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Jacobs Hall

Dcp84854.jpg (58565 bytes)Jacobs is about 600 years old, and takes its name from the original owner, who was probably the builder of the house. Not much is known of its very early history. It consisted of one large room open to the roof, in the style of the period, the fire being a brazier on the floor (of beaten earth), and the smoke escaping by a louvered lantern – a kind of fixed shutter in the roof. The King Post (the main support of the roof) was about 14ft above the floor in the centre of the room. The east and west wings were added soon after, and it was then architecturally described as a fine example of fourteenth century timber-framed construction of the contemporary ‘H’ shaped plan. The narrow spacing between the beams is said to indicate its early date. In the constructions of later years the spacing became wider and wider as timber became less plentiful. It is interesting to compare the ceiling joists of our modern houses with those in the dining room at Jacobs.
In the 15th century, when many Dutch and Flemish weavers settled in England, the property came into the hands of some rich shipping merchants named Beriffe, who were connected with weaving. They enriched and enlarged the house, which even then was of considerable importance. A ceiling of beautifully carved and moulded oak was built into the hall, dividing it into two rooms, one above the other. Dcp84856.jpg (63734 bytes)The decorated brick turret, with its spiral staircase in the corner of the forecourt, was built for the purpose of getting into the room above – an afterthought presumably. Similar staircases have the entrance outside: this one is unique in that its entrance in inside the main hall. The fireplace was added probably in the 16th century, and is larger than the usual 9 or 10 foot opening, having a span of 12 feet. It was not built in the centre of the room as in other houses of this period, notably Penshurst Place in Kent, but into one quarter of it. The niches in the back of the fireplace were probably for flint and tinder. The fire is in regular use today and burns day and night all the winter.
Records show that the Beriffes occupied Jacobs as late as 1624, The house as we see it today from the High Street was if fact the back of the house, which actually faced the sea. The estate extended considerably on either side, and reached down to the sea, which however, has most likely receded. The family also owned a cottage and land on East End Green, and a farm called Morses about a mile from the town, near the old church.
There are six very fine brasses in this church, memorials of the family. The earliest is of John Beriffe, who died in 1497, and shows effigies of himself, his three wives, five sons and four daughters. The latest brass is the only one which retains its proper inscription, name, ‘John Beriffe of Jacobs died ye XX of Maye Ao 1542. Here lyeth William Beriffe his eldest sonne who hath been Deputie of Bryghtlyngsee XII years who had issue by Ann his wife II sonnes and III daughters, who died ye IX Maye anno domini 1578.’ All the brasses are identified by the family’s Marks.
Little is know of its history for the next 200 years or more, presumably it deteriorated, and eventually was adapted to suit its fallen condition. This brings its history to the middle of the 19th Century – that unfortunate period of ‘tidying up’ during which so many of our churches suffered. Jacobs was divided into seven ‘lets’ as they are called in the locality, three in each wind and one in the original Hall. The west wing was almost entirely rebuilt, converting it into three cottages. Many of the old timbers remain, although an open fireplace seems to have disappeared. The front of the house now faced the roadway. It was plastered all over and the upper stories which projected at each end were underbuilt with brick. A shop was erected between the wings, in the forecourt, in which boots and sweets were sold (a somewhat unsavoury combination!) Later sweets and vegetables were sold. Only the top of the turret could be seen above the shop, which was on a level with the road. The window in the turret was blocked up, so that it was quite dark inside, small boys are said to have paid d to look up there. The back of the house now looking towards the sea was weather-boarded, and on the south end of the east wind a fireplace and chimney were added.
The Main Hall was divided across into two parts and a small sash window and a door at each end replaced the original leaded lights. The large fireplace was boarded up. There is an old man living in Brightlingsea who once lived in this part of Jacobs, and he remembers there being a little fire grate in the right hand corner of the opening, the rest of which was a closet. He says that nobody ever bothered to look inside all the years he lived there. A staircase was put up in the back part of the room, leading through a trap door into what is now called the King Post room. At that time, however, the King Post was not visible, having been completely enclosed in matchboarding, and yet another ceiling was added at the collar of the King Post, completely hiding the lovely roof. In short, Jacobs, as originally built, was absolutely unrecognisable both inside and out. There are still postcards of the house in this state, which, though depressing, are interesting.
About 1923 the house was accidentally ‘discovered’ and the uncovering began. The shop was pulled down and most of the inside and outside plastering was removed. In 1932 the ancient Buildings Trust bought the property, and in 1936 repairs were started in earnest on the main block and the east wing. The west wing will be dealt with later.
During digging operations the brick paving in the forecourt was found at its present level, and part only has been reset. The entrance in the opposite corner to the turret, which had been bricked up, was opened and doors were made to the pattern of the old Tudor door in the Hall for this and the entrance at the back of the house, Correct windows were made for the Hall, and rotting beams were replaced by sound old ships’ timbers, carefully chosen from the local shipyards. Under the plaster facings between the beams were the original wattle and daub walls in most excellent preservation. It seems incredible that hazel sticks could have been bedded in stiff clay and dry cut grass for at least 600 years.
An open fireplace in the east wing was behind much painted woodwork and a bar grate. The arch of a bread oven can be seen, but the actual oven is bricked in. The workman who pulled the old fireplace out decided that the uncovered brickwork was untidy and started plastering it over. Fortunately it was found when he had got only about halfway up and it was immediately stripped off again.
Dcp84855.jpg (57706 bytes)Everything has been done to preserve the building as a perfect example of early English architecture. The additions of bathroom, electric light and refrigerator enable the house to be run efficiently, without in any way spoiling its atmosphere of quiet comfort.
Her Majesty Queen Mary visited Jacobs on Monday, June 13th 1938. In honouring this ancient and beautiful house with her presence she added another page to its history. Her Majesty asked many questions about the house as she went from room to room, and in the Street Bedroom remarked that it was a charming home.
The Queen also went in the garden, and before leaving graciously signed the visitors’ book and accepted a history of Jacobs.
The Royal party included Princess Alice Countess of Athlone, The Earl of Athlone, and Viscountess Byng of Vimy.