The house at 46 Gainsborough Street in Sudbury, Suffolk dates back to around 1520. Thomas Gainsborough’s parents, John and Mary Gainsborough, probably moved here in 1722, five years before the artist was born.
Four distinct periods of architecture can be discerned in the building’s layout. The oldest visible element of the structure is an oak doorway leading into the entrance chamber, which may date back to as early as 1490. This doorway was probably the original front door to the house, leading straight into the Entrance Hall from the street. Today, only the Entrance Hall and Aubrey Herbert Room represent this early period of the building’s existence.
Around 1600 a house was built next door. The present Parlour, situated across the corridor from the Entrance Hall, is the only observable part of this structure to have survived, along with a small wall painting that probably dates to the 17th century. The basic framework of the house during this period consisted of oak beams with panels in between, the panels being filled with plaster known as ‘wattle and daub’. A whitewash would have been applied over the panels, with the interior walls then wainscoted with more fashionable oak paneling.
Gainsborough’s parents bought the house in 1722 for the sum of £230, adding a Georgian brick façade onto the exterior in 1723. Following John Gainsborough’s bankruptcy in 1735, the House was purchased by his nephew, John, for £500, who allowed the artist’s family to remain in residence. The building was kept in family ownership until 1792, at which point it was sold at auction and described as ‘a most excellent Brickt Mansion’. At this time, the premises comprised two buildings, an orchard planted with fruit trees, a flower garden and a paved yard.
46 Gainsborough Street remained a private residence until the 1920s, when it was converted into a guesthouse and tearooms. After the Second World War the house served various purposes, including time spent as an antiques shop. By 1956, a campaign had begun to raise funds to purchase the childhood home of Thomas Gainsborough, culminating in the opening of the museum in 1961.
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