Clare, ‘an exceptionally attractive small town’* is graced with grade 1 listed buildings, amidst a charming medley of medieval, Georgian & Victorian buildings.  It ranges from the oldest inhabited building in Suffolk – Chapel Cottage on the corner of the road up to Postlingford – to the modern extension to the Priory Chapel which in 2015 was declared Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Project of the Year, winning the “Building Conservation” category.

Nethergate Street - Cliftons

Nethergate Street – Cliftons: photo courtesy of Ancient House Museum

The grade 1 listed buildings are:

  • Parish Church of St Peter & St Paul
  • Priory
  • Priory Chapel ( formerly the Infirmary): now part of the new church
  • The Ancient House
  • Cliftons
  • Nethergate House

The key building materials for our area are flint, timber and brick.  Flint was used as there was no local source of good building stone: it’s visible in the castle, the parish church, in many houses and in walls.  On the War Memorial, it can be seen as flushwork, carefully knapped to fit within stone.  Where stone is visible, it was imported from places like Barnack (near Stamford, Lincolnshire) or Caen in France.

The art of brick-making had been lost since Roman tiles; when it started again, in Coggeshall in the 12C, it was expensive.  As the practice spread, it became cheaper and more widespread.  A brick kiln was discovered when a new estate was being prepared off the Stoke Road – an information board will be placed on the site.  One of the greatest Tudor examples are the exuberant cluster of chimney stacks of Cliftons.  The commonest clay was red; but in our area pockets of white clay were relatively common, hence the ‘Suffolk white’ brick.  On the corner of Church Street, opposite the Bell, is what was called the Stone House, as it was faced with flints; in 1814 a local brick-maker called Jarvis refronted the house to show off his wares: red & white Suffolk bricks.  Suffolk whites may be found throughout the town, now appearing as grey or buff colour; some buildings have the whiter gault bricks, imported from Kent.

Details of dowels in Priory shrine

Details of dowels in the Priory’s shrine

Suffolk was never heavily wooded.  Perhaps only 15% was wooded at the time of the Domesday Book; by 1349 it was only 5%, and a lot of that was coppice.  Timber, mostly oak, was used ‘green’, unseasoned, keeping to that felled in the same year.  The framework was assembled on the same site, before being disassembled and re-erected on the proper site.  Carpenter’s marks can occasionally be seen – incised to help with the re-assembly.  Dowels were malleted in to fix the frame.  The new building was left unroofed and otherwise unfinished for a season to allow the greenwood to shrink, joints to harden and dowels to lock in place.  Only after that was the building finished, walled, floored and roofed.  If the process was done too hastily or used wood from different seasons, the frame could distort and twist.  Timber was highly valued: many of the buildings were constructed from previously used wood.

Wattle and daub were used to infill the timber frame.  Later bricks might be used as infill, especially below windows on the groundfloor.  In the Georgian period a smart new brick front was added to disguise the timberframe, raising the value without an expensive rebuild: Cliftons, the Gothic House in Church Street, the Globe Inn – look for the steeper roofs behind the front.  Elswhere the houses were plastered over.  Later this was colour-washed, ‘with a special affection for a shade of pink’.  Pargeting was added.  Weatherboarding was a feature, especially on farm and commercial buildings.

Link: Historic England (grade 1 listed, in order as above: 1376670, 1285828, 1194114, 1376700, 1180531, 1031719; Clare’s Listed buildings street-by-street

*Reference: Suffolk: West, The Buildings of England, Bettley & Pevsner, Yale 2015. ISBN 978 0 300 19655 9, pp189-197

Chevron badge - emblem of Clare Town Council2016 © Clare Town Council