In the eighteenth century Clifton House was the residence of a rich merchant but parts of the building date from earlier periods. The structure includes a five-storey watch tower built towards the end of the 16th century and a 14th century vaulted undercroft. A medieval tiled floor was discovered in the 1960s. There are traces of an even earlier building. The Trust undertook the restoration of the exterior of Clifton House in 2002/3.
In 2005 Dr Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, and his wife Anna bought Clifton House for a family home. The Trust had saved Clifton House, restoring the fabric and keeping out the wind and weather at considerable cost since acquiring the property. It needed a magnificent effort to achieve the finishing touches and that is exactly what the Thurleys have given.
When the Trust sold Clifton House to Dr Thurley there was an agreement to lease him the associated Tower, once he had carried out a programme of restoration work including the conservation of the wall painting. This work has now been completed.
A reception held at Clifton House in late June marked the completion of restoration work on the tower by Dr Simon Thurley and his wife Anna. Before inviting Trust members and guests to view the Tower and the family home that is now Clifton House, Anna gave her own potted history of the Tower.
She believes that the original building work was commissioned by George Walden, a sixteenth century resident of the house and merchant. He died in 1570 and it was a generation later that the Elizabethan Tower was furnished in the reign of King James. Unfortunately it appears that Jacobean paneling was sold off in the early twentieth century leaving the bare plasterwork we see today.
The Tower originally faced onto the business side of Clifton House, the warehouses and the quayside (Henry Bell installed the east door we are so familiar with around 1700). Anna points out that although two similar towers exist in Ipswich and Sussex, Clifton House Tower uniquely retains its original relationship with the surrounding buildings, painted interiors, chimneys and character. The restored Tower incorporates a room recreation of the period and a small museum with artifacts uncovered during work on the tower and house.