A new interpretation project at Paycocke’s House has just been completed, revealing the history of this Tudor house in a way that seeks to make sense of the unknown.
Five years ago, Paycocke’s in Coggeshall was a tenanted residence, now it’s open to visitors five-days-a-week. With visitors arriving in their thousands each year, we knew we needed to improve the way we revealed the story of this house. So we asked House Manager, Karen Marchlik, to tell us how the team have done it…
The history of Paycocke’s is both varied and mysterious, going from humble medieval butcher’s dwelling to a grand wool merchant’s home and business premises; from shabby Victorian tenements to carriage haulier’s shop and store-rooms; and finally from restored tenanted town house to somewhere visitors today can experience their heritage.
Susannah Elliott and Jane Roberts who worked with the National Trust to deliver the award-winning Ickworth Lives project have helped us deliver another fascinating experience for visitors. The new scheme devised by them focuses on the two people most important in the House’s story – Thomas Paycocke, the wealthy Tudor wool merchant who built the flamboyant north front and Noel Buxton, the brilliant liberal politician who from 1905 spent 20 years restoring the house his family owned centuries before.
The first thing to do was to distill the story of the building and its people and we have displayed this history on colourful woollen banners in the rooms. These are a nod both to Thomas Paycocke’s great wealth, accumulated through the East Anglian wool trade, and to late medieval wall hangings.
Thomas Paycocke’s Study has been completely re-displayed, taking it right back to the office of this important Tudor man of business, with the set-dressing of objects to add detail. Cutting-edge technology has been used with energy-efficient flickering lightbulbs mounted in wax candlesticks. Throughout the House the lighting has been improved to make it more period-appropriate and to make greater use of light and shade to create mood and atmosphere.
Upstairs arguably the most exciting room is the simplest – in the Ante Chamber samples of wool-cloth believed to be as close as possible to the ‘Coggeshall-whites’ that made this town famous are draped over timber frames. This is in part an art installation and in part a reference to the commercial use of the House as a business premises. Either way it makes a big impact on visitors with the light shining through the cloths in channels. It also refers to the vertical stepladder that used to allow access up to the floor above.
Placed around the House are free-standing displays that tell the story of different people connected with the House using a variety of objects, documents and pictures. The one (pictured below) in a gardener’s box tells us about Miriam Noel, the wife of Buxton’s cousin Conrad. She was a keen gardener who set out the Arts and Crafts garden in the early twentieth century.
The passing of messages has been subtle yet effective, the bedspread upstairs sums up the spirit of Paycocke’s whilst around the table cloth of the dining table in the Chamber (which looks like a scene from Wolf Hall) are listed the many duties of a Tudor wife in managing the home. The table is set for two, a reference to the sad fact that with neither of his two wives was Thomas Paycocke able to see a child, his daughter being born shortly after his death.
The volunteers have been instrumental in shaping the detail of this project. Their research and sense-checking has been invaluable for elements such as the architectural folders for those wanting to delve deeper. These tell the story of the real star – the building itself.
There has never been a better time to visit Paycocke’s. We hope you like the new experience and we’d love to know what you think on your next visit to us.