Impressions and experiences of Godwick Great Barn
GodwicKGodwick? Where on Earth is that?’ I exclaimed. That was the sharp retort to my dear wife on a miserable dark day back in the depths of last winter. I can recall it very clearly, just as though it were yesterday. But little did I know that it was to be the beginning of a major new influence in my life.
My wife Sue was about to start as Operations Manager for James on a working farm at Godwick that is renowned nationally for its breeding of Suffolk Sheep and free range turkeys, amongst other things. It sounded idyllic actually. By the end of her explanation, I was becoming quite envious. But her unfettered enthusiasm was reserved for the Great Barn, which is unique in Norfolk, if not the Eastern Counties, apparently. But listening to her impassioned description, I didn’t quite get it. OK so there’s an old farm building and they do B&B in the house; it seemed regular enough.
My first encounter with Godwick Great Barn was truly a revelation. It was late on a bitterly cold March evening. Some potential hirers of the venue thought it would help with their plans if they could have a show-round after dark. Sue was happy to oblige them, of course, so she invited me along for the ride and some marital support as well on this lonely night I suspect.
It was pitch black when we drew up outside, well ahead of the agreed rendezvous time. I stumbled my way to the front door with the use of the torch I kept in the car glove box especially for occasions just like this. No moon nor stars meant there was no indication of the outline of the building or anything else on the Godwick estate. I stood motionless inside the front door waiting patiently for Sue to illuminate the fairy lights. At which point I gasped as everything suddenly became wonderfully clear.
I found myself looking left, right and upwards in this cavernous structure. The size was overwhelmingly enormous, so much larger than I could have ever imagined. Four hundred years of very colourful history contained in every nick in the bricks and notches of the timbers. And if the sheer scale takes my breath away now, then how must it have been seen by 16th Century rural peasants? It had been built by no less a personage than the then Attorney General of England and Wales, Sir Edward Coke himself; cost no object then?
Most repeated visitors are the hirers of this truly impressive venue; most one-off visitors are their guests fortunate enough to be invited to the adventure of their celebration. My relationship with Godwick is through my wife’s work, which she absolutely loves – and who wouldn’t? I can well understand that now. So I am singularly privileged to have the opportunity of calling in at all hours of the day and night on a whole variety of errands.
If the cathedral-like interior of Godwick Great Barn takes my breath away, then the exterior is truly awe-inspiring. Intricate brickwork is there in abundance. Just when I think I know my way around this beauty, then I discover more nooks and crannies to explore. Which blind windows were always blind, and which have become blind since its original design? These speculations are all part of the extraordinary mystery; the Barn has never revealed all her secrets to anyone.
I have thoroughly enjoyed involved conversations with local historians, architects and archaeologists seeking their individual judgement about her vibrant life over four centuries. For them, the exceptional excitement in her grandeur is based on purely intellectual grounds. The genuine history seeps out of every crevice and maybe that is why she stands apart from all other barns.
The acknowledged Suffolk artist John Burman came with me one time to view the Great Barn. The addiction was immediate; I think he would still be there now if I had not physically dragged him away. Why the fascination? The allure of that intriguing mystique blossoms into an uncommonly magical aura. And the distinctive magic is fresh each time I go – whether in rain or shine, or whether during scorching heat or shivering cold, or whether with a serene stillness or blowing a gale.
The nearby medieval village of Godwick is situated on a clay plateau with poor drainage that made cultivation difficult after many years of inclement weather and this contributed to the village becoming a marginal location. Up to six waves of the Black Death also ravaged the population of two hundred and contributed to its decline. But Godwick Great Barn built boldly across the former High Street at about 1580 certainly symbolised the village’s final days.
It is decidedly doubtful that I would be recounting this tale at all were it not for the persistence and tenacity shown by James. He must have spent a huge amount of time, effort and money in developing his vision and dream, the basis of which he generously attributes as coming from his wider family. In his 40s, he appears quiet and unassuming but is quick-thinking and articulate with a massively wide grin that seems to be a permanent feature. His retired primary school teacher (who happens to be a neighbour of ours) remembers that the cheeky grin was prominent from a tender age.
James was brought up at Godwick and he clearly lives and breathes its rustic and rural charm. Pristine landscaped modernity it will never be. But he has very skilfully transformed it into a 21st Century venue for others to enjoy and revel in its wonder. His passion for everything Godwick has flourished so that he now welcomes you into his own home; luxury Bed and Breakfast at Godwick Hall makes your experience complete.
To enable him to meet the wide-ranging wishes of all his hirers, James evolved the knack of recruiting an exceptionally talented team to help him manage the events. In its short but highly successful history as an events venue, the Godwick team has integrated remarkably well; everyone has been overtaken, it would seem, by the Godwick magic and James’ dream.
So, just by coming to Godwick we all become a tiny part of its 400-year history. An agricultural barn that proved itself as a much-needed barracks will now host your wedding celebration, party or ball. And what does the future hold for the unique Godwick Great Barn? Who could possibly know that? But certainly for the duration of his tenure, James will ensure that Godwick’s traditions do not stop here.
Note from James. This blog was written by Ivan Ball, who is the husband of Godwick’s operations manager Sue.
Thank you Ivan so much for sharing with us your experiences and understanding of Godwick. It’s great to hear your impressions and thank you for letting me borrow Sue to organise me during the week!
For those of you interested in visiting Godwick Deserted Medieval Village we have more information on this website at this page. It is open to the public and is worth visiting if you like historical sites of interest and interesting landscapes.