Monday, 27 September 2021

Living by the water soothes the soul

THERE is something enduringly appealing about living close to water. Perhaps its because of the feeling

THERE is something enduringly appealing about living close to water. Perhaps its because of the feeling of escape it gives, or the association of rejuvenation and healing.

And if you bring a healthy dollop of history into the mix, you’ve got a recipe for property heaven — which is the case with this Grade II* Listed residence, The Cloisters.

Situated in the picturesque village of Hurley (which, incidentally, has its own regatta — this year on August 20), this property has a very rich history indeed.

The house stands at the northern end of the high street (unusually, for a Thames-side village, a no-through road) in this medieval village, yet enjoys privacy and seclusion within its three-acre site on the southern bank of the river, four miles from Marlow and about five miles from Maidenhead mainline station.

The Cloisters and its neighbour, The Refectory, were originally part of the Benedictine priory that once stood here, and The Cloisters comprises mainly the chapter house and the dormitories as well as the quadrangle of the monks’ private ambulatory.

As such, the front entrance to the property is approached through a stone archway that leads into this peaceful cloister garth. One wall of the quad is adorned with a number of ancient stone plaques, commemorating the property’s history. One tells us that the later priory was founded by Geoffrey de Manderville and his wife Leceline, AD 1086. However, before that, the Saxons had already settled here.

The first church here was founded about 635AD. Hence, another plaque over the refectory door which reads: “King Edward the Confessor, principal founder of Westminster Abbey, after the times of King Sebert and King Offa.”

It was because of this reason that the priory was a cell of Westminster Abbey. Edward’s sister, Editha, is buried here, reputably under the kitchen floor. The priory was the centre of village life for 450 years until Henry the Eighth threw his toys out of the pram during the dissolution of the monasteries, after which it passed to the Lovelace family.

Many years later, the property played an important role during the Glorious Revolution. Using the secret tunnel many a clandestine rendezvous helped to put William of Orange on the throne.

With such a colourful history, you can expect to find The Cloisters to be a charming and characterful mix of eras. There are additions from the 14th, 16th and 19th centuries, along with those from more recent years, and all of it adds to the feel of tranquillity. The accommodation comprises an impressive staircase hall area, four reception rooms, a former monks’ refectory (now used as an entertaining space/annex), five to six bedrooms and three bathrooms.

And then there are the grounds — a major feature of this property. It is divided into two by an avenue of Irish yew that separates the garden near the house from a section of meadow lawn, with a swimming pool, a tennis court and a riverside garden which comes with Thames moorings and a wooden summer house.

There are pretty views to the lock island, of Lock Cut, that splits the Thames at this point in its course.To get to the river garden you have to use a Monet-style bridge to cross part of an ancient moat.

In 1255, a quarrel between Hurley Priory and the Knights Templar led to a number of flood prevention measures, including the creation of the moat.

The Knights had built a dam downstream at Temple, to power their copper mill, which meant the water got backed up and consistently flooded Hurley. The ground level of the priory and church was raised considerably. To this day, if the village gets flooded, the church/Cloisters both remain above water.

Those interested in the Second World War will also find it interesting to know that the moat was used to test prototypes of the DUKW amphibious tank, used so successfully at the D-Day landings. The meadow area of The Cloisters also has its original ancient fishery lake intact — fish were an important part of the monks’ diet.

When a couple called Colonel and Mrs Rivers-Moore bought the estate in 1924, it had 22 acres and was called Ladye Place. The section that is now known as The Cloisters was a set of two residences called Paradise.

Being keen historians, the couple excavated the east part of the gardens to find ancient ruins, numerous skeletons and colourful medieval tiles and artifacts.

Interested to know more about the property’s previous occupants, the Rivers-Moores held regular séances. One of these led them to uncover the original medieval water well (left of the house).

The Rivers-Moores were also responsible for uncovering the aforementioned secret tunnel, which is located under the main lawn, and was used for those secret rendezvous.

The Tudor brick-built tunnel has four destinations — one way ends at local inn Ye Olde Bell, one leads to the church, one leads to the ancient monastic crypt (now part of a neighbouring property), and one leads towards the river, but the last person to try this route found it caved in so no one knows where the end destination is. As it stands, you can still come up for air at the old mill stone, on its side by the tennis court, but you can go no further.

To the left of the mature two-storey beech hedge, you’ll find a car port (there is a back entrance to the property via an electric security gate and a long, private drive), and a stone bench known as Queen Mary’s Seat — so called because the Rivers-Moores once had a spontaneous visit from the wife of King George V, who had an interest in the history of the property.

The Rivers-Moores were out at the time, so their butler had to nervously ask her to wait on the bench with a cup of tea until the owners returned. Once facing the tennis court, this seat has now been moved to the main lawn, facing the tithe-style storage barn, which was built in the Eighties.

Inside the house, there are original medieval fireplaces and brick ovens, Tudor beams and heavy oak doors, chalk and flint monastic arches and more besides. The house has been well-loved but some of the rooms still have their Eighties fixtures and Nineties curtains. Bringing it into 2016 would make it truly something spectacular.

Hurley village has its own local farm shop, a lock-side café, and miles of riverside walks and places to picnic. This stretch of the Thames is also dotted with freshwater beaches, where the water is shallow enough for paddling.

There is also a thriving community here. All kinds of events take place at the village hall, there is a children’s play group, a cricket club and an annual summer fete on the common by the church.

• The Cloisters has a guide price of £4,500,000 and is available through Knight Frank on (01491) 844900.

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