February 06, 2019

John and Jo Mew, Braylsham Castle


picture from website Unique Property Bulletin

Heathfield is a community of some 8000 inhabitants, located in the county East Sussex in South East England, some 77 km south-east of London.

In the rural area in the northeast of the town is a single-handedly built singular architecture named Braylsham Castle. which has the look of a fortified medieval manor, reinforced by both a round and a rectangular tower. However, the building is not medieval, it was constructed in the last decade of the 20th century.

Life and works

In 1990 John Mew, who was born in 1928 and had become an orthodontist by profession, together with his wife Jo, whom he had married in the early 1950's, bought an old ruined cottage with about 10 acres of associated land that connected to a site with a small lake partly already in their possession.

There was already a permit to restore the cottage, but John and Jo got the idea to demolish the old building and to use the demolition material to single-handedly build kind of a castle, inspired by the original Braylsham Castle (dating from about 1260), but then preferably on a location near the small lake.

It took more than a year to get permission to realise such a building, but after Mew had sent a watercolor impression of the intended building to all members of the planning committee, a tight majority of the committee decided to grant the building permit. 

signpost along Potttens Mill Lane

The construction project started in 1991 and after ten years, in 2001, the new building was ready.

John combined building activities with his work as an orthodontist and his wife, an adult daughter and two adult sons were also involved in the project, which -apart from building a castle- also included deepening and enlarging the lake, constructing a dam, forming an island on which the structure would rise and building an access bridge.

impression of the stained glass windows
picture from website Homebuilding and Renovating

The most striking parts of the structure are the two towers and a large hall. The two towers have been made of stones reclaimed from the demolished cottage, which greatly contributes to their authentic appearance.

The small round tower has battlements at the top, a dungeon in its basement and some five bedrooms in between. The large square tower has a spiral staircase, a master bedroom, a bath room and a dressing room. 

The large hall has an exceptionally large fireplace underneath an impressive chimney, the whole made of about 13,000 bricks, placed by a professional bricklayer.

Another professional stonemason helped with placing gothic stained glass windows and windows from demolished churches in Carmarthenshire. in south west Wales

As the picture below shows once again, the result of ten years of single-handed building is an edifice in medieval style with -from the outside- a sober appearance without frills.


undated picture from Wikipedia

This relative sobriety fits well in the English building tradition, but is also present in art environments on the European mainland, such as the Olt Stoutenburght Castle by Gregorius Halman (Netherlands), the Eben-Ezer Tower by Robert Garcet (Belgium), the Tarodi Castle by Stephen Tarodi (Hungary), the Donjon by Didier Lobert de Bouillon Viéville (France) or the Castillo de las Cuevas by Serafin Villarán (Spain)

Documentation
* Clive Fewines, "A Self Build Medieval Manor", article (October 2008) on website Homebuilding & Renovating
* Referral on website Unique Property Bulletin  (2015) showing that the site is available for weekend stays
* Some more photos (to order) on the website Country Life Picture Gallery 

John and Jo Mew
Braylsham Castle
Pottens Mill Lane
Broad Oak, Heathfield  TN21 8TY, South East England, UK
can be seen from the road, no public visits

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