Monday, January 6, 2020

Thorpeness, Suffolk

Cloud-capped tower

There really is nowhere quite like Thorpeness, a 1920s seaside village, all weatherboarding, timber-framing (or is it mock-timber-framing?), and red tiles, just up the Suffolk coast from Aldeburgh. The atmosphere is a curious blend of seaside suburban, merrie England, and frontier shack, and wandering around it early on a misty morning made it impossible not to have a faint sense of the unreal. And also a sense of being somewhere utterly charming and unique. One building stands out above the others – literally above, since it towers to 70 feet and seems to consist of a small house perched on a tower. This singular structure, known as the House in the Clouds, is tall enough to be visible from the beach at Aldeburgh, where visitors must scratch their heads and wonder if their rum and raisin ice-cream is laced with rather more of the hard stuff then they expected.

A folly, then? Like most follies, it is there for a purpose, and originally for a very serious one. The village needed a water tower and architect F. Forbes Glennie came up with this picturesque design, setting the 50,000 gallon tank in the ‘house’ at the top. The rest of the tower was indeed a house, and its tenants must have had the best views for miles around. Now the views are better still, because the tank was dismantled and removed in 1979, when mains water came to Thorpeness, and the resulting space made into another room. As we walked up to the tower back in November, the mist cleared, revealing the structure, veiled slightly by trees but making us smile as countless passers-by before us must have done. Merrie England indeed.

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For more on The House in the Clouds and other such structures, see the wonderfully titled book Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln, 2012), by my friend Peter Ashley.

The House in the Clouds also has its own website, here.

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