In the very heart of Colchester town centre is Tymperleys, a Grade 2* 15th – 16th century timber-framed building. It’s tucked away behind the houses on Trinity Street. A little alleyway next to The Art Cafe leads to it.
For the past three years it has been closed to the public, which has been a cause of great controversy to the residents of Colchester. Prior to its closure Tymperleys was a clock museum run by Colchester Borough Council. It housed a collection of clocks that had been donated to the town by a local business man called Bernard Mason.
Early on in its life Tymperleys was the home of Sir William Gilberd, who was Court Physician to both Elizabeth I and James I. Importantly for us in the 21st century though, he was also heavily involved in work on magnetism, which eventually led to the discovery of electricity. Some would say that without his initial work we wouldn’t be able to flick a switch and turn electric lights on today. In the early 20th century, Tymperleys was again the home of a physician/surgeon. The 1901 census show Edward Wonts lived there with his wife Janet and 3 sons, two of whom were also surgeons, whilst one was a dentist. He also had three grown up daughters, living at home, who didn’t have a career, plus four servants.
In 2010, the museum closed, and many of the clocks were given a new home in Hollytrees Museum. The search was then on to find a company or organisation who could take over the building and bring it back to life. In December 2013, a deal was finally agreed between Colchester Borough and Sheila and Nicholas Carrington, who own one of the most important historic buildings in Essex, Layer Marney Tower. The couple plan to restore Tymperleys and turn it into a wedding and conference venue. Plus, so that locals and visitors to the town can have the chance to visit the buildings, the ground floor is to be turned into a tearoom, with something of a clubby feel so that visitors can relax and meet friends over a drink or a meal.
Before the building work began, the house was open for 2 days in January 2014 so that locals could have a look around whilst it was empty. Sheila and Nicholas Carrington were on hand along with their daughter Alice to greet visitors, and explain their plans for the building. And I took the opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the building and take some photographs (see below).
When Tymperleys was a museum there was only public access to the ground floor, so it was a pleasant surprise to be able to look around all three floors. To reach the first and second floors there is a 17th century staircase. The upstairs rooms are all empty at the moment, so it was a great opportunity to admire the beams and the fireplaces. There was also the chance to see the rear of some of the buildings in Trinity Street, and to see how green the town centre is. From high up in the eves of Tymperleys, the middle of Colchester still has a distinctly small town feel to it.
The Carringtons hope to have all the building work completed ready to re-open in early spring (probably March), in time for Easter 2014. They plan to make the rooms available for private high for groups, clubs, organisations, parties, weddings, in other words all kinds of social events. So once again Tymperleys will be at the social heart of Colchester.