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Have you visited the most magical village in Suffolk?

PUBLISHED: 00:55 20 February 2020 | UPDATED: 23:59 20 February 2020

The House in the Clouds - designed as the best disguise for an unsightly water tower   Picture: iWITNESS

The House in the Clouds - designed as the best disguise for an unsightly water tower Picture: iWITNESS

Thousands of us love this quirky village by the North Sea, with The House in the Clouds and its Peter Pan lake

A view of the West Gate at Thorpeness in 1929, leading to the West Bar   Picture: ARCHANTA view of the West Gate at Thorpeness in 1929, leading to the West Bar Picture: ARCHANT

"We are now doing something which has never yet been attempted." The man with the original vision was still focusing on the future - even at 71, and more than 20 years after first having his dream.

Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie was talking about his "baby" - the fantasy village he created on the Suffolk coast and which is still a magnet for those favouring tranquil spots.

He explained in 1929: "We are passing from the character and condition of a seaside holiday resort to that of an old-world village, with houses built for all-the-year-round occupation, and fitted with every modern luxury, including gas, electricity, and hot and cold lavatory basins in all bedrooms."

I was meant to be combing our collection of historic newspapers for something else, but it's impossible not to be distracted when you come across an article on quirky Thorpeness.

Thorpeness Meare is known for its swans   Picture: Pamela BidwellThorpeness Meare is known for its swans Picture: Pamela Bidwell

Stuart Ogilvie had in 1908 taken over the huge Suffolk estate built up by his father, an engineer who'd made his money as railways expanded.

The story goes that when flooding hit the tiny coastal hamlet of Thorpe late in 1910, Stuart Ogilvie had the idea of transforming it into a holiday village - a fantasy land with unusual architectural touches.

He wanted space and clean air. Life would be gentle, healthy and civilised. There would be no crowded prom, and no cinemas, at this place christened Thorpeness.

It would interest "people who want to experience life as it was when England was Merrie England" - a reference to a utopian view of when life was pastoral.

One of the recently-built houses in Thorpeness in 1929   Picture: ARCHANTOne of the recently-built houses in Thorpeness in 1929 Picture: ARCHANT

In the early summer of 1912 a country club opened, with tennis courts and golf course. The well-heeled could lease property.

That winter, work began on revamping the meare - a refuge for shipping hundreds of years earlier but long since silted up.

It became a lake of more than 60 acres - only two and a half feet deep, at most. Thorpeness Meare opened in June, 1913, with little islands people could explore. The first regatta was held that August.

Areas of water were given exotic names - such as The Spanish Main, Caribbean Sea and The Blue Lagoon - while The Meadows of Make-Believe (part of the bank) were a clue to the naming theme.

Reflections over Thorpeness Mere  Picture: PAMELA BIDWELLReflections over Thorpeness Mere Picture: PAMELA BIDWELL

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The Ogilvies were friends with JM Barrie, the author behind Peter Pan. He often visited. Thorpeness was trumpeted as the home of the boy who never grew up.

The facilities grew, though the First World War slowed progress. And then we came to 1929 and a headline in our papers: "Final stage in development of Thorpeness".

Intense action from the Thorpeness Raft Race in 1980 as teams competed in homemade craft on the water  Picture: JOHN KERRIntense action from the Thorpeness Raft Race in 1980 as teams competed in homemade craft on the water Picture: JOHN KERR

A perfect whole

In a very long sentence, our writer said: "Life in town-planned Thorpeness, replete with all modern conveniences, down to electric light, is altogether too good to be a purely seasonal affair, and the company which has the proprietorial interest in the resort... has just entered upon the final stage of its development, by the creation of an all-the-year-round residential village de luxe."

The idea was to attract more permanent residents, to complement the seasonal visitors.

Stuart Ogilvie had studied historic architecture: Old English, Gothic, Tudor, Jacobean and Early Georgian. The vision was for the central street to incorporate "more or less exact copies of these houses in a harmonious elevation grouped around a dominating central tower, which is at once a huge water-tank and a private dwelling".

Inside a Thorpeness house about 90 years ago   Picture: ARCHANTInside a Thorpeness house about 90 years ago Picture: ARCHANT

That's something we can picture: The House in the Clouds. This tall folly built in 1923 was a water tower - the "cottage" at the top to disguise the ugly tank. The area below was boarded and turned into accommodation.

The article explained that the already-there features of the village would stay: the County (did it mean country?) Club, with 130 beds for members and staff; its ornamental grounds; tennis courts; shop; the Dolphin Inn, and the lake.

Stuart Ogilvie, then 71, said: "It is an interesting and very encouraging fact that the plans we originally laid out in 1909 have never been departed from in any material feature...

"The original plan prepared by our architect... contained the old windmill where it is, the church where it will be, the village grouped below and around its central tower - like Windsor round its royal castle - the artificially-made shallow lake, with its thickly-wooded islands, the golf links stretching out amidst the purple heathlands, and the railway station, where they now are."

A sunny afternoon, looking across the river at Thorpeness Meare    Picture: JANICE POULSONA sunny afternoon, looking across the river at Thorpeness Meare Picture: JANICE POULSON

The "father of Thorpeness" added: "The labour of these long and difficult years is beginning to reap its just reward. Thorpeness is beginning to be known, and its amazing expansion within the last few years is evidence of the ever-increasing popularity of our unique garden village by the sea.

"No less than £58,519 has been spent in building new houses on the Thorpeness estate during the last three years, and much of this money has been found by patrons and clients who have taken 75-year building leases and erected their own residences."

But its essential character wouldn't change.

"The village - and it will remain a village when the last brick is laid - standing on its semi-circular knoll, overlooking the sea, will consist of two main streets, and every house in those streets will convey the feeling of some of the best historic examples of old English rural architecture, carefully selected so as to form a perfect and congruous whole."


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