There’s a letter in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford composed by one of the previous occupants of this former vicarage in Chippenham, the brilliantly named Gilbertius Lake. In the letter, Lake – a well-known antiquarian and amateur archaeologist of the Georgian era – complains of how he was too late in arriving at a nearby archaeological dig, missing out on the acquisition of an ancient skull.
Today in the library of his former home you can find, amongst the many displays, a 19th-century Sepik River headhunter’s knife from Papua New Guinea (carved from a cassowary leg bone), a 15th-century Mayan ‘rattle’ bowl and 19th-century Japanese samurai armour.
It may be almost 300 years since Lake made his mark on the property, but it’s easy to imagine that he would be fully on board with the current owners’ collections and indeed with the owners themselves, Lisa Lloyd and Marc Allum. The couple have always been fascinated by history and,
despite early stints working in the music business, have both carved out careers in the antiques industry. ‘We like to imagine what the house might have contained when Gilbertius lived here and feel that his spirit lives on,’ says Lisa.
You might also like Grand Tour souvenirs with Lisa Lloyd
After the couple moved here with their daughter Tallulah four years ago, they made another discovery. ‘It’s believed that the house was built on the site of King Alfred the Great’s palace,’ says Lisa. ‘There have been various digs in the garden with archaeologists hunting for remains of the palace. They haven’t found anything yet but they’re convinced. Not many people realise the connection between King Alfred and Chippenham so one of our missions is to get a statue of him erected in the town centre!’ Lisa laughs.
Despite its colourful history, it was the house’s original features that drew Lisa and Marc to it. Beneath layers of paint covering the Georgian wall panelling in the dining room, they discovered the original paint that the couple were fortunately able to match. The master bedroom contains an early 18th-century fireplace, and an unusual – and surprising – barrel vaulted ceiling added by Lake. ‘We could see that the house had potential and that it would be a challenge, which was just what we wanted,’ says Lisa.
Lisa and Marc’s taste evades labelling. Aside from the library, inspired in part by the varied collections on display at Snowshill Manor in Gloucestershire, there’s the Empire-style guest bedroom and pink-hued French master bedroom. ‘We don’t try to emulate a particular style but like to mix everything together. Each room starts with a sketchy plan and gradually evolves from there,’ says Lisa.
You might also like a regency-style home mixing styles and eras
Their method clearly works. Each room is rich, warm and filled with layers of history. And despite the treasures at every turn, it’s the sort of place that encourages cosying up with the dogs in front of the fire. It’s not stuffy or precious. Much like its inhabitants.
Over the years, Lisa and Marc have gone through different phases of collecting: Lisa’s first passion was for African tribal masks and, for a long time, both had a penchant for antique glass. At the moment they’re attracted to Grand Tour souvenirs and antiquities, and like to mix their antiques with striking 20th-century artwork, which shows their talent for combining eras in their home.
Unusually, neither Lisa nor Marc’s parents were interested in antiques while they were growing up. In fact, Lisa remembers her mother having to be forced to keep any of her family’s heirlooms (eventually she relented when it came to a Royal Doulton majolica garden stool). Regardless, Lisa discovered local antiques shops when she was eight years old. Such was her fascination that when – in her early twenties – she was working for a record label in London (where she met Marc) she would spend every lunch break viewing sales nearby at Sotheby’s auction house.
You might also like inside Salvage Hunter Drew Pritchard’s home
The couple later spent 17 years as directors of Roseberys auctioneers where, over this time, their tastes became well-honed. Now, when it comes to buying, they both have clear ideas of what they like. ‘Working at an auction house is like working in a sweet shop. You still have to bid along with everyone else but you do get a preview of what’s coming up for sale. You get to know what’s common and what’s special and it trains your eye,’ says Lisa.
Although they try to limit their buying (‘we don’t have the space!’) Lisa’s weekly trips to auction houses for her business sometimes result in new special pieces finding their way into their own home. And does she have any tips for buying antiques? ‘Don’t be scared,’ she says. ‘If you’re not sure about something after getting it home, you can always resell. That’s the great thing about antiques. Unlike new things, they will always have a resale value.’