Paycocke's House is a stunning Tudor merchant's house in Coggeshall in Essex, belonging today to the National Trust. The house contains wonderful woodcarving and elaborate panelling showing the wealth of the merchants who built and decorated the house. The oldest part of the building, at its rear, dates from about 1420 and the time of Henry V and was part of an open medieval hall. Later buildings were added to the site in two phases of construction. Tree ring analysis has dated these between 1509 and 1510. Timber-framed buildings were typically pre-fabricated in the spring and summer months with freshly felled, unseasoned oak that was soft and readily worked. Each timber was given a mark, many of which are still visible at Paycocke’s. This could be anything from a Roman numeral to hashing. Markings in the room above the cartway at Paycocke’s have caused quite a controversy – circles with lines running through them are often associated with witches’ marks. Whilst some believe these markings may have a more sinister meaning, others believe they were merely markings to help builders put the beams together, finishing the jigsaw puzzle.
Thomas Paycocke, commissioner and owner, wanted to impress using the latest fashions within the building. As a clothier, he would have been well travelled across Europe and similarities with French and Italian architecture suggest he may have employed craftsmen he met from the continent. Showing off his wealth, the more elaborate carvings, visible by streaming daylight, are confined to the front half of the house where visitors first entered. The land they have today incorporated into their garden was once part of the business premises of Thomas Paycocke. A cart-way, built in the second phase of construction, allowed the transporting of goods in wagons from the road to the yard and Tudor outbuildings at the back of the house. These would have included stables, a dovecote and possibly a kitchen. Tudor kitchens were always separate from the main building due to the risk of fire.
The Paycocke family originally came from Suffolk. They lived comfortably owning many properties in Suffolk villages. By the mid-15th century, they had moved to Coggeshall. John Paycocke died in 1505 leaving his son Thomas the site upon which Paycocke’s now stands. Thomas was responsible for most of the building we see today. Born in the second half of the 15th-century, he became a successful businessman, making a small fortune through the manufacture of woollen cloth. He adopted what is known as the outwork system. Thomas sourced his raw materials buying the wool and delivering it to the weavers to weave and the fullers to full either in their own homes with their own tools or in his other premises in the town. In return, he paid them a wage for their labour, receiving the finished product, cloth, once the work had been completed. To mark the cloth as his, he branded the bales with an ermine tail, as seen in the woodwork at Paycocke’s house. Following this, he transported the cloth to the market towns, selling it to the drapers who would sell it on. The Paycocke family chose the ermine tail as their emblem. Known for its cleanliness, this animal was perhaps adopted to make a statement about the quality and condition of Paycocke’s cloth.
Thomas married Margaret Horrold and their union is symbolised in the ceiling at Paycocke's. Their initials MP and TP decorate the beams. Did Thomas break tradition by honouring his wife so publicly? We believe Thomas gained financially from the match. Perhaps this was his way of acknowledging Margaret's financial input in the building. Sadly Margaret died before the couple had any children and Thomas later remarried. What would his second wife, Ann Cotton, have thought about these carvings?! Thomas died before their baby daughter was born and, following traditional heritage customs, Paycocke’s passed to Thomas's nephew. Thomas was a respected figure within the local community, deeply religious, acting as godfather to a number of children within the parish and a member of the Crutched Friars of Colchester. His generosity was widely felt as he donated money for poor relief, funded the aisle and chantry in the local church and left money to religious houses in his family county of Suffolk. The name Paycocke is old English for peacock.
In 1584 the last male heir to the family business, John Paycocke, died and the building later passed to the Buxton family. The Buxton family branch linked with Paycocke’s House moved from Sudbury, rooting themselves at Coggeshall in the early 16th-century. They also worked in the cloth trade. The Buxtons were already connected to the Paycocke family through marriage after a young apprentice, Robert Buxton, caused quite a scandal by marrying his master’s daughter, Emma Paycocke. From records it seems William Buxton, a clothier born about 1580, was the first Buxton to enter Coggeshall. The wills of subsequent Buxton generations mention their ownership of property in West Street. These may be referring to Paycocke’s House but it is not certain. The first definite link between the Buxtons and Paycocke’s House begins with one Isaac Buxton. Isaac was born in 1672 and followed in his family’s footsteps becoming a successful clothier. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had six children. Isaac was a committed nonconformist, heavily involved in the building and financing of the new Congregational Chapel in 1710. He was a trustee of the chapel and also of Gooday’s Charity. Isaac must have been very wealthy as he owned lots of properties in the local area. He generously allowed his son, John Buxton, to live at Paycocke’s whilst he lived further down the road. We may reasonably assume that Paycocke’s was not the Buxton family home and was not the most prestigious dwelling at that time.
Upon Isaac’s death in 1732, Paycocke’s passed to his son Samuel. Samuel sadly died five years later, leaving the property to his brother Charles. Charles lived most of his life in London as an oil merchant. It seems he had little desire to live in Paycocke’s and chose to rent the house to Robert Ludgater. Robert bought the house from his landlord in 1746. After the sale of Paycocke’s the family remained in the village and were involved with brewing, banking and the Church. The Buxton’s are thought to be of Norse origin, settling in the village of Buxton, Norfolk which is where they get their name from. The Buxton crest depicts a lion breathing fire. This stands for courage, bravery, strength, valour and ferocity. The Buxton family are believed to have been responsible for the construction of the 17th-century Mansard wing at Paycockes (wing to the east at the rear). Lord Noel Buxton, responsible for the 20th-century restoration of Paycocke’s, is a direct descendant of the original William Buxton, born c1580 as his 8x great grandson.
There are several puzzles at Paycocke’s which are yet to be explained... Third storey missing. By looking at the timber frame, they know the house used to have a third floor which was removed not long after its construction as the present roof dates to 1588. Whilst they think the space was used for storage, they can only speculate as to why it was removed so quickly. Perhaps it had been poorly constructed and was deemed inefficient. Yet we do know other buildings in the village had their third storeys removed around the same time. Maybe this reflects a shift in the cloth trade. The fireplaces we see today were not built in Thomas Paycocke’s time and were uncovered during the restoration. Clues to their original whereabouts are visible in the west walls of the main hall and entertaining room directly above. If you look carefully, you can see where the mantels would have been from the notches made in the wooden beams. Yet there is no evidence for a chimney to accompany them. Perhaps this is evidence for the experimental stages of domestic heating. In medieval times, central fires were lit in open halls so the smoke could escape. Perhaps the Tudors hadn’t quite mastered chimneys at the time of Paycocke’s construction. If this was the case, smoke would have filled the rooms making everyone cough and splutter. This unpleasant scenario would account for why the fireplaces are no longer there. Or, perhaps these fireplaces were never designed to be used at all. Thomas may have created an illusion to suggest to others he was rich enough to afford home comforts like heating. This would work with the idea that the main range was merely a showroom. In his day, there was no door to the room beyond so visitors would not realise the trick.
Thomas Paycocke’s office is now covered from floor to ceiling with wooden panelling. There are in fact five different types of panelling in this room. Can you spot them all? They date from the 16th-century when wooden panelling was fashionable but they are not necessarily all original to the house. Were these installed by the first Buxton inhabitants? Those above the fireplace have been put on upside down. The smooth lip of each panel is at the top rather than the bottom so dust collects on the rough ridges. We bet the craftsman got a telling off or perhaps they were lucky and their commissioner never noticed. Three panels, hidden behind the door, are obviously different to the rest. Why? Could these have been acquired from the Abbey when they were stripped of their wealth? Waterways. They have a stretch of water at the bottom of the garden as do their neighbours. This rises in periods of heavy rain and, looking back at records, Paycocke’s has had problems with flooding on many occasions. Perhaps this was once part of a larger oxbow lake. Today it makes a pretty water feature in the garden and a home for all kinds of wildlife.
In the 1800's the house is split into three tenements. 1885: Paycocke’s is under threat of demolition. Charles Pudney buys the property, using it as a home and base for his carrier business. 1904: Charles Pudney sells Paycocke’s to Lord Noel Buxton. The restoration begins whilst Conrad and Miriam Noel reside there. 1923: The Holst family spend a summer at Paycocke’s. 1924: Noel Buxton donates Paycocke’s to the National Trust. They rent the house to tenants. 1940: Three land mines fall on Coggeshall causing blast damage to Paycocke’s.
Blue badge holders can park on the street. The Drop-off point in front of the house is for blue badge holders only. There are some steps in the grounds but these can be avoided to give full access; brick and gravel paths, lawns. Note some uneven ground. The building has a step to the entrance but a is ramp available. Ground floor accessible. Stairs to other floors. Visitors toilet available on the first floor. Ground floor toilet available at Grange Barn. Assistance dogs are welcome. One ticket for two properties. Entry ticket for both Paycocke's House and Garden and Coggeshall Grange Barn.
Location : 25 West Street, Coggeshall, Colchester, Essex, CO6 1NS
Transport: Braintree (National Rail) then bus (70). Bus Routes : 70 stops very close by
Opening Times : 15th March to 29th October, Daily, 11:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Adults £7.00; Children (5 - 16) £3.50
Tel: 01376 561305