Charles's Private Photographer Is Selling His Own Little Palace; the Cloisters of Banwell Abbey in Somerset Is a Home Fit for a Prince's Personal Snapper

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), October 15, 2006 | Go to article overview

Charles's Private Photographer Is Selling His Own Little Palace; the Cloisters of Banwell Abbey in Somerset Is a Home Fit for a Prince's Personal Snapper


Byline: MARY WILSON

Paul Burns lives in a house grand enough for a prince - it's part of a former bishop's palace in the village of Banwell, Somerset.

Fitting really, as Paul was the first photographer to be granted a Royal Warrant for the Prince of Wales in 2000.

Paul is now Charles's social photographer, often going twice a week to Highgrove, as well as other Royal residences - Sandringham, Clarence House, Holyrood - to take pictures of the many social engagements he hosts.

Paul, 36, also photographed the memorable Christmas card of Charles with Princes William and Harry on their polo ponies six years ago.

'Not only do you have to work for the Prince for five years before you can be given a Royal Warrant - I was first rung up about doing a shoot for him 12 years ago - but you have to have an ecological policy,' says Paul. 'In other words, you have to run a diesel car, use draught excluders in your home, that sort of thing.' His home, The Cloisters, is part of Banwell Abbey, which was divided into three large and impressive houses in the Seventies. It was built by Thomas Beckington, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, in the mid-15th Century as a bishop's palace and was used as such for 150 years, before becoming a manor house.

Then, in the late 19th Century, a local woman, a Miss Fazackerly, commissioned architect Hans Price to restore the building. She installed the splendid stained-glass windows found throughout, the decorative stone work and carved wooden panels, the arched wooden doors with their big old locks and the rather unusual stone finials over the arched front door with the dogs' head gargoyles.

Some medieval features survive, which is why the building has a Grade II* listing.

'We didn't discover some of the more unusual features until we had moved in,' says Paul, who bought the house with wife, Sarah, 39, and their sons, Alexander and Edward, now eight and five, in 1999 while living in a three-bedroom Thirties semi in Bristol.

They are now selling to move back to the city.

'I didn't specify any size or type of home but when I saw this I liked the feel of the place - the secluded garden and the period features,' he says.

Some of the more interesting aspects he discovered were the hand-chiselled stone arches and the lovely medieval markings of a sunburst drawn on to the stone arched frames of the two master-bedroom windows.

Large black crows feature on two of the stained-glass windows by the arched door leading into the bell tower, which hasn't been used for years and is now two small storage rooms, one on each floor.

In the ground-floor storage room there's another stained-glass window showing an old bell-ringer and in the master bedroom there's more stained glass, which throws jewel colours across the room when the sun shines.

Paul also discovered a secret flight of stone stairs from a downstairs bedroom to one on the first floor. The organist would use these because their living room was the chapel in the bishop's palace, the organ being above on a mezzanine floor.

'Our sons love the secret stairs, especially when they are playing hide-and-seek,' says Paul. 'It's a perfect house for two busy boys and three mad cats.' The property has a vast amount of space, with three big reception rooms, vaulted ceilings, two bedrooms on the ground floor and three upstairs, including the fabulous master bedroom with its built-in fourposter bed and beamed ceiling. …

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