How many of these lost or abandoned Suffolk houses do you know?
- Credit: Archant
Some are in ruins, some are lost to time, others are guarded by ghosts: many of the country houses Suffolk once boasted have since fallen victim to the wrecking ball.
Weird Suffolk has chosen 10 favourites that remain only as ruins, photographs, distant memories or in one case a mystery, including a hall with a magical stone in its courtyard, one where plastic surgery was carried out in the parkland, one whose grounds are now home to a festival and one that hosted a notorious ghost hunter for a night.
Built around 1615, this Jacobean-style mansion set in wooded parkland and open gardens was acquired by the Adair family in the early 18th century. William Adair, the first of the Adairs to own the building, was a “patron of the living” and when he died in 1783 his will left “as much money as should be found in my charity bag at the time of my death for charitable purposes”. William Adair’s Charity still exists today to help people living in poverty in Suffolk. The hall was destroyed by a fire in 1846 and subsequent repairs took close to a decade to complete – in 1870, the Adairs had the Bungay to Harleston road re-routed so that traffic no longer passed close to the hall. Flixton Hall was reconstructed and a new wing added in 1888, making it a mansion of 60 rooms and 365 windows. During World War II, an airfield was built adjacent to Flixton Park and Station 125 became the home of the 446th Group USAAF, known as the Bungay Buckaroos. After almost 200 years of Adair ownership, the hall and 250 acres of land was sold by Major General Sir Allan Shafto Adair, 6th Baronet in 1950. Sir Allan had described Flixton as: “…a vast, uncomfortable mausoleum, still with no proper central heating. In winter the children had to wear their overcoats when moving from room to room.” East and West Suffolk County Councils made a bid to buy Flixton Hall and the land but it was sold privately to a speculator who stripped the hall’s assets and then applied to have it demolished. Today, what was one of the most magnificent buildings in the region has all but disappeared – only a small part of the ground floor survives and is used for farm storage.
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Rendlesham is well-known for its Anglo Saxon kinds and the infamous UFO incident of 1980, but it also used to boast a spectacular country house which has since been lost to time. Built in 1780, the original hall was bought by Peter Thellusson, a wealthy banker whose son went on to become the 1st Baron of Rendlesham. Destroyed by fire in 1830, it was rebuilt in Jacobean-style, work which took a staggering 40 years. The new building boasted eight reception rooms (including a ballroom), a conservatory, 25 bedrooms with dressing rooms, nine secondary and 13 servants’ bedrooms, five bathrooms, 11 toilets and domestic offices. Additionally there were 25 acres of grounds with tennis and croquet lawns and a large walled kitchen garden in a 250 acre park. The 5th Lord Rendlesham died in 1911, and the hall was put up for sale in 1920, but there were no bidders. In 1923 the hall was sold and became Norwood Sanitorium to treat people for drug and alcohol abuse. It was in use until World War II when it was occupied by the British Army, and after the war, and having fallen into disrepair, it was finally demolished in 1949. Today, Ivy Lodge and Woodbridge Lodge, built in 1790 and which once stood in Humphrey Repton-designed grounds, can still be seen. The famous Pesvener Architectural Guide says: “Rendlesham Hall exists no longer, but two lodges survive. And may they long survive; for they are the most memorable follies of Suffolk.”
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Demolished in the 1950s and built in the 1790s, Henham Hall was designed for John Rouse, sixth Baronet and later first Earl of Stradbroke – the ancient oak tree Sir John hid in to escape Oliver Cromwell’s Roundheads can still be found on the estate. The hall stood on the site of an earlier Tudor mansion which had been destroyed by fire in 1773 after – according to Suffolk historian Alfred Suckling – a drunken butler dropped a candle after a mission to steal wine from the cellar. The £30,000 loss meant it took 20 years for John Rous to have the cash to rebuild using Baltic timber and glass shipped from Newcastle, Portland stone that arrived at Southwold harbour and goods from London via Aldeburgh. Finished in 1796, the house was given a Victorian makeover in 1858 but another fire almost destroyed it a few years later and lessons had not been learned from the earlier blaze as the insurance only stretched to £13,000 of an estimated £30,000 to £40,000s-worth of damage. Henham Hall survived into the first half of the 20th century but post-war, its upkeep, problems of succession within the family and complex wills sealed its fate and it became one of an estimated 300 historic houses to be demolished in Britain in the 1950s. Only the stables and lodges, in an ancient park, remained. Today, the Henham estate is the home of Hektor and Sarah Rous and their children and supports arable farming, livestock, grazing, forestry and is the famous home of the Latitude Festival and the Henham Steam Rally.
The original Rushbrooke estate was owned by the Great Abbey of Bury St Edmunds until about 1180, when the land was granted to the de Rushbrooke family. It eventually passed by marriage to the Jermyn family, who built Rushbrooke Hall in about 1500. The estate passed by marriage back into Rushbrooke hands and was owned by them until 1919, when it was split up and sold by public auction. The Hall was bought, in 1938, by Lord Rothschild, who was looking for a house within easy reach of Cambridge – it narrowly missed obliteration by bombing raid at the cost of nearby Rougham Hall (see below). A Tudor mansion given a Georgian makeover in around 1735, the moated house was at the heart of a large ornamental garden and a parkland estate. Elizabeth I is said to have stayed at Rushbrooke in 1578 and there is a legend that during her stay, an unknown lady was murdered and her body was disposed of through a window and into the moat. It was said that on the anniversary of the Queen’s visit, the episode would be renacted. In 1942, notorious ghost hunter Peter Underwood, who wrote 50 books about spirits and investigated infamous Borley Hall, visited Rushbrooke with three friends. The four stayed the night and, just before 2am, the window in the room they were staying in slammed against the wall violently and apparently of its own accord. The group looked out of the window and felt a draught above their heads, they then claimed to have seen the water disturbed as if something sizeable had fallen into it and heard an accompanying splash. Within 20 years of this, the hall was severely damaged by fire and was demolished in 1961.
Built by the Adams brothers in the 1730s, Tendring Hall was built on the crown of a hill with commanding views across the famous Constable Country in Stoke-by-Nayland. Standing in 200 acres of parkland, the estate boasted two lakes with a boat house and a 1931 brochure gave a full description of its glory. In addition to mod-cons such as heating, electricity and telephone lines, the hall had eight bathrooms, a smoke room, a dining room, a library, an oval saloon, a billiards room, 23 formal bedrooms and six servants’ bedrooms, offices, kitchens, scullery, housekeepers’ rooms, servants’ halls and cellars. Glasshouses, woodland walks, a rose and flower garden, tennis lawn, an Elizabethan clock tower, cricket ground – the list is endless. The previous owner was moving out, the brochure added, offering the hall for rent for £1,300 a year. Sadly, tenants couldn’t save the hall and it was demolished in 1955.
Brome Hall was built around 1550 by Sir Thomas Cornwallis, who had been involved in Kett’s Rebellion in Norwich, having been sent with Lord Sheffield to quell the insurrection. Lord Sheffield was killed and Cornwallis taken prisoner but after the Earl of Warwick defeated the rebels, he was set free. He served as sheriff of Norfolk and Suffolk and in 1554 he was appointed treasurer of Calais, a post which he retained until January 1558. A staunch Papist and trusted servant of Mary Tudor, on the succession of Elizabeth I he later beseeched her to trust him, promising her he followed her religion. He soon relapsed, however, for in 1578 various complaints were made of his conduct, among others that he “shared in drunken banquetings of bishops' servants, and made scoffing excuses for coming to church'”. Much of Brome Hall was in disrepair by the time of the last Marquis Cornwallis, who died in 1823 and a great deal of the hall was pulled down before 1840. It was finally demolished in 1959. There used to be a curious stone known locally as The Plague Stone (or White Stone) that was on a turning between Brome and Stuston which was said to have been a receptacle for water or vinegar during plagues. There was a legend that the stone turned round when the clock struck 12. W.H. Spanton wrote in 1885 that "It is said to have been removed in consequence of a complaint that it was an object likely to cause an unbroken colt to shy; and to be now in the courtyard at Brome Hall". Whether the stone is still in situ, is a matter for further discussion.
Historic Redgrave Park, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, dates back to the Doomsday Book and a magnificent mansion was built there in 1545. Redgrave began life as a medieval deer park in 1211 when the Abbot of Bury St Edmunds had a hunting lodge there. The imposing hall was built in the 16th century before the estate was bought by Sir John Holt, the then Lord Chief Justice, in the 1702. His great-nephew had the estate redesigned by Capability Brown 70 years later.During the Second World War, the park was used as the 65th General Hospital for the American Army and was filled with Nissen Huts supplemented by ward tents. The hospital had 1,456 beds and served from February 1944 to August 20 1945 as the major hospital centre for the surrounding US 8th Air Force. After D-Day on June 6 1944, it treated thousands of wounded soldiers moved from the war in France. Staff handled a constant stream of front-line casualties from heavy bomber crews, acute diseases and emergency cases and acted as a speciality centre for neurosurgery, thoracic and plastic surgery, burns and hand injuries. During its time at Redgrave, more than 17,000 patients were treated there. The hall fell into a state of neglect and the grounds became a wilderness. After the war, the decision was made to demolish the hall in order to raise the money to plough back into the estate – the contents were auctioned off and the house was taken down, brick by brick. The foundations and footings remain. The estate today is restored to its former glory.
Shrubland Hall has led a varied existence in its 250 year history. Built in the late 18th century, the Georgian mansion occupies a dramatic site atop a steep hill in the estate in Coddenham. In later years the hall's famous gardens began to take shape. Designed by Sir Charles Barry, who was renowned for bringing Italian-style gardens to country homes in the 19th century, they included a series of terraces linked by flights of steps and decorated with ornate features. The hall passed to the fourth Baron de Saumarez in 1882, whose descendants owned it until 2009. It was used as a First World War convalescent home and a brigade headquarters during the Second World War. A health clinic was set up at the property in the 1960s. It featured in two James Bond films - Thunderball and Never Say Never Again. Lord de Saumarez put it up for sale for £23m in 2006. It was sold in 2009 after being split into 42 separate lots. Shrubland Hall's previous hotel venture launched in 2015, offering to welcome "prestigious guests ... on a journey back to the future". Muhammad Farmer had bought the iconic building as part of plans to expand his company the British Institute of Technology, England (BITE), a higher education provider based in London. BITE's director's report for 2015 said the business had been "further strengthened" by new developments, including Shrubland Royale. He applied for permission to host weddings and announced plans to modernise the building. But despite a positive start, guests' reviews became increasingly negative. By September 2016, signs outside the hall had been removed, the gates were closed and booking attempts were declined. The hall remains closed to the public, its future uncertain.
The Red House in Ipswich
A ‘secret park’ and avenue of trees hide an intriguing story. A small park next to Cranfield Court in Valley Road boasts an avenue of mature lime trees either side of a path and, close by, another line of trees alongside Tuddenham Road – these mark the front drive to the Red House, one of Ipswich’s lost country halls. Demolished in 1937 when the houses either side of the bypass where built, it was the home of the Edgar family who first made their home here in 1641. Today, the Red House is in the back garden of a house in Bromeswell Road, its park once extended from The Spinney at the bottom of the hill in Tuddenham Road north as far as Westerfield. As the family’s fortunes waned, the estate began to fall – firstly for a new cemetery in 1854, then to Felixstowe Railway in 1877 and finally the Ipswich Bypass in 1932. Land was sold for housing and, bit by bit, The Red House and its estate were swallowed up in the name of progress.
One of the most romantic ruins in England, Rougham Hall is a hidden gem in the Suffolk countryside close to Bury St Edmunds. The shattered remains of a clock tower show a moment frozen in time, 1.05am on September 23 1940, when a single German bomber flew over Rougham Hall and dropped a bomb straight through the centre of the house. By chance, butler Mattins was enjoying a night off: had he been there, those sleeping would have been woken at the first sign of an air raid and sent to shelter in the cellar…which is where the bomb exploded. The night after the raid, the Germans announced they had bombed the house of “the richest Jew in Britain”, leading many to believe the target had actually been the Rothchild family’s house Rushbrooke Hall in the neighbouring village. Rougham Hall was built on the ruins of another hall, built around 1680, it was rebuilt in the early 1800s, sold to James Johnstone, the owner of the London Evening Standard, who gave it to his son Edwin for a 21st birthday present. Sold again to the Agnew family in 1904, Sir George Agnew was a Liberal MP with seven children. In the spring of 1916, Sir George took pot shots at a German zeppelin that passed over the hall from one of its towers. After the 1940 bombing, the hall was open to the elements and the grounds taken over by United States Airforce personnel when an airfield was built in 1941. At its height, 3,000 men were at Rougham flying B17 Flying Fortresses from Suffolk – Rougham Control Tower Aviation Museum tells their story and reopens from May 23.
· Many of the estates mentioned are privately owned. Always seek permission before exploring any sites and check whether there is public access.