History of The Red House

We are indebted to local historian Barry Wall twice Chairman and founder of The Sudbury History Society for his meticulous research covering the deeds of the property and records with his particular interest in the connection between the house and Thomas Gainsborough.

Barry Wall reveals that the first recorded reference to the house is contained in the Brewers Map currently stored at Gainsborough House which is dated 1714 where it is called Frenchs House after the then occupier of the house. The earliest deed of the property is dated 1721 when the property (then unnamed) was sold by Anne Bullock to John Baker.  This deed is on display in the main entrance hall at the house.

John Baker died in 1738 a widower and appointed his son and daughter to be the Executors of his Will. He left his Estate to his children. It would appear that his son John Baker Junior must have bought out the shares of his brothers and sisters because in 1752 he sold the property to Peter Delande and it is in this deed that that he building is first referred to as the Red House. Mr Delande went on to be Mayor of Sudbury in 1752 and again on five occasions after that. Having purchased the house he was clearly not satisfied with the size of the garden because he leased some adjoining land from the Council for 99 years at a rent of 2/6d per annum in 1772. The house was offered for sale in 1777 and in the advertisement it is described as being "fenced around with Pales". Clearly at that date it did not have the serpentine wall round the garden which is such a well-known feature of The Red House today.

In the event the house was not sold in 1777 but Peter Delande did later sell it to Joseph Humphrey in 1785 who was also a Mayor of Sudbury. Joseph Humphrey died in 1828. His eldest son William Wood Humphrey lived at Hardwick House in Stour Street which also has a serpentine wall similar to that at the Red House so it is likely that the one surrounding the Red House was probably built by Joseph Humphrey.

The house was then conveyed to William Doubleday King who owned considerable property in Sudbury. The 99 year Lease on the garden had expired in 1871 and he purchased the freehold from the Council in 1874 for the sum of £391.12s 6d. The borough required special permission from Parliament to sell the land.

Following his death the house belonged to E.J.K.Cornel 1880-1882, William Padley and Robert Enright 1882-1893, Mrs Constance Blair 1893-1925 and then her brother Canon Reginald Smith who finally conveyed it to the newly formed Charity The Red House Housing Trust in 1949.

Barry Wall has completed his research to show that the house was occupied by the Artist Thomas Gainsborough. We intend to update this website to reflect his findings after they have been published.

We are also very grateful to David Burnett Secretary of The Sudbury Museum Trust and Peter Minter the Managing Director of the Bulmer Brick and Tile Co Limited and a specialist on bricks and architecture. Their researches into the structure of the property tell us that the original building dates from the late 16th Century and was constructed as a timber framed structure. The main body of the house was demolished and rebuilt in brick in the mid-18th Century.

David Burnett reports:

"As you know there was some limited evidence of an earlier timber-framed building on the site. On the evidence available it looks like the main body of the house was demolished and rebuilt in brick in the mid-18th century but that the two cross wings were incorporated into the new building. When we looked through that gap in the rear wall of the attic we were looking into the surviving roof space of the northernmost cross wing. We saw a series of five (?) heavy cambered collar beams clasping horizontal purlins. One would expect to see 2 or 3 tie beams below the collars, also helping to support the cross wing roof. They may still be there lurking in the dark but may have been removed in later building work. Down in the kitchens we saw what could be a section of the rear sill beam of the main house with peg holes showing where vertical studs were attached and one mortice where a floorboard was inserted. (However it may be reused and not in situ). I cannot say when the original timber house was built - it could be 16th/early 17th century."

Peter Minter tells us:

"Following my visit to the Red House on Friday, I have put together my thoughts which I hope might be of interest. I first visited the attic and was able to look through into the roof space at the rear of the building, without a light it was impossible to see much detail, but I could clearly see two of the tie beams. These are a form of humped tie beam often found in the sixteenth century, and the rest of the roof structure would appear to be consistent with them, suggesting the presence of an earlier building. On checking the brickwork, it is clear that the brick facade is built onto this earlier building. Something that was quite common in the eighteenth century, and the brick detailing and size again confirms this. The original building was most probably timber framed, the sudden appearance of so much brick often giving rise to the name 'The Red House'. The bricks are 8 7/8" x 4 1/4" x 2 3/8" suggesting a date of around 1740. They are laid in Flemish bond and have penny struck pointing, a style of pointing that was used to enhance the overall appearance and give greater precision. The arches are formed from soft red "Rubbers", and are of a bold proportion being of five course rise. The Voussoirs are narrow with tight joints indicative of the suggested date. The semi-circular arch flanked by two small windows on each side is interesting as one might expect to have seen a Venitian arch at this time (This arrangement is known as Serliana or Serlina). However, the existing arrangement sits well and is well proportioned. The whole is flanked with simple rustications, which set off the elevation. The house when built was obviously intended to catch the eye, and was built around the same time as No. 58 Friars Street and Lloyds Bank building on the Market Hill. The bank however was built as a whole rather than as an adaptation of an existing building as is the case of No. 58 and the Red House."

Points of possible interest are:-

The bricks were most probably made by R A Allen of Ballingdon, who were operating in Ballingdon early in the eighteenth century (1727) and "washed" their clay, thus providing suitable material with which to make "Rubbers".  A "Rubber" is a brick made from clean clay (no stone or admix in it, achieved by mixing it into a liquid before running it out through a series of settlement pans, the final pan holding very pure, clean clay ideal for arch Voussoirs).

Voussoir - a wedge shaped brick forming part of an arch.

A Rubber is so called because it is a brick that is to be cut and rubbed to shape and gauge, to provide precision and tight joints not achievable with a standard brick.

Allen's went on to become one of the leading exponents of quality Rubbers in the nineteenth century, providing all the bricks for cutting for the arches at St Pancras Station when it was built between 1868 & 74.

Penny struck pointing is achieved by running a small wheel along the lime joint after the brick is laid, but before the lime has carbonated, creating a recess in the  joint which creates a slight shadow and gives the appearance of greater precision and exactness to the work. This first appears around the first half of the seventeenth century, but becomes popular on higher status buildings in the eighteenth century.

Flemish Bond - the term used to describe the way bricks are laid. One laid lengthways (stretcher) the next laid the short way (header) creating a pleasing effect and a strong construction. Something not achieved with the "modern" single skin stretcher bond.

Rustications - bands of projecting brickwork forming a series of "steps" up the corner of a building elevation.

The arches on Gainsborough's House are of a slightly earlier date 1725-27, the bricks are from an earlier building, re-used to build a fashionable facade. The arches are segmental and are made from unwashed clay in contrast to those on The Red House, which demonstrates the improving techniques and a growing sophistication in taste.

Post Second War History

The house was used as a convalescent home for soldiers injured during the Second World War

In 1947 a number of well-meaning local towns people including the late Mr A B Walters identified the need for elderly people 'who are or have been residence of Sudbury and District who have come to need more care and attention than they can receive in their own homes'.

A committee was formed which led to the creation of a non-profit sharing friendly society, known as the Red House Welfare and Housing Society Ltd and it set about collecting £17,000 to enable the purchase of the Red House and at the same time prepared plans for an extension. The intention was to provide accommodation for up to 25 people. As well as many donations received from local people and traders, the committee obtained a loan of £7,000 from the Ministry of Health which was guaranteed by the Sudbury Borough Council.

On the 31st July 1950 the doors of the Red House were opened for the first four residents. Five more quickly followed and by the end of the year the number had increased to 19. The official opening took place on the 25th October 1950.

They soon realised that further rooms on the ground floor would be required and in 1953 a further extension was built increasing the availability of the rooms. Finally by 1979 an additional lounge adjoining the two extensions together brought the buildings into very much the layout that is available today.

Over the years of its life the Red House has cared for numerous residents. We have many newspaper cuttings in our archives which tell us how significant the fundraising for the creation of this Charity was during the 1950's. It was obviously the major charity in the town and two of our longest standing trustees can remember from their childhood being involved in fundraising events at the school and the local Brownie pack.

Fundraising began in 1947. Amongst the archives we have a prospectus issued in 1947. It lists the committee of Management headed by the chairman the Reverend Crowther Smith. The names of the committee are clearly representative of the 'great and good' of Sudbury at the time. The document invites the public to subscribe for shares and says:

'The society is non-profit making. For the purposes of providing the necessary capital funds, friends of the society are invited to become members by subscribing for £1 shares, which will entitle them to dividends at the rate of more than 4% per annum. Owners of these shares and the numbers permitted to be held by one individual, minimum 5 and maximum 200, have voting rights and a direct interest in the administration. Bequests are also earnestly invited'.

The document goes on to describe how accommodation will be provided and the ambition to build a wing to the building for 25 guests. It says:

'The hostel is being established primarily with the intention that admission should be granted on consideration of need and suitability of temperament for hostel life: it is of course recognised that such a way of living does not meet the requirements of all natures whether old or young. The guiding principal for admission, whether applicants are able to pay full costs or not, must be that a happy and congenial community is essential for the comfortable guests and for the successful conduct of the household'.

When the rules of the society were written they expressly forbade payment of dividends. Rule 87 says 'no portion of the income or property of the society shall be paid or transferred either directly or indirectly by way of dividend, bonus or otherwise, howsoever by way of profit to the members of the society'.