The House That Jack Built

This is a book about a family and the house they bought some ten years ago: Saltford Manor, the oldest inhabited house in the country.

For James Wynn it was love at first sight as soon as the estate agent ushered him into the tumbledown wreck that Saltford had become and, like many a lover, he became obsessed with his beloved’s past. And so, as he set about restoring the building, he embarked upon a quest to learn everything he could he could about the men and women who had built and shaped Saltford over a period of nearly a thousand years.

The stars of his story are not history’s leading actors – although William the Conqueror makes a fleeting appearance, Judge Jeffries drops in for the night and Brunel builds a tunnel in the back garden – but its bit-players and extras. They did not leave monuments or found dynasties, but they did leave their marks upon the fabric of Saltford in the form of the oldest domestic wall paintings in Britain, a miraculous medieval window worthy of a cathedral, the entwined initials of a husband and wife on a carved fireplace dating from the English Civil War and, above all, that indefinable ‘something’ in the feel of the place that makes a house into a home.

As we follow the author in his investigation of Saltford’s previous owners he takes us freewheeling through more than nine centuries of English history meeting the ordinary men and women of rural Somerset whose lives he painstakingly and lovingly reconstructs in this enchanting book.

This story of the author’s love affair with the tumbledown manor house he bought in the 1990’s is an investigation of a house and those who lived in it over nearly a thousand years that reads like a detective story. It is a re-creation of the lives of successive generation of common people whose lives find no place in the history books.

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