The Park in the 18th Century
The Park had new owners in the early 18th century. In 1702 Sir Robert Bacon sold the Redgrave Hall Estate to Sir John Holt, the Lord Chief Justice, to whom he may have been in debt.

Sir John Holt

Holt was held in high esteem by his contemporaries as a supporter of civil liberties. He was the most famous judge in the history of witchcaft in England, and played an important role in suppressing the persecution mania. He also made a landmark ruling on slavery, asserting that no man in England could be a slave. He was briefly the MP for Bere Alston in Devon (1689). There is a portrait of him in the National Portrait Gallery.

He died in 1709, and was buried in Redgrave Church, where there is a large marble monument in his honour. In his Will he gave 50 to the poor of the parish. In terms of average earnings, the value of this gift  would be worth over 93,000 today.

Click here for a family history of the Holts of Redgrave.

Sir John Holt's brother Rowland inherited the Estate, until his death in 1719. It then passed to his brother John, who died in 1728. It then passed to another brother, Rowland, who died in 1739, from whom after which it passed in turn to his son Rowland (1723-1786), aged 16.



Rowland Holt

Rowland spent time in Italy 1745-1750, undertaking the Grand Tour by visiting Rome and Florence, and collecting works of art.

He raised political eyebrows among the expatriate community in Rome when he openly paid court to the Young Pretender (Prince Charles Edward Stuart), who had returned there after the disaster at Culloden.

He came back to England inspired with ideas about classical culture (and maybe Roman Catholicism).

In 1763, Rowland Holt commissioned the famous landscape gardener Lancelot 'Capability' Brown to remodel the Hall and Park in fashionable classical style.


The Hall

Redgrave Hall was remodelled in white Woolpit brick. Holt did not like the red brick of the old Bacon house ("a red house puts the whole valley in a fever" he is reputed to have told the landscape designer Humphry Repton). The new house had four ionic pilasters supporting a triangular pedimented facade displaying the Holt family coat of arms.

The house was built around a central courtyard, backing onto the 'great hall' of Bacon's house which became the new kitchens. Surviving plans give an idea of what the Hall was like inside.

The bricklaying and masonry was subcontracted to John Hobcroft, and the carpentry and joinery to Henry Holland.

Redgrave Hall, from an Estate terrier, 1803

Some people think the house was ugly. It certainly looked rather four-square, but this was in keeping with Palladian architecture such as the Villa Badoer. The result was a compact and imposing focal point set in the beauty of ancient parkland.

The Park

Brown remodelled the Park, keeping the ancient trees, but adding extra clumps and shelterbelts, such as those on the northern and eastern boundaries. He planted other trees in scenic places, and in 1766 he dammed the stream running through the Park to produce the sinuous, 50-acre Lake, which included two islands.

Holt commissioned the eminent landscape artist William Hannan to paint panoramic views of the Park. The painting below shows both young and veteran tees, and deer resting in the shade. An island is visible centre left.

Brown built a Palladian 'rotunda' or round house in one corner of the Park, and a 'water house' (later known as the Kennels) and a boathouse  beside the Lake in 1767.

A decorative Orangery and a red brick stable block were built near the Hall.

The work at Redgrave was finally completed in 1773. The total cost was a prodigious 30,000. In the late 18th century the average skilled worker could expect to earn about 25 per year. Perhaps it was worth it.

"The favoured living place of most peoples is a prominence near water from which parkland can be viewed. On such heights are found the abodes of the powerful and rich ..."
(E.O. Wilson: The Diversity of Life; Penguin Books, 1992; p334)

Redgrave Lake c.1780 by William Hannan

In 1771 William Hervey noted that "At Redgrave Park the water very fine... the house well situated, nine windows in front and nine in flank, a hall and a good room on each side".

Redgrave Park, 1803
showing results of Capability Brown's work

The Library

Rowland Holt was a cultured man, and collected books for his Library. Many of them were extremely ancient and rare editions; the oldest was the 'Historia Fiorentino' of Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini (Venice, 1476). Click here for a list of books printed before 1622.

Rowland Holt became an unpopular man locally, and was nicknamed 'Tyrant of Manors' for too strictly enforcing his manorial rights. He seems to have been ambitious. He was elected a Tory MP for Suffolk in 1759, but withdrew in 1767 when he failed to be nominated. He owned town houses in London, at 47 Pall Mall. and in Bath. He remodelled the tower on Redgrave Church in white brick. When he died unmarried in 1786 the Estate passed to his brother Thomas.

The last of the Holts

Thomas Holt lived at Redgrave Park until his death in 1799. The Estate then passed to his nephew George Wilson, eldest son of his sister Lucinda, who had married Thomas Wilson in 1752.


Further reading
  • J. Ingamells: A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800; Yale University Press, 1997 (describes Rowland Holt living in Italy).
  • J. Kelly: Letters from a Young Painter Abroad: James Russel in Rome, 1740-63; The Walpole Society, 2012 (mentions Rowland Holt's stay in Rome, 1747-1748).
  • Dorothy Stroud: Capability Brown; Country Life Ltd, 1950 (authoritative biography of Britain's greatest landscape architect).
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