Paycocke's restoration: a 20-year project

A watercolour of the back of the house restored with colourful hollyhocks in the foreground

In 1904 Paycocke’s was bought by Lord Noel Buxton, a direct descendant of the previous Buxton owners.

Restoration begins

Lord Noel Buxton oversaw the restoration of Paycocke’s making the house as one again and returning it to what he believed was its original state.
This involved demolishing outbuildings to open up views of the garden from the house. Using local craftsman, E.W. Beckwith, he commissioned period-style interior furnishings and the two figural carvings above the front door. Artists were hired to create a few fanciful additions such as the Buxton family crests over the fireplace and the stained glass windows.
This was an ambitious task that took 20 years to complete but this didn’t faze Noel whose family motto ‘Do it with thy might’ can still be seen engraved in the external plasterwork above the Garden Room door.

Conrad and Miriam Noel

During the restoration, Noel Buxton’s cousin Conrad Noel and his wife Miriam lived in the building rent free.
The following quotes are taken from Conrad Noel’s autobiography published in 1945 by J.M. Dent, a division of The Orion Publishing Group - all efforts to trace the copyright holder proved unsuccessful. They give us a sense of what it was like to live at the house whilst this work was being undertaken.
  • 'It had exciting disadvantages...we lived in an atmosphere of dust and white-wash and broken plaster,' Conrad Noel describes living on a building site yet being enthralled by the new discoveries that were continually being made.
" We lived in an atmosphere of dust and white-wash and broken plaster"
- Conrad Noel
  • 'The cold was so intense that we sometimes sat over the fire in the hall with its wrought-iron basket and logs of wood surrounded by a tent of screens.' And Paycocke’s still gets very chilly during the winter months.
  • 'In the breakfast-room the pigeons, robin-redbreasts, and other cheeky little fellows would insist on sharing our meals, hopping about the table and pecking at the butter and carrying off other titbits.' Paycocke’s garden continues to house all kinds of wildlife from our resident ducks to our custodian’s chickens.
Miriam was an extremely keen gardener and whiled away many hours in the little garden which stretched down to the river.
Inspired by the contemporary Arts & Crafts movement, she set out the entire garden in that style, installing a central path, a circular feature, stepped terraces, a writing shelter and a dovecote. The site even included a tennis court.

Finally completed

By 1910 the main restoration work on the house had been completed. By 1923 the doorway at the rear of the house, which had once opened out onto the yard, was no longer needed as it became a residential property and was replaced with a window as seen today. The yard was covered in herringbone brickwork and still remains.

The Holst family visit

In the same year, 1923, Gustav Holst, famous composer and Conrad’s close friend, spent a summer at Paycocke’s House with his family. Having suffered a personal injury, Gustav saw Paycocke’s as the perfect retreat to recuperate in the country.
His daughter, 16-year-old Imogen, spoke of her stay in letters to her school friend.
'This house is absolutely too wonderful for is a dream. And it is great fun living in a dream...The house is supped to be the best example of the period in the whole of England, and artists and architects make pilgrimages from all over the country to see it. We are tremendously proud of it, and as it isn’t our own we can swank about it to our heart’s content.'