Stepping off of a bustling Godmanchester street, I delved into a sanctuary of family history and tradition.
Island Hall – which dates back to the late 1740s – is a 10-bedroom riverside mansion encapsulating seven generations of the lives of the Vane Percys. Unlike typical stately homes and museums, there are no ropes, no glass screens, and no gift shop.
Far more than just a house, it commemorates the lives of all its inhabitants, spanning the centuries.
Christopher Vane Percy, 69, who lives at the hall with his wife, Lady Linda, 66, said: “The house enjoys having people in it. We treat this building like a person – it talks to us and tells us when it’s not happy.
“It has a very warm atmosphere, but if it doesn’t like you it will freeze you out.
“The most interesting thing is that you are looking at the 18th century house. It is marvellous that it has survived in that way. We have been here for 30 years and all the time we are discovering things. As a home, it is always very exciting.”
The exterior of the house – identical on both sides – is imposing. In the Georgian style, the house has beautiful symmetry and is built using rich red brick.
But that is nothing compared to the interior. The front door opens onto a spacious entrance hall where the light turquoise walls are adorned with paintings of the Vane Percys’ ancestors. My eye was drawn to one thing after another – from the ornate fireplace to the grand staircase.
I could imagine all the generations of families – from John Jackson Esq, Receiver-General for Huntingdon, to Mr Vane Percy’s ancestor, Jacob Julian Baumgartner and his descendants gathering together in this huge room.
This seems to be far from just an abstract thought, however, as the Vane Percys suspect that they are not completely alone in the house. They explain that it is not uncommon to find yourself being prodded by a mischievous spirit or to hear the sound of the piano coming from the entrance hall – only to discover the lid is closed and no-one in the room.
Mr Vane Percy, a renowned interior designer, has not only put his stamp on the house, but also has a keen interest in social history.
He has compiled a considerable family archive, which he is now using to write a book charting the lives of the families who have lived in the house to be titled All This and Heaven Too.
He said: “I don’t want to write a dry, boring account. I would like it to really involve us living in the house, then going back in time, coming forward, and going back again.”
It seems that Mr Vane Percy was destined to one day live at Island Hall. It was as a schoolboy on a boating excursion in 1957 that he first saw the house – but he had no idea of its connection to his family.
“My friend and I wandered off to do some exploring and discovered this overgrown island,” he said. “I thought ‘this is extraordinary, this is wonderful, this place is like something out of an Enid Blyton book’.”
Following a tumultuous period in its history, marred by a fire which devastated the building in 1977, the house was sold and restored before Mr Vane Percy and Lady Linda bought Island Hall as a young couple in 1983.
Their three children, Maxim, 34, Grace, 32, and Tryce, 22, all grew up in the house, breathing life into what it had been for centuries – the Vane Percy family home.
It is now decorated in a Baroque style. Every room is sumptuous, from the wooden panelled dining room to the richly-coloured saloon on the first floor.
Outside, the highlight of the gardens – as revealed in the name of the property – is its very own island on the River Great Ouse. The best views of the house are from this island, an area that will connect with many who harbour childhood daydreams of adventure.
Unlike many other historic houses, you really can entertain the fancy of living in a house like this. This is helped in no small part by the warm welcome and personal tour you receive from a member of the family on one of the open days.
INFORMATION: To find out about open days at Island Hall, visit www.islandhall.com.
If you are the owner of an historic house in Huntingdonshire and would like to shares its history with readers, please email The Hunts Post at email@example.com.