The Old Sun Inn, Saffron Walden
Eugenia Fiocco is one of the SPAB’s most dedicated online learners. Based in Italy, throughout 2020-21 she has attended over 66 of our events. We asked her what buildings inspire her and how she came to hear about the SPAB.
I first encountered the SPAB three years ago, when I have visited the Old Sun Inn, a much-cherished Grade I-listed house in Essex. Situated in Church Street, Saffron Walden, the house is of timber-framed construction with 14th century origins and jettied upper floors. It has a Tudor overmantel, early Victorian wallpaper and chalk-floored cellars.
The Eastern part of the Old Sun Inn. Credit: The SPAB
It also has some of the best pargeting (external decorative plasterwork) I’ve seen. What struck me were the figures on the westernmost gable. The details are enchanting – their stylised hair, stockinged legs, heeled shoes and spurs.
The man on the left holds a long-bladed cross-hilted sword and the handle of a buckler. The man on the right is grasping the shaft of a long nail-studded club. The clothing of both men is vaguely suggestive of the 17th century. It has been claimed in recent years that the figures represent the tale of Tom Hickathrift (on the left) in confrontation with the Wisbech giant (on the right). Tom is a legendary figure of East Anglian folklore – a character similar to Jack the Giant Killer – and the circular panel in the middle represents his cartwheel.
My visit to the house led me to learn of wider issues and campaigns in the field of building conservation. The owner is Douglas Kent, the SPAB technical and research director.
Douglas and Eugenia at the Old Sun Inn. Credit: Eugenia Fiocco
To my enormous sorrow I am not an old building owner but I am a lover of old buildings! The SPAB’s online lectures explain old buildings in every form, the delegate packs are exhaustive and are a big help for anyone interested in the field of conservation. My favourite lectures have been "Decorative Plasterwork in Traditional buildings: History, Research and Conservation techniques" with William Napier and "An introduction to lime and its uses" with Tim Ratcliffe. I adore the SPAB’s love for conservation!
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