Growing up at Colts Hill in the 1950s

Peter Fletcher saw photos of Colts Hill on the website on the Cecil Lay pages. Colts Hill was one of the buildings Cecil Lay designed in the Parish. Peter spent part of his childhood living in Thorpeness and then Colts Hill, when it was still a beautiful building. He shares his memories of living in the Parish below. Many thanks to Peter.

I first came to the Thorpeness area in 1949. My father worked for the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the forerunner of British Petroleum, in Iran (Persia) and had done so since the 1930s. The first place we lived in was Tabard Cottage by the Meare which we lived in for a short while before going back overseas. I have no recollection of Tabard cottage as I was about 1 at the time.

We then returned to Suffolk in about 1951 after my brother was born and lived at 5 Benthills on the seafront. Next door was a Mr Slin (Slynn?) who worked at the Baltic Exchange in London. Benthills was a great place to live and at the time had a large wooden verandah underneath which we children would play if we were not on the beach.

My father then bought Colts Hill in about 1952 when I was 4. He either bought it from the Ogilvie family or the Cobbold family but I cannot recall which. We moved away and sold the house in about 1958 when I was 10. The picture below is springtime probably in 1954/5 with us 3 children standing outside the garage. This is looking at the back of the house along the drive from the gates. We always approached the house this way and used the back door; I cannot recall using the front door which fronted the track going to the Pantiles.

Photo of Colts Hill

Colts Hill in the 1950s - Peter Fletcher is the middle size child


By the time we lived there the flat roof had been covered by the new pitched roof in the picture above. Directly behind the house was a lawn, a hard tennis court, and a vegetable garden.

Colts Hill as built

Inside, the house had a large hall with stairs leading upstairs, a lounge with an open fire, dining room and kitchen. Upstairs were at least 3 bedrooms and a bathroom. From the landing there was ladder access into the roof void formed when the flat roof was covered by the new pitched roof. We children used the area as a playroom and I recall setting up my train set there. All the windows were wooden sash windows and were draughty in winter.

There was of course no central heating in those days so coal was used on the fire in the lounge and many times we children were bathed in a hip bath in front of it in the winter. The fire was also useful for toasting bread and crumpets. Hot water came from a free-standing stove in the kitchen on the top of which was inscribed “slow but sure combustion”. I remember it as being on its last legs even then. The grate had disintegrated and Mother had to put it together in a jigsaw fashion before it could be lit. It ran on coke so we had a bunker for that and another one for the coal behind the garage. Once lit though, it did at least make the kitchen warm and glowed red hot in the dark!

I vaguely remember a cellar (though it might have been an outbuilding) where our apples were stored for use in the winter wrapped in brown paper.

Water was provided by a well in the garden the electric pump for which was prone to freezing in the winter and waste went to a cess pit which was periodically emptied.

We 3 children all started our schooling at Fairfield Preparatory School in Saxmundham. At the time my Mother drove a 1929 Alfa Romeo soft top and I recall being wrapped in many layers in the winter to get to school through the snow. Miss Partridge was I think the Head Teacher, Miss Henderson also taught and Miss Gartside taught dancing.

I remember a number of our near neighbours. Mr and Mrs Hitchcock (Alfred and Elsie I think) were at Church Farm and we played around in their barns and outbuildings. We had to walk past their house to get to the Church on Sundays. Further along from us Miss Dealey lived at The Pantiles when we were there.

The farm behind the house was occupied by the Newson family who, I believe, are still there. In the days before health and safety I can remember riding on the mudguard of the tractor spreading lime on the field behind our house.

Down the lane from us lived the Hart family. Reggie Hart was a splendid character. He was a painter who I think exhibited at the Royal Academy, an accomplished pianist (as was my mother) and a tobacco grower! Next to his house was a large shed where he kept all his artists materials and his grand piano. He used to rotovate the field next to his shed and grew tobacco. This was hung up in the rafters of the shed. We used to help him “roll his own” on a little machine when we were not riding on his wonderful rocking horse. This shed was always known as “The Blot”. I think his wife was Irene and I believe there was a daughter Rhona.

The whole of the heath and surrounds acted as our playground despite numerous adders on the heath one of which wriggled through my brother’s legs in the garden. We were permitted to go off as far afield as the Meare and either went through the Fens and the River Hundred or down to the Halt by the railway and then into Thorpeness via the House in the Clouds and the Windmill. We knew the operator at the Meare whose name I cannot now remember (Alf/Albert?) but he was kind to us children and we were for ever rowing around and visting Peggotty’s House, the Fort, and the crocodile. Mother certainly gave us enough space to roam!

Winters could be very cold and snowy in those days but summers were beautiful. From the back gate as you looked at the house were 2 large conifer hedges and Mr Good the gardener would clip these by hand up a ladder well into the evening in late summer and we could hear his clippers when we were in bed and supposed to be asleep.

In those days tradesmen would call. In particular I remember Mr Balls the butcher. He would park at the end of the drive, get out and start to whistle. I always waited for him and he taught me to whistle. He would put his meat selection on a platter and then cover it with a mesh dome to keep the flies off and walk to the house. There was no fridge that I recall and food was stored in the larder which had mesh over the window.

They were very happy days at Colts Hill and I hope that at some time it is restored to what it once was. 


Colts Hill photo

Colts Hill, 2007, from same angle as top photo

Colts Hill photo

Colts Hill, 2012, now sadly neglected







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  1. By marcia smith on August 27, 2017

    Well whilst out walking today we found colts hill and we were instantly drawn to it what a beautiful house and how sad it has been left to rot away.
    Me being a dreamer and my fella an electrician with years of experience in the building trade we could instantly see the potential in this amazing property and came home to research it we have found the name of the current owner a Mr Graham searjeant but cannot find any contact details.
    We would love to know if this property is for sale so if anyone could help I'm any way that would be great thank you

  2. By Christine Harte on August 11, 2017

    I fell in love with Colts Hill the first time I saw it when out walking with my family in about 1995. Having come upon it by chance while out walking again today, I find I still feel drawn to its mystery and romantic charm.

  3. By Kim on May 25, 2016


    We've passed Colts Hill often on our walks, and just wondered why if anyone knows why such a beautiful house has fallen into such a state of disrepair?

  4. By Richard Appleton on August 12, 2015

    I've just come across these wonderful memories of Colt's Hill where I lived as a small child from 1946 to 1948! The house, which had been renamed "Fen Cottage" in the 1930s, was bought by my Grandfather, Canon Appleton (Rector fo Diss) during the War with the intention of it eventually being his retirement home. We moved there when my Father left the Army in 1946 but moved to Newcastle-upon-tyne in 1948 when he decided to resume his university studies which had been interupted by the War. We subsequently spent holidays in Aldringham until my Grandfather sold the house, presumably to Peter Fletcher's father in 1952; having decided upon retiring to live in Aldeburgh rather than on Aldringham Common!

    I have very clear memories of the house and area, helped by return visits to the area ever since. Peter's recollections match mine very closely although when we lived there, the water was pumped from the well using a Petter engine and pump; I used to go out with my Father every morning to start it up. The electric pump was installed by my Grandfather around 1950 when electricity arrived across the Common. Before that, we had relied on oil lamps and an accumulator battery to power the radio which we had to take into Leiston every week to be charged up at the ironmongers.

    His memories of the neighbours are almost all correct although Mrs Hart was called "Iris"; we are still in touch with her daughter. I, too, have very fond memories of the Harts and "Uncle Reg" curing his home-grown tobacco in a special hut before the leaves were hung up in the 'Blot'. I am fortunate enough to have one of his lovely paintings of Thorpeness Meare which had been exhibited at the Royal Academy. "Uncle Reg" drove a wonderful open Riley car in which everyone had to be well wrapped in blankets and I shall always remember the site of him driving off with his long hair streaming out behind him.

    My favourite afternoon walk as a small child was past Birds Farm and down to the footbridge over the River Hundred to play 'Pooh Sticks'.

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