W. Sitch & Co.

London has always been a rapidly changing city. In the eighteenth-century, London was the first European city to reach one million inhabitants, dwarfing the others as it enveloped the small villages within its grasp. Without defensive city walls, London could expand almost without restriction. Many areas of London however, did not form a homogenous supercity, but retained their distinct character. Soho in the very centre of London, still clings on to its character, even if it’s harder and harder to find.

One business in Soho has truly seen it all. Founded in 1776, W Sitch & Co started on Hollen St and moved only a few steps to Berwick St in 1903, where they have remained ever since. They are a lighting company, and have been ever since their conception, passing from father to son, to daughter throughout their long history. They have been manufacturing lights and restoring antique lighting throughout their history, and not only is there an expansive shop but also a series of workshops. I cannot emphasise how rare this is in London, not only to have such a long history, but to keep almost exactly the same business model in exactly the same (prime) location for centuries.

Never have I visited a shop imbued with such a tangible sense of history. The shop is unlike any other place I have visited, and are likely to visit. Crammed to the rafters with lights of every description, the shop is a Georgian townhouse sprawling over five floors, all of which have been filled with the tangling mass of chandeliers and various other fittings. The owners Laurence and his sister Jenny were incredibly modest about the company’s illustrious history. This is a shop that has supplied and repaired lighting for the National Trust, Clarence House, 10 Downing St, not to mention numerous films…even The Titanic!

The workshops have remained almost unchanged over the centuries. There is a central forge which glows unseen to the visitors of Soho, and some worn bellows which invigorate the embers.

Laurence still uses many of the traditional tools and apparatus that have been in the family for for over a hundred years, and the techniques used to make their lighting have hardly changed at all.

I was strictly speaking on a buying trip for work, in which I spent around 12 hours bent double looking for treasure. I did also manage to find myself something, rather more modest than the new stock for my company. A pair of Dutch style brass wall sconces for our dining room. Small in scale so perfect for our low ceilings.


Even with my new lights, I couldn’t help but feel immensely sad that this wonderful company is being wound down after so many years at the top of their game. This is a company that has survived on word of mouth and reputation, and many people will be saddened to see them go.



For over a year now, our kitchen has been the not-so-well-hidden secret of our tiny house. Of even more minuscule proportions, the kitchen somehow managed to convey a sense of dinginess which permeated the rest of the house, along with the mystery smell that emanated from it. Determined not to be too rash – or extravagant – we decided to replace the worktops and have some shelving fitted. Trying to be sympathetic to a period property with the necessity for modern conveniences is a challenge, but less so when there just isn’t the space. Fortunately, we booked a carpenter who was both very small and very used to working with period properties.
C fell in love with some full stave oak worktops, made from long planks of quartered oak in nearby Norfolk. This was the single extravagance in the kitchen and it really made all the difference.

Once our fantastic carpenter had installed the worktop, he also put in a new sink, taps, and plenty of shelving for jars and spices. We decided to leave the tiles, simply because we couldn’t agree on anything better and also because we cant afford 80 18th century Delft tiles just yet. I had set to work repainting the cabinets in a muted Farrow & Ball shade in anticipation of these changes; finishing them off with copper handles I managed to track down in Iceland (after an exhaustive Google search). I was also seduced by what I thought was a very cool, bespoke copper rail. I like it, but I’ve come to accept that I bought a small bit of copper pipe with some brackets from B&Q for more than a three course meal in the local pub. It gets top marks for branding though.

The slightly tatty cooker and hob remains; a relic to the valiant effort the previous owner made to bring this little cottage into the 20th century. I don’t mind it so much, so for now, it can stay.


This is the church of the Holy Trinity at Blythburgh. Often described as the Cathedral of the marshes, it can be seen for miles above the flat, sodden land over which it surveys. To behold this church is to see one of the purest examples of medieval architecture in Britain.20170730_172643

Built in the early 15th century, the church incorporated an earlier 14th century tower. The building of the church relied on local donors of no great wealth, and the parish was already in decline when this work was undertaken. For this reason, the sheer size of the church seems an untenably vast space for a population of only five hundred.

Blythburgh, like nearly every medieval church in England, also suffered under the strictures imposed during the Reformation. Under the edict of Henry VIII its priory was stripped of its resources and the church was left without sufficient funding for its maintenance.The wealth of the village was also in decline, the river Blyth had silted up, meaning only small barges could attempt a journey to and from the coast.

A storm in 1577 had struck the church during communion sending the spire tumbling down into the congregation, killing two and injuring many more. This was considered to be an act of the Devil, and even today you can see the dark marks on the door, supposedly where the Devil burnt it on his escape.

The Holy Trinity was also inspected in 1644 by the puritan iconoclast William Dowsing, although some might say in a rather halfhearted manner, for if you are to look up, you are immediately struck by a ceiling of angels, the very same angels for which Dowsing granted only 8 days to be taken down.


Dowsing was also confronted by twenty superstitious pictures in the stained glass, all of which were destroyed under his orders, the remnants today glinting like jewels in the clear, 17th century leaded glass. Once the windows were devoid of any popery, it seems that those responsible for these reforms didn’t carry out his instructions further.20170730_173657

A few decades later, in 1679 a fire ravaged the town, destroying many of the timber framed houses. Fortunately a few surviving examples have been restored:20170730_174909

This series of events led to a dwindling population at Blythburgh and the church was left neglected and empty by 1880; it’s cavernous nave slowly filling with brambles and ivy.

It was William Morris and his Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings who stepped in, sensitively restoring the church back to the space we see today. It is a church filled with natural light, the enormous windows connecting the church to the glittering marshes beyond, the reflection of which dances across the whitewashed walls.



The Charm of Walberswick

Once a thriving fishing village and port, the small village of Walberswick lies at mouth of the river Blythe. It is somewhat overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, Southwold; known for its candy striped beach huts, a pier, lighthouse and busy harbour. Walberswick offers instead a quiet charm, first greeting you with its half ruined church of St Andrews, mostly demolished after Henry VIII stripped it of its tithes. Inside the grand ruins, sits a more modest church built in the 17th century. Just beyond is the heart of the village, a collection of charming cottages and houses drawing you down to the beach. One with a particularly impressive gaggle of hollyhocks…

Walberswick hollyhocks

It is here that you feel the salty wind of the North Sea, the coarse sand and the rugged dunes that make this such a special place. With the sea in front of you, the landscape to your right is a nature reserve, stretching for miles along the shore and through the wetlands.

We’d come for a walk, and so we set off on a circular route that would take us through the nature reserve. It is one of the most diverse sites in the United Kingdom, a mixture of grassland, salt marsh, heathland and woodland and home to numerous different species. This made for interestingly varied terrain, some moments brushing against wild plums, others walking along precariously wooden gangways surrounded by masses of reeds; still harvested for thatch.

There is a remoteness to this landscape that I haven’t often experienced in England. For long stretches, you can see only land and sea, no interruptions from buildings and people, even in the summer holidays! When you do reach civilisation again, it is the village of Dunwich. Once Capital of the Eastern Angles, it was once the most important medieval town in the region. In 1086 the population was topping 3000, yet the town had already lost ground to the sea. Exactly two hundred years later, a catastrophic storm took much of the town, followed by others, slowly dragging the heart of the town into the waves. This had another disastrous consequence. The storms were so severe that it silted up the river and harbour, stripping Dunwich of the ability to act as an international port. The sea had taken the town, and the storm had claimed its industry. In 1906, this was all that was left of the thriving town:

Now the town is more of a small village, far busier than Walberswick, and undoubtedly benefiting from the tourists who come to see what remains.

Walberswick boatsIt was back to Walberswick for lunch. Well technically Southwold, although I would argue that the only way to visit this restaurant is by approaching it from Walberswick, as you will otherwise to deny yourself perhaps the most charming journey you can enjoy for £1. The Sole Bay Fish Co is on the other side of the river Blythe, and the easiest way to reach it is by waiting at a small jetty for an even smaller rowing boat to spot you and welcome you aboard, making the small journey back across the river to the Southwold side. Once we were back on dry land, there was only a short stroll to the restaurant, which is in fact a shack of modest proportions, with a fantastic fishmongers at the front of the building – complete with fishtank!

I am almost reluctant to relay just how fantastic this restaurant is. It could hardly be a well-kept secret locally, as it was still absolutely packed to the rafters at 4pm on a Sunday. Each plate was executed with enthusiasm and generosity and everything exuded freshness, from the fish down to the homemade bread. Even the ale was from brewery on their doorstep, a mere minute away!


Now both as full as the restaurant – the portions aren’t for the faint hearted – we finished the day off with a swim. The bracing wind makes North Sea more inviting than you would expect, the waves it throws at you leaves no chance to just dip your big toe in…

Latest Additions

Furnishing a small house is far more tricky than I’d been led to believe. Rather than simply having less furniture, one must search for pieces which are smaller than you ever knew existed, simply because nothing else will fit. We started with a Victorian drop-arm sofa, which comfortably sits two. We found it on eBay, covered in a filthy velour type fabric. Now it is reupholstered with a natural, neutral linen, a shade which some might call impractical, but one which I am stubbornly fond of.


Next came an achingly comfortable Edwardian armchair, stuffed with horsehair and down, carefully moulded by its previous loving owners. In a similar state of disrepair, I told myself I would take up upholstery, and tackle its sagging form. Not yet quite confident enough to strip away years of careful wear and tear, we have for the time being draped it in a medley of blankets and a particularly tatty 18th century suzani, for which we haven’t quite found the right home. The suzani is also very worn, having fallen to pieces at one stage, forcing someone to painstakingly back the fragments on to an enormous piece of linen. I thank them for their patience, as the careful stitches have not only preserved this piece in its entirety, but have added an undeniable charm.


The sitting room is  rapidly reaching full capacity. But we were in need of a desk. Another scroll through eBay and an arts and crafts bureau appeared, studded with decorative copper handles with valuable shelf space beneath. Narrow enough with the desk folded up, it sits happily against the wall with one of my favourite – yet slightly creepy – portraits of a young boy. Painted by the Yorkshire artist Sunderland Rollinson, the tone of his eyes in particular is incredibly arresting. His gaze is almost one of disapproval.

No sitting room of mine could be complete without a map, so I have switched a simple landscape for a large geological map of Scotland. Published by Bartholomew and Sons in Edinburgh, it compiles information provided by Sir Archibald Geikie. It is a fascinating example of Victorian cartography and also a wonderfully colourful new addition! Alongside the map, a temporary addition is a set of engravings, for which we have yet to find exactly the right home!



It is during these crisp and misty morning that I find myself winding through the commute, distracted by interruptions on the horizon. These are spires – or towers – and plenty of them, poking above patches of spindled trees and bare farmland. Some take advantage of the gentle hills and command the landscape below. Others surprise, tucked behind pockets of houses and down narrow lanes. Either way, there they are, where they’ve stood for centuries.

slcOne particularly unassuming church lies within the community of Stow Longa, with no spire to speak of, and virtually impossible to stumble upon. The name of the village derives from the Old English words stōw, meaning holy place and lang, long. One might infer that the name suggests an ancient holy site of some significance, although there is little evidence of it today. Rather appropriately, the only ancient feature present – as in many small villages – is the church. It is nestled down a small rutted lane, from which a – perhaps ancient  – hollow way meanders towards a gentle hill. We happened upon this church only last weekend, when it was perhaps the spring like day that encouraged us to take a small detour, looking to familiarise ourselves with the villages surrounding our own.

The setting itself would have been rather a magical once, the church resting on a small mound, overlooking the  undulating farmland beyond. It perhaps is today, although it appears a relic to the former seclusion it once enjoyed. Now overlooked by a seventies vicarage and encroached upon by some generous new-builds, it stands nobly defiant against the centuries which followed its construction.

slcdThe church almost certainly has eleventh-century origins, perhaps built under the reign of King Cnut. It also possesses one significant and rather well-known attribute: the mermaid stone. This is a 12th century tympanum carved with a mermaid (or siren) who is flanked by two beasts. This stone sits above the priest’s door, where it was relocated when the church was largely rebuilt in the 13th century. The mermaid sits with her hand raised in an orant pose, yet is symbolic of temptation. This figure is flanked by two beasts, one grotesque to represent hell, and the more benign creature representing Christ. Today this church remains a testament to great craftsmanship and the human desire to preserve history. Its displays the skill of many hands and reflects the rich tapestry of architectural history.

Uncovering History

Once belonging to the Duke of Manchester’s estate, our little cottage remains a mystery to the residents of Kimbolton. Far too small to have been built as any kind of family home, it was once a one-up one-down cottage, standing alone next to the church. Far earlier than the neighbouring houses, it would have been even more incongruous than it is now, shadowed by the generously proportioned church. We’ve mused on the idea of a church warden’s cottage, a place to watch for looters and ne’er-do-wells.

In our title deeds it states that we have permission to graze and drive our livestock in the church yard, so it seems as though this property must have served a function for the church itself. This is an entitlement we are yet to claim…


In the early 20th century, the cottage became part of the much larger Carnaby House next door, home to a tailor, Mr Fockett. Mr Fockett was known to use the cottage as his main sewing room, sitting cross-legged on a table overlooking the church, making use of the lovely afternoon daylight that streams through. From this time, the property seems inextricably linked to the larger house, and served as its dowager house for a time also.

Other theories as to its intended function extend even as far as a mortuary of sorts, the cottage stacked to the rafters with coffins awaiting entombment. Perhaps this is the product of my Gothic imagination.

More likely, this little house was probably a toll house, just off the main track towards the old market square.

Renovation Begins

Renovation begins.

After launching a successful campaign against the spiders – a victory won only with a Dyson handheld thingamabob – we were ready to apply our carefully chosen colours to the uneven walls. We’d visited Monk’s House in East Sussex, home to Virginia and Leonard Woolf, only a short while before, and Virginia’s use of a soft, pea shoot green filled us with enthusiasm.

Green was Virginia’s favourite colour and is perhaps used to best effect in their sitting room and study, a space strewn with additions from the Bloomsbury Group:

The Sitting Room at Monk's House, East Sussex.

Something else that I am very keen to replicate from Monk’s House is this wonderful lamp, constructed from concertinas of paper, splashed and drizzled liberally with watercolour:


Our Little Greene colour swatches were out, arguments were had, testers were applied with conviction and a decision was made. Normandy Grey. This, I hasten to add, is nothing at all like French Grey. Weeks of poring over these swatches made this difference very clear. There was a quality to this colour which particularly suited the honeyed oak of the sitting room and it is the perfect base on which to hang some paintings.

Before painting could start, cracks had to be filled. These gnarly little spider dens caused C particular irritation, being used to the paper smooth walls of Victorian properties. In contrast, I had grown up in a 15th century farmhouse where the garden could be seen through gaps in the beams and a constant draught whistled through every room.

Searching the bed for spiders is something we’ve both grown accustomed to. Which is a good thing, as we’re sleeping on a mattress on the floor. There was no way our bed was going up the impossibly narrow staircase, so it’s firewood come autumn. Oh, there’s no central heating. There is however, a wonderful oak Arts and Crafts headboard waiting for a bed I’ve yet to order. My tardiness can be put down to the novelty of camping in one’s own house.


We have however painted the bedroom in another colour from Little Greene: Slaked Lime, Mid. This chalky, distemper grey diffuses the early morning night and bathes the room with monastic stillness. This is a far cry from the freshly painted lilac walls we were greeted with when we moved in – seemingly a moving in present from the previous owner hoping to improve the primrose walls seen during our viewing.

With French trousseau bed linen, and perhaps a 17th century mule chest, this will be a lovely bedroom. Oh, and a bed.


A Week in a New Home

Kimbolton, Huntingdonshire. Not a place that many people have heard of, but a place which is now home to me, my partner and our collective clutter. I suppose that I should not be calling our shared possessions clutter, but for now, in our tiny one bedroom 17th century cottage, they form an assault course of sorts, threatening to send us tumbling down our narrow staircase, knocking our flailing limbs against the crooked beams. I’m bruised, grubby, absolutely knackered, but we’re finally in. We’re low on furniture, funds, and energy, but I couldn’t be happier.


Zoopla is to blame. It possesses a dangerous attribute, allowing you to search using a keyword. My chosen keyword, was, “beams”. No property would appear unless it was propped up with pieces of oak of varying sizes, strengths and beauty. A number of houseboats crept into this search and this was unacceptable (doesn’t Zoopla know I suffer from motion sickness?!), so I refined it further. “Grade II listed”. We were now looking at properties with beams of historical significance. I must confess that this was all a fantasy. We were Londoners, living in separate flats carved out of dilapidated Victorian terraces at opposite ends of the Capital. At least he was in Pimlico, fundamentally boring but you could at least rely on Westminster council to take your rubbish. Holloway is perhaps most treacherous on a windy day, when plastic bags are liable to whip you about the ankles, whilst dust is simultaneously exfoliating your corneas.


 No competition:img_20160822_123403Anyway, back to Kimbolton, and Carnaby Cottage. It is a particularly photogenic accumulation beams, bricks, and wattle and daub. I was trawling through small piles of grade II listed detached houses studded with beams that were basically anywhere but London, and this little place caught my eye. After a very brief look through the photographs and a quick prowl on street view – and not a glance at the description – I deemed it worthy of sending to C, via link. We’d both been bombarding each other with these links, but I like to think that I was the star house-hunter, as he favoured ‘On the Market’. Come on, it doesn’t have a keyword search function! We’d never heard of Kimbolton, and we’d certainly never been to Huntingdonshire. As far as I was concerned, it was flat, devoid of character, and dominated by vast swathes of bleak agricultural land. Oops!



We both agreed that this was a fantastic find. Here was listed, detached house – with beams – in the grounds of a church. The cottage is actually set within a corner of the churchyard, and one of our closest neighbours is a rather majestic yet not grandiose eighteenth-century tomb. This is perhaps the reason why this house hadn’t been snapped up! There are only a handful of scattered tombs however, and they are situated within a beautifully managed church green, which forms the heart of the village. St Andrews Church boasts fine features of Early English Gothic architecture, and having being remodelled in the perpendicular period, displays exquisite fourteenth-century carving and fifteenth-century oak panel paintings. Magnificent.


Perhaps the most enticing feature for C was the small separate garden. Gardening was at this time, his most recent interest, and we’d acquired a small North London allotment as a creative outlet, and he’d spent many hours selecting flowers, vegetables, fruits and herbs that would suit his increasingly ambitions designs. Who pleaches a Morello cherry tree in Totteridge?! However, this garden, or patch of land, had a feature that was coveted by us both; a slow-moving, meandering river full of fish, ducklings, moorhens and other faunae that we were yet to spot. Never mind the flood-risk, the impractical slope of the garden, or the boisterous pigeons, it is a beautiful spot. We’d fallen in love; it was the first house we’d viewed.