Emma Wells

Inside the fading beauty of Crowland Manor

A different approach to restoration

  • From Spectator Life

Ceramicist Sophie Wilson’s Christmas decorations at her Lincolnshire manor house are calmingly analogue. For her, there are no flashing lights, tawdry tinsel or store-bought baubles.  

‘I love to have bare trees around, and always have a huge one in the main kitchen, big enough so I can tilt my head back and gaze up at it,’ she says. ‘The tree in the playroom, though, will be on just the right side of horrible, festooned with two decades’ worth of my children’s art projects and the old fairy, with the rolling eye – all the things that flood me with memory.’ 

‘Every room in the home is full of the most beautiful pools of light’

Over the years, says Wilson, a mother of five, and founder of 1690, through which she sells her delicate sgraffito-slipware ceramics, her decorations have become less and less energy-consuming, and more pared back. ‘We need a lot less than we think we do,’ she muses. ‘In fact, not buying something is the most sustainable choice. Living at Crowland Manor has taught me that.’

For Wilson, the four-storey manor house – in the town of the same name, deep in South Holland’s fenlands – is not just a family home and workspace, but a way of life. Among a nation of seemingly renovation-obsessed Brits, she has studiously avoided remodelling and sanitising the Grade II* listed 16th century home, which dates back to the dissolution of Crowland Abbey in the 1530s, and was the subject of a major extension and refurbishment in 1690 (thus the name of Wilson’s business).  


Behind a Palladian façade of red brick and limestone quoin dressing, with Georgian and Victorian additions, 6,460 sq ft of interiors feature a grand 18th-century dog-leg staircase, a Diocletian window and untouched panelling, pilasters, pediments, tiling and cabinetry. The Wilson family use just a third of the 23 rooms: floor plans take in several cavernous reception spaces, including a traditional Great Room, two kitchens, at least five bedrooms and a series of perfectly unchanged 16th-century former servants’ rooms.

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