Interiors: Take a peek inside this dream house in Bray
PUBLISHED: 12:53 11 September 2020 | UPDATED: 15:00 21 September 2020
Set against the riverside, Berkleys has a Jane Austen connection and has featured in TV and film
“Back when we were looking to buy a house on the River Thames, Bray didn’t have all it has to offer now but it was still very pretty,” says Lyn Williams, who has now lived in this beautiful corner of Berkshire for 23 years.
“I worked in London and needed to commute into the city easily but my husband had recently retired from Special Branch in the Met Police and needed a project.
“We especially wanted to buy a property on the river as we love the water but we needed a house large enough to accommodate our three children and our grandchildren. We looked at a lot of properties but many had flooding issues. This one didn’t, however, as it was in an elevated position.”
Berkeleys, in Vicarage Walk, is now a spacious, six-bedroom house that enjoys a glorious position on the River Thames.
Lyn, who used to own a market research company, says she and her husband, JIM, fell in love with the views, and she was also fascinated by the property’s interesting past and the potential for creating a comfortable family home.
“Berkeleys evolved from the small 17th century Bray Vicarage, and it had been extended over the years. The church records are very sketchy for this period, but it appears that, as the church became more settled and wealthier and the congregation larger, the modest Vicarage was extended.
“Probably growing in size from the mid-1700s to late 1800s, it became a substantial family home with 35 rooms. The original vicarage became the servants’ quarters and the extension the grander vicarage,” explains Lyn.
From 1852 to 1875 it was the home of the Reverend Austen-Leigh, the nephew of Jane Austen, who famously wrote her definitive biography here, The Memoir of Jane Austen, which is still in print today. “It is believed to be the only account of her life by someone who knew her well in her later years,” says Lyn.
“And we have had filming here at Berkeleys too. In 2014, Chris Brindle produced a play, short film and documentary that told the story of Jane Austen’s last unfinished novel, Sanditon. Chris came here with the actress Amy Burrows to film in the house, garden and on the river.”
Towards the end of the 1800s and early 1900s, the wealth and influence of the church diminished. “The church decided to sell the large Vicarage with its extensive river moorings, coach house and grain store, and it was put up for auction as Regency House in 1954,” says Lyn.
“The Bray Vicarage was bought by a developer, who split it in to two parts. The original Vicarage became Tudor House and the main part, Berkeleys, was named after the incumbent vicar in the 1700s. The grain store and the coach house became two further independent properties.”
Lyn went on to tell me that Charles and Nan Birney previously lived in Berkeleys, bringing up their family here and enjoying the river. Nan Birney wrote Bray Today and Yesterday, which was published in 1973 and edited and republished in 1998.
“It is a very comprehensive account of the history of Bray from the earliest settlement to the end of the 1900s,” says Lyn.
“When we bought it, it was a big project to take on,” says Lyn. “Although we loved it, it took us a year to decide whether to buy it or not, as it needed considerable investment of time and a big budget to realise the tremendous potential of an old vicarage in this location.
“And we weren’t buying it for commercial reasons - we wanted to create a home where our family could grow up.”
Of course, in the end, they went with their hearts and bought it.
“We moved into Berkeleys in June 1997 and immediately got cracking on a programme of work, restoring some parts and extending others. This is a repeat of earlier Victorian history, where the Reverend Austen-Leigh expanded the Vicarage to accommodate his family,” says Lyn.
“We replaced the roof and built a double garage, as well as the driveway, and we added a two-storey extension to one side of the house. We added in new windows and uncovered an original arch window, which we kept, so you can now see through it into the new kitchen from the dining room, and we cleared out the large cellar.”
The property retains many period features and its refurbishment has been done with taste and sympathy.
The accommodation now extends over three floors. The lower ground floor consists of bedroom, en-suite bathroom, kitchen and sitting room.
And the ground floor has a spacious entrance hall leading on to a delightful sitting room, cosy dining room with a woodburning stove and study, each with their own stunning views down to the river.
“I love the serene, natural light that floods through the windows. The reception rooms have high ceilings and lots of light - this is something we insisted upon when refurbishing and extending the house,” adds Lyn.
Walking from the reception hall through the breakfast room, with Lyn’s beloved Aga, you come to the double aspect kitchen, which has all the mod-cons, including a range cooker and ceramic hobs. The conservatory’s doors lead out onto the terrace and riverside garden.
“This is one of our favourite places to sit and relax looking down the garden to the river and passing boats. It is beautiful all year round,” says Lyn.
The first floor is accessed via the oak staircase. “We put this in,” says Lyn. “And the galleried landing.” The master bedroom has an en-suite with a lovely balcony overlooking the river.
“We have bespoke sycamore fitted wardrobes and dressing table in here, which I love,” says Lyn. Another double bedroom with en-suite overlooks the garden and river with a single bedroom next door. Two further double bedrooms overlook the front of the house.
“We really brought the house out of the 19th and into the 21st century, yet retained the old features, while adding the Aga, the woodburners, reclaimed doors and floors. And we had all new bathrooms fitted, with steam cabinets and Jacuzzi baths,” Lyn explains.
“We designed the interiors ourselves. We like simple decor with light colours and plain walls. We have porcelain tiles in the kitchen and bathroom, and the rest of the house has woooden floors, which are in-keeping with the look and feel of the property.
“The large table in the dining room was made by Craig Brown, who got his degree in design using our table and chairs that he’d created as his showpiece.
“He also made our bespoke Tiger’s Eye oak kitchen cabinets and the sycamore bedroom furniture. He went on to design and make furniture for Sophie Dahl and Jamie Cullum. I love the fact this furniture is all handmade and unique to us and I shall miss it when we leave,” says Lyn.
“After more than 20 years as a family home, it is sadly now time for us to move on and hand over the property to someone else. We have loved living in Bray.
“Of course, it is renowned for internationally acclaimed restaurants, including the Waterside Inn and the Fat Duck, but we also enjoy going to Caldesis, or for lunch at Boulters Lock, which we access via the river on a boat. We can slip through the churchyard for a drink at the Hind’s Head or The Crown.
“The Old Butchers shop and Pop Up Wine Bar in Cookham is a treat, and there’s also a lovely little dress shop on Cookham High Street called Vicki Bond. During lockdown, we’ve discovered Pizza Dreams near Cookham Station for takeaways.
“In Maidenhead, bakedd artisan bakery and cafe makes wonderful cakes and scones as well as bread and does a good cup of coffee. And it’s so easy to get to London from here. You can’t beat a day out at Cliveden and we are spoilt for dog walks along the river or on the heath.
“Now our three children and four grandchildren are grown up, it’s just the two of us living here most of the time, and it’s a lot to look after at our age. But it’s been a wonderful house; perfect for entertaining and a happy family home.”
Berkeleys is on the market at £3.5m with UK Sotheby’s International Realty