Jump to: navigation, search

The Telegraph (13/Apr/2008) - Alfred Hitchcock: A long way from the Bates Motel

(c) Telegraph (13/Apr/2008)

Alfred Hitchcock: A long way from the Bates Motel

Potential buyers of Alfred Hitchcock's former home will struggle to find anything sinister, writes Ross Clark

Even though it was filmed with chocolate sauce, the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock's horror film Psycho so affected the actress, Janet Leigh, that she rarely took showers again, and when she did she locked all the doors and windows and left the curtain open. Hitchcock himself was not much of a fan of showers, either. How do we know? Because the grandly finished bathrooms at his country retreat in Surrey incorporate impressive taps, but no shower heads.

His home, Winter's Grace, at Shamley Green, near Guildford, is rather more Midsomer Murders than the Bates Motel. There is nothing gothic about its smiling Tudor, and mock Tudor, exterior. In place of the shower is a large bath finished in green mosaic tiles. Something about its position on a plinth suggests that Hitchcock rather enjoyed bathing. He certainly enjoyed the gardens. Silent home movies show him and his family fooling about among the flowerbeds.

Hitchcock was already a successful film director when, in 1928, at the age of 29, he bought Winter's Grace and its 11 acre grounds for £2,500 (£116,000 at today's prices). He continued to spend most of his time in a leased flat on the Cromwell Road in west London but wanted somewhere to relax at the weekends with his wife Alma, then pregnant with their daughter Patricia.

Not all his guests shared his enthusiasm for country weekends. One who would rather not have visited Shamley Green was Dickie Beville, a manager on the set of The Thirty-Nine Steps, whom Hitchcock had offered to drive back to London where Beville had arranged to take his wife to the theatre. Instead, for a joke Hitchcock whisked him off to Shamley Green, to which Beville retaliated by giving Hitchcock a bottle of brandy laced with laxative.

The estate agent who showed Hitchcock the property was certainly keen to talk up its pristine rural surroundings. Walking his prospective buyer to a concrete tank in the garden, he drew a glass of water and held it up against newsprint to demonstrate its purity - although, as Hitchcock later complained, he declined to take the risk of actually drinking it. A greater selling point for Hitchcock, a catholic, may have been its proximity to the seminary at Wonersh, where he worshipped every Sunday.

Winter's Grace had only three small bedrooms when Hitchcock bought it, and its narrow confines and low oak ceilings were not well suited to its owner's large frame. Patricia later recalled that her parents had a large Tudor bed in their room which she never established how they ever managed to haul up the stairs.

Hitchcock quickly embarked on a large extension of the property, the plan being to base the extension on a reconstructed barn that Hitchcock had spotted down the road. In the event, his architect reproduced the vaulted ceiling of a Tudor barn to create an upstairs sitting room, but insisted on using new wood. Hitchcock was given instructions to keep the room cool to prevent the timbers from warping, although as soon as the architect was out of the door he turned the heating up anyway - with the predicted effect.

Unfortunately, the room has since been carved up into a bedroom and dressing room and the ceiling lowered with polystyrene tiles. It could, however, easily be restored to its former glory - providing that heritage officers don't declare the tiles to be an important 20th century alteration.

At the time that Winter's Grace was extended, the Houses of Parliament were being renovated, which allowed Hitchcock to buy a few stones to incorporate into the house. Rather in the style of a modern-day footballer, he had the stylised letters 'A' and 'H' set above the door. Less successful was his reputed attempt to create a swimming pool - though the resulting hole has made a nice sunken garden.

The Hitchcocks spent 10 years at Winter's Grace before selling up and moving to California on the eve of the Second World War, where he revived his career. He wasn't quite done, however, with Shamley Green: his mother continued to live in a cottage that Hitchcock had bought for her next door.

In the 1960s, Winter's Grace was bought by Peter Wreford, a financier, and his wife Rosemary. In 1970, hearing that Hitchcock was filming in Britain, they wrote to him via Universal Pictures inviting him to tea.

"He wrote back and said he was too busy to come," recalls Peter's daughter Jackie - though he may still have been afflicted with the guilt of having left his mother behind after she refused to travel to America. He later recalled that he had been shocked when he returned a year later to find how much his mother had aged.

With the death of Peter Wreford last year, his children have put the property on the market - including the main house, which now has six bedrooms and two bathrooms, and three acres of gardens - at an asking price of £2.5 million through Strutt & Parker (01483 306565). The two bedroom cottage where Hitchcock's mother lived is for sale as a second lot for £500,000, while two paddocks are available at £75,000 apiece. Just bring your own chocolate sauce.


Alfred Hitchcock's former home, Winter's Grace at Shamley Green, near Guildford, has all the brooding atmosphere of one of his films but thankfully doesn't resemble the Bates Motel any more than that.

The bright colours of the ground floor reception room could leave visitors Spellbound.

The dressing room, just off the reception room, is a useful feature without a Shadow of a Doubt.

The staircase was added by Hitchcock but doesn't have 39 Steps.

One of the top bedrooms, possibly facing North by Northwest.

The bathrooms don't have shower heads, to avoid those awkward Psycho moments.

The large garden is the perfect place to look at The Birds.

And from the patio at the back of the garden, a keen observer could even look through the Rear Window.