MALDON is rich in ancient houses with much to offer visitors interested in exploring architectural heritage – and what better way to experience it by actually staying in one of those historic properties.

The Limes guest house, at 21 Market Hill, is surely the natural choice.

Full of architectural charm, the credit for its current preservation is down to one man – James Mann.

His undoubted business acumen has ensured that the Limes is both a credit to the eye and a comfortable bolt hole for guests.

Inside it has been refurbished to an extremely high standard, making the most of a first-rate timber frame and central entrance hall, with distinctive period staircase.

Viewed from the front, it has a three window range, a central pedimented door case and a flight of three stone steps with an associated time-worn iron boot scraper.

James is the latest custodian of this special building, but let us begin at the beginning and turn the clock back to its probable origins.

We know that this area of town was first opened up for development between 1536 and 1560 and, sure enough, the rear entrance to the Limes is packed with reused timbers dating to the 16th Century.

It’s only a fragment from our Tudor past, but enough to suggest that there was a building on this site when the first Elizabeth was on the throne.

We know that something very important then happened a couple of hundred years later.

During the late-18th Century, number 21 was extensively remodelled and that attractive façade suddenly cried out the shock of the new – it was modern, in vogue and opulent.

It became the town house of a gentleman of some standing and we know that is how it continued well in to the Victorian era.

Wealthy corn merchant Edward Humphreys married the beautifully named Octavia in 1861.

The couple moved to Maldon sometime between 1862 and 1868 and Edward established his business at Fullbridge.

He wanted a suitably impressive home nearby and the Limes was his choice.

The 1891 Census shows Edward, aged 54, and Octavia, 49, living there, along with children Edward Jnr, 29, Octavia, 25, and William, 20.

Also in residence at that stage was live-in servant Alice Whiting.

After the Humphreys came the Bakers. Edward Baker was born in 1869 and went on to be a successful corn merchant and was Maldon mayor no less than six times.

His tenure of the Limes lasted from 1894 to around 1906. The 1901 return has him there with his wife, Dorothy, and son, Edward, aged four, daughter Cecil, three, his sister and both a cook and a housemaid.

In their stead came George and Alice Deeks. George was a retired butcher and farmer from Cambridgeshire and took the Limes in about 1911.

Alice (15 years his junior) had her own companion help and domestic servant.

Sadly their time at the Limes was to be short-lived as George passed away in the December of 1913.

The next era marks the first, at least partial, change of use.

John E Bonner was a dentist and, along with his wife Helen, they converted part of the house into a surgery.

Not only that, a sign of the times shows John installing a garage at the rear in 1924.

The Bonners were in residence throughout the 1939-45 conflict and post-war John was a great supporter of Tom Driberg as Maldon’s Independent MP.

Although John Bonner died in 1953, within living memory the Limes continued to be a dentists under the popular and late lamented Mr Deasy.

It was then for a while apartments, became derelict and was placed on the ‘At Risk’ register, before then, thankfully, being restored.

James Mann bought it as a going concern as a guest house from the previous owners and has undertaken two major refurbishments. The first was in 2011, when it was relaunched as a four star guest house with 14 bedrooms offering B&B accommodation, and then in 2016 when those bedrooms were modernised into premium and classic status.

On both occasions the official opening was conducted by MP John Whittingdale, continuing that Member of Parliament link with the building.

The Limes really has seen it all – from Tudors to Georgian and Victorian gentry, dentists, tenants and welcome guests.

The latest chapter has involved Luigi’s Al fresco – born as a summer pop-up restaurant and specialising in authentic Italian food.

It now offers indoor sitting and outside dining in what is undoubtedly one of Maldon’s historic gems.