Mill Close, Orford

Mill Close long view from north towards castle keep on horizon
©EH/M Munt

Region: East of England

Local Authority: Suffolk Coastal

Year of Intervention: 2007

Summary: Mill Close is a small development of affordable housing in a prominent edge of town location that affects the setting of an historic settlement and an important scheduled ancient monument.

Description: Orford is a small isolated coastal town, adjoining the Suffolk Heritage Coast area of outstanding natural beauty. In the middle ages it was a prosperous port and the twelfth century castle keep which is a scheduled ancient monument, the parish church and other notable buildings and spaces survive intact. The economic stagnation in later years has preserved a large village with a picturesque character that now attracts retired people and second homeowners who have bought up many of the historic buildings as well as the newer homes.
Issue: The need to provide eleven affordable dwellings for local people led to a search for a suitable site within the settlement but the only one that satisfied all physical requirements was found at Ipswich Road next to an existing communal housing scheme and on the edge of open countryside. The site lies on Orford’s northern edge, just outside the conservation area but at the main entrance to the built up area. It is visually prominent- almost all visitors pass it and its development had the potential to give a good or bad first impression of the historic town. The adjoining rural landscape has long views over large, predominantly flat fields and heaths interrupted occasionally by mainly coniferous tree belts there are long, if intermittent, views of the castle from the roadside before one reaches this entry point. English Heritage has a remit to reserve the wider setting of the ancient monument and the conservation area. We entered discussions with the local authority and Robert Allerton the architect for Flagship Housing Association to explore ways in which the housing layout, grouping and detailed design might be configured so as to minimize intrusion into initial views to the castle and also how to relate the development to the rest of the settlement so as to appear less like a suburban appendage.

By locating the two single-storey dwellings and the green space towards the rear of the site, there is a less abrupt intrusion into long glimpses of the castle as one approaches Orford. Bringing the two storey houses closer to the road frontage creates a massing and relationship with the street that is more like that found elsewhere in the town; also the built-up edge of the settlement becomes better defined. The forms of the houses were also addressed and Suffolk vernacular precedents are acknowledged, especially steep roof pitches, some double pile arrangements and dominant gables. The simple detailing also incorporates many local conventions. The roofs have generous eaves overhangs and barge boards with capped verges and there are substantial chimneystacks, simple “lean-to” porches and painted wood casement windows set beneath cambered arches. Good quality soft red bricks laid in Flemish bond and clay pantiles ensure that these houses would not look out of place in the centre of Orford. The landscaping when mature will help to assimilate the buildings into their setting.


The success of most new developments in sensitive locations depends on fully assessing the significance of the site and “understanding the impacts or consequences of the proposed change” (English Heritage Conservation Principles, Policies and Guidance). The housing scheme at Mill Close clearly has benefits to the wider community, but by producing a design that recognises the character of its locality and incorporates aspects of local distinctiveness in its detailed design there is more likely to be acceptance by local people of a building project on what was hitherto undeveloped countryside. This awareness combined with the careful siting of buildings has resulted in an addition to Orford that does not detract from and may even be said to enhance the key approach to its historic core and the setting of its most important assets.


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