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Reydon House

Knighted by Queen Elizabeth I

Another Hall that would have had the fire in the centre and the smoke winding up towards the rafters is Reydon House, between Chameleon House and the Bookmakers. This tall ‘raised aisle hall’ was probably built a century after the one in Old Market Place, and typically, runs at a right angle to the Thoroughfare, behind the Georgian frontage. This would have been in the mid 1400s, during the time of The White Queen and the Wars of the Roses. Again the local lord would have had his followers eating at the tables further down his hall according to their status. They would have all slept upon rushes upon the floor in a communal fashion. But one innovation was the creation of the ‘solar’; a bedroom for the ladies of the hall. A partial floor was added so they could withdraw from the hustle, bustle, noise and smells of the rest of the group and be alone, the ‘sole’ occupants of it. There is still the outline of their window inside the house, from which they would have gazed down upon the rest of their group, perhaps commenting upon the behaviour below.

Yet it was probably in the 1500s, when ‘communal hall living’ had gone out of fashion, that floors were inserted right across the hall and then sub-divided into rooms. Chimneys were installed and fireplaces built. A beautiful wooden ceiling was built beneath the old rafters above a fine staircase installed to lead to the additional bedrooms opposite the older solar.

At the rear of the hall, typical of mediaeval times, lay a long, wide strip of land. In some places these provided space for industries of various natures but here it was a splendid garden, a statement of wealth and importance. Perhaps this is why it was chosen to be the town house of the local lord of the manor Thomas Gawdy, who had married into greater wealth and purchased the moated house at Redenhall that then took his name as Gawdy Hall. Thomas arrived here in 1567, one of an executive group of barristers called ‘Sergeants at Arms’ who could also be judges in certain courts, all of which took place in Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster where the Houses of Parliament are now. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth I in 1578 and died ten years later at Gawdy Hall, in the year of the Armada. He is buried in St. Mary’s church, Redenhall, and the helmet carried at his funeral procession still hangs above his tomb.

Reydon House continued to be altered by subsequent generations living there. In the 1600’s, when the bright but superstitious King James I ruled, the inhabitants scratched marks onto the bresumer beam above the fireplace to ward off evil. Following James’ book on the subject of witches this became very popular, as folk believed it wasn’t Santa Claus who came down the chimney but evil creatures. The beam in the kitchen’s dining area has several such marks.

As the centuries passed, as needs for servants and butlers evolved, corridors were created but later removed, leaving traces in differing patterns of tiles in the floors and a variety of cupboards and small rooms.  There is evidence of early metal rimmed windows and some of the earliest sash windows remain. In the 1700s, in line with much of Harleston, it became fashionable and a statement of one’s position in society, to re-front the house.  Whereas, in earlier times, it was fashionable to demonstrate one’s wealth through showing how many oak or elm timbers could be afforded by having them as close together as possible and on display, now it was seen as necessary to have a brick front and lines of neat, long, rectangular windows rather than short mullioned ones.  If brick wasn’t used, perhaps because it couldn’t be afforded or might have been regarded as not-quite-right, then the timber frontages were lime plastered over, which allows the timber beneath to ‘breathe’.  Sometimes a new frontage might be built, but in the old, timber framed style, and plastered over.  The red brick houses opposite have a lovely Georgian frontage of brick, and the front rooms and corridor are tall, but behind this the houses are a composite of various buildings from the 1600s.

Yet Reydon has, at the rear, fine examples of diapered brickwork, alternating dark and lighter colours, but just covering the old timber frame.  There are also some signatures carefully etched into the glass on the first floor windows dated 1728 and a curious message in the same hand just stating, ‘going home now’.

View the official Historic England Listing.


This building features in our walking routes: Harleston Highlights, Mayflower Harleston and Educating Harleston.


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