A self-made man happy in his ancestral home
The 18th century Island Hall in Godmanchester, where even the baby s potty is Wedgwood and the candelabra hold real candles - including the one over the grand oak staircase - is being opened to the public from Friday. Report by ANGELA SINGER Pictures:HE
The 18th century Island Hall in Godmanchester, where even the baby's potty is Wedgwood and the candelabra hold real candles - including the one over the grand oak staircase - is being opened to the public from Friday.
Report by ANGELA SINGER Pictures:HELEN DRAKE
WHAT is the connection between MacDuff who slew Macbeth, Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust, Henry Percy, King Charlemaine of France, Tom Hughes (author of Tom Brown's School Days) and Samuel Pepys?
They are all on the family tree of Christopher Vane Percy, the owner of Island Hall in Godmanchester.
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The eighteenth century house, lovingly restored by Mr Vane Percy and his wife Linda, is being opened to the public this month - and his remarkable family tree is in the front hall.
Her family is equally interesting. Her father, Lord Ebury was an equerry of the Queen and her brother, William, then aged 11, was a page boy at the coronation.
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The house was built in 1749 for the Jackson family, receiver generals for Huntingdonshire. Mr Original Jackson built it as a combined 21st birthday and wedding present for his son, John, which certainly beats a set of towels from John Lewis.
Mr Vane Percy is the seventh generation of his family to live there. However, it was out of the family for some 40 years after it was requisitioned for the RAF during the war and used by the WAAF and the Pathfinders.
The lady of the house at the time, Mr Vane Percy's great aunt Violet Bevan, had lived there for 48 years and was given 48 hours notice to leave. Violet had lived in the house since 1895 (when she would have been 32) and brought up three children there.
After the war, the house became the property of Huntingdonshire District Council under the Emergency Housing Act and was turned into council flats. The present Vane Percys bought the house back in 1983 and two years later bought back the two-acre island which gives the house its name. Godmanchester's Chinese Bridge links the gardens of the house with the island.
The house has now been restored to its Georgian splendour. Mr Vane Percy says: "An estate agent would say it has 10 bedrooms but actually one is a nursery and the other is an ironing room."
The house, which must have been a perfect idyll for growing up in, is stuffed with mementoes of the best thing about a traditional childhood. In the large hall (used in the war as an airmen's mess) are three magnificent 1950s prams, the largest with a deep carriage and suspension that would send a child to sleep just with a touch of the handle.
In the dining room, the young Christopher's dark, wooden high chair is complete with a Wedgwood china potty. Most children do not get to eat off Wedgwood, let alone potty train on it.
The Vane Percys, who celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary this month, also brought up three children there, son Maxim and daughters, Grace and Tryce - originally a family surname. Christopher Vane-Percy, an interior designer, said: "I am a self-made man living in his ancestral home."
The house is of another world. It is full of fascinating paintings and charming photographs and the wonderful smells of antique furniture and old books. A visitor could easily spend hours in any of the rooms, all decorated and furnished in period so that when leaving, I found it a cruel shock to return to the 21st century. Octavia Hill described Island Hall as "the loveliest, dearest house."
INFORMATION: Island Hall is in Post Street, Godmanchester, almost opposite The Black Bull. The gardens of Island Hall are open for charity on Sunday, May 28. From 11am to 5pm, admission £3, children admitted free.
* Tours of the house from 11am are being arranged through an organisation called Invitation to View on Friday, May 26, Tuesday, May 30, June 8 and 13 and 28; July 5 and 13 and September 5 and 12. Cost is £10 per person including tea and biscuits. Book on 01284 827087.