Britten and Pears moved to The Red House in 1957. ‘We are… alas, away from the sea’ Britten wrote to Edith Sitwell, 3 March 1959 ‘but thankfully away from the gaping faces, & irritating publicity of that sea-front. It is a lovely house, with a big garden all around, & I’ve made myself a nice remote studio where I can bang away to my heart’s content.’ The peaceful setting which allowed Britten to work without distraction contributed to his and Pears’ decision to stay there for the rest of their lives.
The Red House
The Red House is a Grade II 17th-century farmhouse. Its interior provides an accurate picture of their life together telling not only their story but also that of the family, friends and famous guests who stayed or visited there. The interior of both the ground floor and first floor consists of an eclectic mix of art, artefacts, furniture and furnishings. These objects give a rare and personal glimpse into the domestic lives and tastes of two extraordinary musicians, rooted in pre- and post-war Britain. Its presentation is based on documentary and photographic evidence, as well as the memories of Britten and Pears’ family, friends, colleagues and employees.
Britten’s Studio was converted from the upper floor of a mid-19th century cart-shed and hay store by the architect, HT ‘Jim’ Cadbury-Brown. Work began on the Studio in 1957 and it was completed the following summer. The first floor contains a large south-facing window over-looking the orchard and a dormer on the west side was added to light the piano keyboard. The ground floor became a garage.
In 1971 architect Peter Collymore transformed the whole building into a home for Britten’s niece (it became known as Red Cottage). From 1996 it served as an office and archival storage space, and was converted back into Britten’s Studio during the composer’s centenary in 2013 using Cadbury-Brown’s original plans as reference. The furniture, piano, books and other items in the room are all part of the original collection.
Peter Collymore was commissioned in 1963 to design a library and music room. He retained some of the rural history of ‘an old ramshackle barn with corrugated iron’ that formerly stood in its place. ‘[The] cast iron bases were part of the original barn structure. [They] just set it off and [they kept] the wood out of the damp… And then we thought we better have some columns… These are hemlock and the roof is Columbian pine.’
In addition to housing their ever-expanding collection of books and music, the Library was also a place for displaying their increasing art collection. It was also to be used as a rehearsal space for small groups of musicians. It is a modest modernist building with four areas defined by the arrangement of columns, windows and furniture. At the northern end, a Heals leather sofa and chairs cluster around an open fireplace that is framed by gold wallpaper from Japan. At the southern end of the room stands the large refectory table made for them by Norfolk furniture maker, Ralph Saltiel in 1952. Britten’s concert grand piano, a replacement for the instrument destroyed in the Maltings fire in 1969, takes centre stage.
Officially opened as a research centre in 1980, the Britten–Pears Library included a Reading Room and small vault to accommodate items from the collection. An extension was added to the Library in 1993 covering what was formerly an open-air swimming pool. This served as an archive and exhibition hall until 2013 when the space was transformed to house a permanent exhibition on Britten’s life and work.