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History of Ness House


Ness House was (for reasons never fully explained) called The Tea House from before 1868 through to 1945. The present building incorporates a farm house, which was recorded on the Tithe Maps of 1831 as including barns with 125 acres of land down to the foreshore.


The house is constructed of brick with shingle facing, distinct from the flints used elsewhere in East Anglia. The building material was traditionally collected from the more easily accessible beaches at Sizewell and Thorpeness, where it was manually sorted into piles of grades, often by those in the community who could today be classified as having learning difficulties and considered not worth sending to school. This practice continued into 1920’s.

In the early years of the 19th Century this was the only house between the small hamlet of Thorpe to the south, and Sizewell Gap to the North, then consisting only of the Inn, the Pebble Cottages and Hill Farm, now flattened by the Power Station. The Coastguard Cottages were built after Napoleonic Wars, and the three residences, Cliff House, Sizewell Hall and Dower House were all evolved from seaside summer houses of the local gentry, after the Estate was consolidated by Alexander Ogilvie, the Railway developer around 1884, who lived in the hall.

Soon after the house was altered extensively and became the residence of Dr. Menteith Ogilvie, one of his 5 sons, an ophthalmic surgeon practicing in London and Oxford. He was also a renowned orchid grower. R.H.S. Gold Medallist and ornithologist; and progressively assembled a very large collection of birds of the British Isles, mainly from East Anglia. In 1902 he built a personal, private Museum to house them, incorporating underfloor heating, remote controlled roof ventilating louvres and overhead glazed light with individual roller blinds to control immission of ultra violet rays. The collection was stuffed and presented by T.E. Gunn of Norwich, and was looked after by a Warden living in the cottage accommodation built on to the Western end. This was almost certainly the best private collection in the country. Dr. Ogilvie died in 1918, and bequeathed the collection mainly to Ipswich Borough Museum, where it is excellently displayed and regularly visited by those interested in such fine examples of the taxidermist’s art.

From then the building was used for grain storage, farm machinery, boat building and the storage other people’s chattels. In World War 2, during army use, some damage occurred to lights, roof, ceiling panels and floor, and we are still struggling with temporary repairs originally intended just to make it weatherproof for grain storage purposes. From all this we chose the Centre’s name, so much preferable to “The Old Museum”! 


FIFTEEN YEARS AGO Mr. and Mrs. Richard Gimson gifted the old museum to Warden’s Charitable Trust for use as an Outings Centre for physically and mentally handicapped people of all ages. With 4 acres of recreational grounds and many amenities for them within the main Hall, it has become much used by many East Anglian organisation, helping disabled people to enjoy seaside visits in a beautiful and unique setting.

Around the house

Since World War 2, there has been considerable erosion of the foreshore, although this has recently stabilised in the immediate vicinity. Elsewhere on the East Anglian coast there are major problems aggravated by global warming, rising sea levels and the impossible costs of major defence works.

On the foreshore to the North, opposite the Hall, in the late 19th. Century, there was a “Wreck House”, maintained personally by the Ogilvies, to give succour, including the last rites, to shipwrecked sailors. Manned during bad weather, it contained food, blankets and first aid equipment, including no doubt rum.

Nearer the Ness, from 1853 to 1990, an oared Lifeboat was stationed, with a crew of up to 16, working in conjunction with the Sizewell rocket and line apparatus, manned by local coastguards; separate from Excisemen, who were responsible for anti-smuggling operations, and so sadly missed today. Both buildings or their remains were obliterated in 1940 to clear fields of fire for the invasion defences, which were very extensive up to and including Southwold to the North, the limit of the projected invasion capability for German air cover.

The House and grounds are something of a landfall for migrating birds, and are situated between the Church Farm/North Warren RSPB reserve to the South, and Minsmere, their flagship property to the North. In addition, the heaths and woodlands to the West are now managed for habitat by RSPB, whilst the Sizewell Belts and Iands to the North of the Sizewell Road are in the hands of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

With plenty of foot and bridle paths networking the adjacent areas, walking is a real pleasure, and we ask you to observe the Country Code and respect the access shown on the Maps.

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