are considerations to bear in mind, such as restrictions imposed by the listed status and general maintenance and upkeep costs. However, any investment will bring commensurate returns when one comes to sell.
“Classic Tudor properties will always be in demand,” says Philip Harvey, the managing partner at the independent buying agency Property Vision. “Mock-Tudor houses are as out of fashion now as they were when they were invented — it has to be the real thing. A Tudor yeoman’s house is a glorious thing to behold, and plenty of people living in them have no idea what a gem they’ve stumbled upon.”