History of The Great House
The Great House is located in the Market Place of Lavenham, one of the finest and most beautiful medieval villages in England. It was built in the 14th and 15th centuries by the Caustons, an important weaving family during the height of the town’s importance and wealth that was based on its textile industry. Part of one of the 14th century chimney can still be seen in one of the hotel bedroom. The building was then modernized with the addition of the imposing Georgian façade in the 18th century.
During the 1920s, Major Robert Gayer-Anderson ‘John’ and his twin, Colonel Thomas Gayer-Anderson, bought The Great House. Robert Gayer Anderson was in the Royal Army Medical Corps and spent most of his military life in Egypt, becoming an avid and successful collector of pictures, furniture, carpets, curios and other objects. His substantial collection included one of his best finds, a life-size Egyptian bronze cat that he presented to the British Museum, where it is known as the Gayer-Anderson Cat. He gave his vast collection to the Egyptian government and it is housed at the Gayer-Anderson Museum in Cairo, where he had lived next to the mosque of Ibn Tulum. He was awarded the title of Pasha in 1943 by King Farouk of Egypt in return.
When The Gayer Anderson Twins brought The Great House, the purchase also included six cottages, one of which was the 15th century Hall House next door that had also been built during Lavenham’s period of wealth from the wool trade.
During the twenties and thirties, the twins restored the Great House, postponing major work on the adjoining cottages until Thomas retired from active service in 1929. Gradually they disentangled the two buildings: first restoring The Great House as a comfortable family home; then reconstructing a medieval hall house from the six cottages and reconfiguring the gardens. He and his brother moved there in 1935. The work was not totally completed until 1940. Today it is now the Little Hall Museum and is open to visitors
By then the twins had become expert and devoted house restorers. Major Rober Gayer Anderson committed most of his energies from 1934 to the Beit el Kretliya, a 17th century house in Cairo, which stands today as his major memorial – the Gayer-Anderson Museum. Thomas bought, restored and rented out several cottages in Lavenham, personally working on them right through until he was in his seventies.
But the twins’ impact on Lavenham was much wider. As early as 1931 Thomas Gayer-Anderson was promoting the long-term importance of the look of the town, predicting that tourism would become the major employer. They were both influential in many Lavenham groupings and founder members of the Preservation Committee which raised the money to save the Guildhall and pass it to the National Trust.
In 1938, the renowned photographer and artist Humphrey Spender bought the Great House for £1,200 from the Gayer-Andersons. His brother, the celebrated poet Steven Spender, also lived at The Great House during the late 1930s and the house became a meeting place for many famous artists and poets of that time.
Humphrey Spender was best known for his photographs of working class life in Britain from the Depression until the 1950s but he also enjoyed success as a painter and designer. He created an amazingly diverse range of works right up to his death, aged 95 in 2005, much of which is held in museums and private collections around the world. Humphrey Spender came back to visit The Great House in the late 1990’s and very kindly gave photographs of The Great House as it was in the 1930s and 1940s.
From 1940 to 1945, the house was taken over by the Army and was used as an Officers’ Mess. The House was sold in 1949 to Gerald Routh Jones for £3,600.
The author Christopher Bush then bought the house in 1953. Bush, was of Quaker ancestry and his family has a recorded history of over four hundred years in the Breckland, the Norfolk village where he was born. His ‘Ludovic Travers’ detective stories (63 books) were published in almost every European country as well as in America. Under the pseudonym of Michael Home, he also wrote The Breckland Novels, the highly successful books of country life. One of these and a book of his ‘memoirs’ (reminiscences) are now considered to be classics about the English countryside. Bush lived at the Great House for 20 years until his death in 1973.
In 1974, The Great House was sold to the Barclay- French family before passing to Judy Moore in 1982.
Judy Moore turned The Great House into a restaurant and then, in 1985, it was bought by John Spice and Régis and Martine Crépy and they opened the first three bedrooms in 1986. The Attic space was converted in 1989 to provide a further two bedrooms. John returned to the States in 1992 leaving the Crepys as owners.
The Great House then went on to become one of Britain’s finest boutique hotels with an award winning restaurant. In early 2018 the The Great House ownership changed hands with the new owners looking forward to carrying on the illustrious history of The Great House.