Gainsborough's House is the birthplace of the leading English painter Thomas Gainsborough, it is now a museum and gallery. The oldest visible part of the house is the oak doorway into the entrance room, which could date back to 1490. Four distinct periods may be discerned in its architecture. The original house, represented today only by the Entrance Hall and Aubrey Herbert Room, probably dates back to around 1500. The oak doorway, was probably the original front door to the house, leading straight into the Entrance Hall from the street. Houses of the late 15th century show a type of structure closely related to the timbering visible in the Entrance Hall. The fireplace with its heavy oak lintel may have been a later addition to the room, being a common feature of early 17th century rooms. Around 1600, a house was built next door. The Parlour, across the corridor from the Entrance Hall, is the only visible part of this house, to have survived, and even there the character of the room has been greatly altered by subsequent modernisations.
The basic structure of most houses of this period was made up of a skeleton of oak beams. The panels between those beams were filled with "plaster". In this particular case, the plaster was applied on to hazel sticks wedged between the timbers. It was composed of clay soil mixed with about half its bulk of reeds, both leaf and stem of which were used, and which were very plentiful in East Anglia. Such plaster was known as wattle and daub, raddle and daub, or pug, and was applied simultaneously by two men one on either side of the wall. This was allowed to dry hard before whitewashing, and was very tough, having the added advantage of being cheap. It was not, however, an entirely satisfactory building material, as it tended to shrink away from the beams in dry weather, and soaked up the moisture in wet weather. The interior walls would have been wainscoted with oak paneling usually "chair-high", the rest being stuccoed and covered either with wallpaper, or painted decoration.
The structural beams would not, by the early 18th century, have been visible inside the house. The floors, which in the 16th century would have consisted of packed earth and ox-blood covered with herbed straw, would by this time, have been boarded with oak planks. In the absence of proper stains and polishes, 18th century housewives had to improvise; John Wood, when commenting upon the effected improvements, recalls that: "About the year 1727, the Boards of the Dining Room and other floors were made of a Brown Colour, with soot and small Beer, to hide the Dirt, as well as their own imperfections‚ the Chimney Pieces, Hearths and Slabbs were all of Free Stone and they were daily cleaned with a particular White-wash, which soon rendered the brown Floors like the Starry Firmament." Gainsborough's parents bought the house for £230 in 1722 and it remained in the family until 1792. When the house was sold at auction, it was described as: "consisting of a most excellent Brickt Mansion... replete with every convenient Accommodation for a genteel Family, or principal Manufacturer, having upon the Premises two Buildings... 147 Feet long, with an Orchard, well planted with Fruit Trees in a high state of Perfection, which with a Flower Garden, paved Yard, and Scite of the Buildings, contain about two acres.
Gainsborough attended Sudbury Grammar School but at thirteen went to further his studies in London. There, he trained with the French painter and illustrator, Hubert-Francois Gravelot and associated with the artistic community around the St Martin's Lane Academy, which included William Hogarth (1697–1762) and Francis Hayman (1708–76). Their decorative Rococo style and introduction of the informal 'conversation piece' as a new portrait type were influential on the young Gainsborough. In 1749, after his marriage to Margaret Burr and father's death, he returned to his native town of Sudbury. He made a meagre living painting portraits of the local gentry and members of the professional classes. These early portraits were often rather stiff but demonstrated the artist's flair for capturing a likeness and a personality. At the same time, he was also painting landscapes. While clearly inspired by the Suffolk countryside, they were only rarely views of actual places. Gainsborough's early landscapes were imitative of 17th-century Dutch landscape painting, with their careful observation of nature and meticulous technique. By 1752, Gainsborough had probably exhausted the circle of potential patrons around Sudbury and moved to the larger town of Ipswich, then a flourishing port. There, he had greater opportunities to develop as an artist, with more exacting clients. In 1759, Gainsborough made a decisive move to Bath. As a rapidly growing spa town in the West Country, Bath became an important social centre for the wealthy and fashionable, where they consulted their doctors or had their portraits painted.
Gainsborough’s House is entered via the shop entrance at ground level. The exhibition gallery on the ground floor has one step, for which a temporary ramp is available. The house has three floors. The second floor is accessible via a platform lift. The upper floor is only accessible via a flight of seven curved stairs. There is an accessible toilet next to the shop. The garden is partly accessible with a ramp to the higher level. There are some uneven paths and grass surfaces. Although they do not have a car park, a parking space close to the house can usually be made available for visitors with access needs upon prior arrangement. The nearest Blue Badge parking spaces are off street bays on Gainsborough Street adjacent to Gainsborough’s House. These are limited to one hour waiting. Assistance dogs are welcome but there is little in the way of sensory experiences for the visually impaired.
Location : Gainsborough’s House, 46 Gainsborough Street, Sudbury, Suffolk CO10 2EU
Transport: Sudbury (National Rail) 10 minutes. Bus Routes : 236, 333, 700, 702, 715, 716, 751, 752, 753, 754, 755 and X53 stop nearby.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00; Sundays open at 11:00
Tickets : Adults £5.90; Children (5+)/ Students £2.00
Tel: 01787 372958