Built in the mid 15th century, Valley Farm is a fine example of a medieval, open hall house. A Grade 1 listed building, Valley Farm was probably built by a wealthy clothier and mixed farmer and after that occupied by generations of clothiers. The mid 15th century saw clothiers in East Bergholt (and in other villages along the River Stour) becoming very wealthy. When the Cloth Trade declined (the Old Draperies had almost stopped by 1600), the house would have become a farmhouse for the major farm in Flatford. Research shows that Valley Farm formed part of a local manor called Illaries. Its Grade I status reflects the historic interest of the building and its extra significance as part of the Flatford Mill group. For more information about the listing of Valley Farm – British Listed Buildings
Outside Valley Farm
The gaps between the timbers would have been sealed with wattle/daub and the whole of the outside timber frame would have been covered in lime plaster to preserve the timber frame – whilst allowing the whole building to breathe.
Inside Valley Farm
Valley Farm was called an ‘open hall house’ because there was no upper floor, the central hall being open up to the roof rafters. Originally the fire in the room would have been laid on the floor with the smoke going up through the roof. A ‘hall house’ like Valley Farm consisted of four parts:
- The open hall itself, a large space in the centre of the long building that was used for eating, entertaining and doing business – as the ‘show room’, the hall contained better quality beams than the rest of the house
- The parlour wing consisting of a parlour downstairs and the principal bedroom (sometimes referred to as the solar) above it
- The service wing consisting of two rooms downstairs, the pantry for food/table utensils and the buttery where the drinks were kept. Upstairs was a secondary bedroom. The kitchen was usually in a separate building near the back door to reduce the risk of fire
- The screens passage which was a corridor that ran the whole depth of the house from the front door to a door at the back. There were doors off the corridor to the hall, the buttery and pantry
It seems certain that the log staircase (sixth image below) is original dating back to the 15th Century.
17th - 19th century
In the seventeenth century a massive inglenook fireplace and chimney were built to replace the open fire and an upper floor was added for use as bedrooms.
In the eighteenth century – local documents show that Valley Farm was owned by Edward Clarke who was a large land owner in the East Bergholt area. Around 1715 Willy Lott’s grandparents, English and Mary Lott inherited the tenancy of Valley Farm. From then until 1901 the Lott family farmed Valley Farm, first as tenants and then as owners.
In the early 19th century – Willy Lott was born at Valley Farm which was later owned by Willy’s older brother John, who lived there with his wife Sarah Durrant and their eight children. Brother John was a well organised and well-respected farmer and businessman. He was was made one of the two Church Wardens in East Bergholt, which was a powerful position in those days. He effectively ran Willy’s farm for him as well his own farm.
In the later 19th century – the house was occupied by John Lott’s son, John who had 14 children, born (according to Harry Lott’s family tree), over a 20 year period. Census information tells us that residents were: John Lott (Willy Lott’s nephew) 1841 1851, 1861 and 1871, Joseph Lott 1881, William Butcher (John Lott’s agent) 1891 and 1901, Leonard Richardson 1911.
The image above shows that until the early 20th Century, Valley Farm was surrounded by buildings for all sorts of different agricultural uses. Fire destroyed nearly all of them in the late 1920s.
Between 1901 and 1935 Leonard Richardson lived at Valley Farm with his first wife Ada, mother to his daughter Kathleen born in 1903.
Valley Farm 1901-1935
Ada died in childbirth in 1906. Leonard’s second wife Louisa was the mother to his two daughters Sylvia (born 1909) and Margaret (born 1913) but died in a motorcycle accident in 1925.
In 1901 Leonard Richardson took on the Valley Farm tenancy and farmed the surrounding land, all of which we believe was owned by Charles Eley.
By 1920 Richardson had bought Valley Farm from Charles Eley and had raised money to remove and repair the external cladding. The cladding was removed there was not enough money to replace it – see the two images below.
Read more about the life of Leonard Richardson
Leonard Richardson became extremely anxious about the condition of the house and between 1928 and 1935 wrote repeatedly to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings asking them for help with the cost of repairs – but no financial help was forthcoming because the society as an institution was not able to buy up properties.
Leonard Richardson succeeded in persuading the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to buy Valley Farm for £1,500. The Society had to create a special Trust in order to purchase the property which was financed by Sir Fredrick Minter.
1930s restoration – the Society undertook major repairs and restored the building to its near original state.
The upper floor was removed – although the marks on the vertical timbers clearly show where it was. The inglenook fireplace and chimney were retained and can be seen to this day.
In 1959 Valley Farm was acquired from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings by the National Trust with the Field Studies Council as a sitting tenant. The National Trust continues to lease the building to the Field Studies Council for student accommodation but the house is open to the public for special events at Christmas, on Buildings Tours and on Heritage Open Days
- 1970’s restoration -Valley Farm was falling into disrepair again. The National Trust undertook a further programme of repairs as advised by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
- 1991 restoration – further repairs were undertaken by the National Trust in the 1990s. To see images of Valley Farm when that restoration was complete click this link – Valley Farm 1991 Restoration
Links with John Constable
Although John Constable sketched Valley Farm several times, the building does not appear in any of his famous oil paintings. He gave one of his paintings the title Valley Farm (1835) but the painting is actually a view of the back of Willy Lott’s House and surrounding area.
Please note: there is no public access to the inside of Valley Farm