Suffolk’s Tudor treasure houses
These superb houses will put you at the heart of the county’s— and the nation’s—history
The recent launch onto the market by Savills of two of Suffolk’s loveliest elizabethan manor houses—the Grade I-listed Otley hall at Otley, seven miles north of Ipswich, and the Grade Ii*listed Flemings hall at Bedingfield, eight miles further north again—highlights the haunting beauty of these proud survivors of a golden period in the county’s history.
‘equally important perhaps,’ says Katy Stephenson of the firm’s Ipswich office (01473 234800), ‘is the fact that not only have these two important houses been beauti- fully restored and lovingly maintained, but they also project the warmth and comfort that today’s families look for in an english country house.’
The agents quote a guide price of £2.5 million for magnificent, moated Otley hall, one of few Grade I-listed houses in Suffolk still in private ownership. According to its listing, the manor was built by Robert Gosnold and other members of the Gosnold family in the 15th and 16th centuries, with alterations and additions carried out by subsequent owners in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The Gosnolds had owned or been tenants of land in the area since 1401 and were living in Otley, where Robert was lord of the manor, from about 1440, although much of the hall as its stands today dates from the 16th century.
The Gosnolds were lawyers with links to the great, the good and the unlucky of the Tudor era—among them, Cardinal Wolsey, the ill-fated earls of essex and Southampton, the playwright 17th earl of Oxford (a Gosnold cousin) and Francis Bacon. Robert Gosnold III was Master of Requests to the
Earl of Essex from 1599 to 1601 and the Royalist Col Robert Gosnold VI fought through three sieges during the Civil War.
Much has been made in guidebooks and local folklore of the role played in the founding of the first British settlement at Jamestown in what is now the USA by Robert Gosnold’s nephew, Bartholomew Gosnold, who lived at nearby Grundisburgh Hall. An introduction from his uncle secured a place for the young Bartholomew aboard the Earl of Essex’s expedition to the Azores in 1597. He then joined Essex in privateering against the Spanish, thereby amassing a tidy fortune in a very short space of time. Irretrievably bitten by the exploration bug, in 1602, Bartholomew set out on a voyage to the New World, in the course of which he named Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard—the latter after his first-born daughter, who had died as an infant in 1598—but failed to establish a settlement.
On returning to England, he immediately set out to organise a second expedition, the planning and recruitment for which is said to have taken place in the Great Hall at Otley. In 1606, he set sail again and, in 1607, was reputedly the prime mover in establishing the settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, where he died of a fever later that year, at the age of 36. Broken by the Civil War, the Gosnolds eventually sold the manor in 1674.
Commenting on Gosnold’s Otley Hall connection in his masterful England’s Thousand Best Houses, Simon Jenkins dismisses the notion that the USA was, in effect, ‘founded’ at Otley as ‘fanciful’. Instead, he suggests, ‘we should be content with a superb example of 16th century Suffolk architecture… an immaculate Tudor house with no edge untrimmed and no dust on any shelf (and where) a cobweb would be an arachnoid impertinence’.
That was in the early 2000s, when the hall was owned by the writer and philosopher Nicholas Hagger, who carried out significant renovations over the years. Let to tenant
farmers during the 18th and 19th centuries, Otley Hall had been comprehensively restored in the early 20th century by the Edwardian architect Percy Morley Horder for Dorothy Sherston, who bought the manor in 1910 and also commissioned Francis Inigo Thomas to design a formal garden. During their tenure at the Hall from 1997 to 2004, Mr Hagger and his wife, Ann, also greatly improved the gardens, which are both formal and informal and provide a wonderful setting for the house.
Their successors, the present owners of Otley Hall, have not only improved the house and its 9½ acres of gardens and grounds, but have also expanded the existing conference and hospitality centre into a unique venue for corporate events, weddings and retreat days—a small but profitable business that can be continued or not as a new purchaser wishes, the agents say.
Timber-framed with brick infill and some colour-wash render under a tiled roof, Otley Hall, described by Pevsner as an ‘outstanding individual house—charming and picturesque’, provides 8,260sq ft of living space on three floors, including three grand reception rooms, a reception hall, a moat room, a study, a minstrels’ gallery, a kitchen wing, 10 bedrooms, six bathrooms, and an integral staff flat. Notable rooms include the timber-framed Great Hall and the Linenfold Parlour, whose splendid panelling may have come from Cardinal Wolsey’s chambers at Hampton Court Palace.
Eight miles due north as the crow flies, the site of Flemings Hall was granted by William the Conqueror to one of his knights, Ogerus de Pugeys, who subsequently took the name of Bedingfield, after the Saxon name for the area. His family was to own the house for 900 years, until 1934.
During that time, Sir Peter Bedingfield fought alongside the Black Prince at the battle of Crécy and was present at the siege of Calais. His descendants include Sir Henry Bedingfield, Privy Councillor to Edward VI and Mary I and custodian of Elizabeth I during her imprisonment in the Tower of London.
In the 1960s, the stage photographer Angus Mcbean bought the house and embarked on a major restoration of the wonderfully atmospheric house and its almost 5½ acres of grounds. He lived there until shortly before his death in 1990, since when subsequent owners have brought the house and grounds fully up to date.
Flemings Hall (guide price £3m) stands at the centre of a typically medieval, defensive fortified-moat system. The house is built around a medieval core with a kingpost roof forming a long straight front with a brick two-storey porch built in about 1550. Of particular note is the central Great Hall, dating from 1306, with its magnificent fireplace, carved oak mantelpiece and fullheight linen-fold chimney breast. Oak beams and rafters abound throughout the house and on every floor are arched brick Tudor fireplaces and oak panelling.
In all, the hall offers some 6,960sq ft of accommodation, including five reception rooms, a study, a kitchen/breakfast room, seven bedrooms and three bathrooms. Secondary buildings include a recording-studio complex, an open-plan entertaining barn and a 16th-century thatched barn.
‘They project the warmth and comfort that today’s families look for’
The Gosnold family, who built tranquil Otley Hall at Otley, boasted high-flying connections in the Tudor period. £2.5m
Simon Jenkins described the impressively renovated house as ‘an immaculate Tudor house with no edge untrimmed and no dust on any shelf’
The impressive panelling in the Linenfold parlour is believed to have come from Cardinal Wolsey’s chambers at Hampton Court Palace
The site of picturesque Flemings Hall at Bedingfield was granted by William the Conqueror and remained in the same family for 900 years. £3m