Stories from an old house
Louise Bliss looks at the history and people associated with a Blandford icon
Published in February ’16
Strolling through Blandford Forum’s high street, as East Street turns into Market Place, is like wandering through a film set of an 18th-century street scene, but if you veer off up one of East Street’s passageways it will take you back in time further still, to a magical 17th-century house with two unusual and magnificent chimneys that dominate the skyline. The chimneys stand proud on the building that, once it has caught your attention, starts to reveal its past?
The building is nearly four centuries old, and has survived three fires. A blue plaque on its exterior wall dates it as being built between 1650-1670. The isolated location in the town and brick materials probably aided its survival in the fires. The design of this house is fascinating, as are the tales of some past residents. The building is ‘The Old House’.
It is like no other in Blandford Forum, the roof with its distinguished chimney pots, octagonal in shape and decorative in design, may well have been built as a status symbol. The impressive roof, part stone tiles laid in a diminishing course with clay tiles above, is not an unusual feature in Dorset. The house has a somewhat fairytale style to it with its rustic brickwork accentuating this look. The brick arched entrance has focal points that have been said to have symbolic cryptic meaning – apparently representing a rose with three leaves (or a flaming Catherine wheel) and a heart lying on its side – but these could equally simply be aesthetic design features.
The building’s other unofficial local name of the German House is alluded to by 18th-century historian Rev John Hutchins, who wrote: ‘an architectural graft from the “fatherland” planted by the worthy doctor on soil of his adopted country’, indicating the probability that German refugees fleeing from the effects of the Thirty Years War, both inspired the design and built the house. Two of the refugee families associated with its origins were wealthy and with royal connections, holding positions with the so-called Winter King, Frederick I, King of Bohemia and Elector Palatine, who was married to Elizabeth the daughter of King James I of England.
Frederick Sagittary, was treasurer, and John Hasfurther, surveyor and chief architect. Joachim Frederick Sagittary, was Frederick’s son, he studied at Oxford to be a Doctor and graduated in 1636 with a special ceremony attended by King Charles I. Joachim Frederick lived in the Old House and worked as a Doctor in Blandford. He died a wealthy man in 1696 leaving property and jewellery to his family. His son John inherited the Old House. The Sagittary family are said to have left before the Great Fire of 1731, though.
With regards to John Hasfurther, an article in the Blandford Express dated 28 March 1885 mentions a book that was stumbled upon during a visit to the British Museum. The book was an album that included woodcuts of national costumes and clothes of the different classes, autographs of friends, letters and poetry. An entry into the album was made noting the marriage between Johanna Sagittary, daughter of Frederick (sister to Joachim Frederick) and John Hasfurther’s son George.
The house has been a home to many families over the centuries. The current owner, Sara Loch, has lived there for over twenty years. Having made a decision to leave London in the early nineties, with Dorset familiar to her from her own school days, she planned her escape to the country. The Old House was first on her list to view, yet it took a second visit for her to realise it was the ‘one’. However, with the survey projecting work costs at around £100,000, doubt set in. Sometime later Sara was contacted by the agents to advise her The Old House was still on the market and had been significantly reduced in price, unfortunately still slightly outside her budget. Sara believed it was not meant to be, until she received a letter informing her that she was to receive an inheritance. The amount received was her budget shortfall!
Having been given a nudge twice in the right direction Sara purchased her historic home. A great deal of time and money has been invested by Sara in her Grade 1 listed house, including the destruction of deathwatch beetle to having someone train in horse hair plaster to restore the building sympathetically.
Standing with Sara in the back garden allows one to gain a better understanding of the (somewhat unorthodox) internal flow of the house and the different floor levels. To the right, three floors can be observed, yet to the left four can be seen, both with a basement.
It is a matter of record that many original features had been removed,including the majestic staircase that weaved through the house and the varying floor levels (of which more in a moment), but, on entering through the large double entrance doors one immediately senses that the house has a lovely atmospheric feeling and some beautiful furniture. There are original floorboards, windows, hinges and beams aplenty.
Research initially led to a story that the original staircase – which had survived the fires in Blandford – had been removed and was lost, burnt, in a house fire in Scotland, but this proved not to be the case. By chance, an acquaintance of the current owner saw the Old House’s staircase in an auction listing; it hadn’t been burnt after all and is now located in Wilsford Manor, Wiltshire.
The garden – once six acres in size – is now a large garden plot of a 1/3 of an acre. It is enclosed by a wall that was listed in 1973 for its special historical interest. A super view of the church’s cupola can be seen from here.
The Old House has also, via Sara, welcomed back members of families who have connections with the house. Two of these are the Roe and the Stott families. John and May Roe lived there during mid to late 1800s and all nine of their children were born in the Old House. One daughter, Eliza, married the 19th-century artist Alfred Fripp. He specialised in watercolours and seven of his paintings are held at the Victoria and Albert museum. His model for his painting ‘The Piping Shepherd’ was the youngest Roe, Reggie. It is a piece of art that was reproduced on a thank you card and sent to Sara Loch after a visit from a family member. A grown-up Reggie emigrated to Australia, where he became a head teacher and ultimately the first Vice President of the University of Queensland. Ironically perhaps – given the protestant refugee status of the house’s first occupants – in the 1920s the house was used for mass after St Monica’s priory closed down; during World War 2 it was a venue for the meeting of the Home Guards.
The 1930’s saw the Stott family move in. John Stott, Headmaster of Blandford Grammar was, at the time, the youngest appointed head of a grammar school in the country.
An article written by one of his former students described him as ‘a teacher ahead of his time’. A member of the Stott family on a visit back to the Old House wrote ‘It was indescribably special to see it all again’.
This is a living house, not a museum, and whilst there are certainly pieces missing from The Old House’s jigsaw-puzzle past, this does not detract from this remarkable building. While Blandford Forum may be seen as being special for its Georgian architecture, the Old House stands out and continues to give pleasure and create more stories for future generations to enjoy. ◗
❱ The author would like to thank Sara Loch for allowing access to her home and to thank the Blandford Town Museum for access to its archives; the museum also has a great model of the Old House on display.
Visit www.blandfordtownmuseum.org for more information. The museum is open 10.00-4.00, Monday to Staurday from 28 March to the end of October.