Farm Hall (Godmanchester, Cambs): the architect’s house

This is the home of Professor and Mrs Marcial Echenique OBE MA DArch RTPI RIBA, professor of architecture at Cambridge University.  It’s not usually open to the public but I got a peek inside.

What I was met with was a Georgian country town house dating from the 1740s built onto a much earlier house that makes up the rear portion of the property and the feeling of a house that is still a home (even if the family admit they don’t really use the grandest rooms in the fine and grand Georgian extension).

Grade II listed with the Georgian bits having a possible date of 1746.

As I looked back I thought those lovely words “I could live here”.  Like Farnborough Hall with knobs on (and without the National Trust sticking their nose in).  In fact, Farm Hall was given to the NT but they weren’t interested in it and I’m so glad that Professor and Mrs Echenique bought it.

Perhaps the reason the NT didn’t want is goes back to its use in the war to house prisoners of war.

Prisoners of war

After the Nazi defeat, ten physicists, including Heisenberg, Von Weizsacker and Otto Hahn (who later won the Nobel prize as the co-discoverer of nuclear fission) were interned for six months at Farm Hall. By collecting the major players in German nuclear physics, the British and Americans kept them out of the hands of the Russians. They also made sure that until the atomic bomb was used, atomic information would be kept largely in American hands. While at Farm Hall the German scientists were well treated and probably ate better than their families back in Germany.  Apparently they would climb over the walls and mix with locals.

At Farm Hall each “resident” was assigned a prisoner-of-war batman to look after his needs. There was a tennis court and a piano for Heisenberg.  What none of them seem to have realized, at least initially, was that the estate had been wired to record conversations.

After the Germans left the house it was in a shambolic state and the reconstruction had to begin.  The current owners carried that on.  For two years they lived in the wing while they tackled fixing the roof.  They would visit country houses seeking inspiration for their interiors.  Mrs Echenique discovered a Colefax interior design book and set about making curtains herself.

The owners made the (I think the right) decision to live on the Piano Nobile.  On the ground floor is a library and games room.  Upstairs the front facade houses a sitting room (green with salmon trim) and dining room (salmon with green trim) and to the rear a set of earlier rooms from the original much earlier building that stood on the site, housing a kitchen (with Venetian window and mural), TV room and bedroom.  On the top floor is a further suite of bedrooms.  In the wing the owner’s son and his family live.

We heard a lot about the roof and how it hasn’t leaked since it was replaced.  Seems therefore that keeping the water out really is the key to a life of happiness.

The garden is mainly lawn and there is a walled garden to the right.

This house isn’t usually open to the public but given that we visited this house and then Island Hall, which I’ll tackle next week, in the same village, it seems appropriate to include it in the diary so as compare it to Island Hall, very similar in design but owned by an interior designer and therefore treated much differently.

When visited: April 2012

House * out of 5: ***

Garden * out of 5: **

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