The Park in the 19th and 20th centuries
       
     
Captain Wilson, c1790

Captain George Wilson, c.1790

  Compared to earlier centuries, there is quite a lot of information about Redgrave Park in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Redgrave Estate passed into the Wilson family in 1799, when Thomas Holt died. His sister Lucinda had married Thomas Wilson (1725-1808). He bequeathed the Estate to his nephew, their eldest son, George Wilson (1756-1826). He had a distinguished naval career, and became one of the four Admirals of the Fleet. In 1801 he married Catherine Pollard of Ewell Grove, Surrey. He commissioned a survey of the Estate in 1803, including a map of the Park. Click here for more Wilson family history.

Surviving Estate accounts, newspaper cuttings and other writings show what life was like at the Hall. Money flowed like water - and so did wine! In 1804 A hogshead barrel (52 gallons) of sherry costing 50.12s - a small fortune in those days - was shipped from Gibraltar to Redgrave, guarded by men carrying blunderbusses. The high price of grain during, and after, the Napoleonic War ensured a steady income from the Estate - while guaranteeing severe hardship for the labouring poor. The Enclosures of 1819 added to the wealth of the Estate, while depriving many poor people of access to land they needed for subsistence. However the Estate seems to have escaped the rural protests and riots which took place for many years in surrounding parts of Suffolk.

     
   

Engraving by J Webb after a drawing by T Higham for the 'Excursions through Suffolk'
Published 1819

   
Admiral Wilson's eldest son, George St Vincent (1806-1852), seems to have loved entertaining (perhaps beyond his means). He continued his father's high living; in the 1830s King William IV stayed at the Hall, and admired the Park, calling it the most beautiful combination of land and water in Eastern England. He loved hunting, and kept a pack of foxhounds at The Kennels beside the Lake. He was the High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1840. A guidebook of 1829 described the Park "as one of the most beautiful spots in the county".

 

George St Vincent Wilson, c.1830

Boating scene with fallow deer.

 

A composite view, uniting several perspectives

   
   
By 1845 the finances of the Estate were in a bad way. George St. V. moved out of the Hall, and it was let to tenants, such as the Rev. George Porcher, to bring in extra money. He died of a heart attack at Epsom in 1852.
 
George St V.'s youngest brother John Wood Wilson (1812-1872) worked hard to put the management of the Estate on a sounder footing, and to invest in farm improvements. In 1856 he commissioned a survey of the Estate. The Hall continued to be tenanted on short-term leases, until the early 1860s, when John Wood W. had it refurbished and redecorated in preparation for residence by his nephew George Holt W. (1836-1924) and his new wife Lucy James. An attractive lodge house was constructed beside the main gate.

Map from the 1856 survey

 
In 1865 George Holt Wilson married Lucy James, and two years later they took up residence at the Hall. The new art of photography, pioneered locally by Cleer S. Alger of Diss, captured their home life.

Group portrait by C.S. Alger, c.1867

Family group by the Orangery, c.1877

Agricultural depression after 1875 caused by imports of cheap food from the New World undermined the profitability of the Estate, on which the Hall depended for its income. Gradually the Redgrave Hall Estate slipped further into debt.
   
PARK LIFE

In later Victorian times the Park maintained its ancient status as a deer park, with a fine herd of Fallow Deer (Dama dama).

The 1889 Ordnance Survey map shows what the Park was like then - see right.

Pheasant rearing for game shooting was an important part of economic and social life.

The Park, 1889

1889 O.S. map of the Park
(click for enlargement)

Meet of the Suffolk Foxhounds, Feb. 25th, 1871

 

The diving board at the north-western end of the Lake, c.1910.

 
THE WILSONS MOVE OUT OF THE HALL
In 1898 financial problems forced George Holt Wilson to move out of Redgrave Hall. Thereafter it was let to various tenants including Godfrey Walter, the Horsfall family and Brigadier General Lord Playfair.  
   

The Hon Lyon Playfair, who was killed in the First World War
(from a photo in Redgrave Church)

A distant view of the Hall, c.1900
Photo courtesy Jean Sheehan

George Holt Wilson's eldest son, George Rowland (1867-1928) took a keen interest in the business of the Estate. However its finances were in a bad way. He focused his attention on bringing Redgrave Estate to a state of greater profitability.
In the First World War troops were billeted in the Park. Click here for photographs.
 
THE SALE OF ESTATE RECORDS

Between 1919 and 1921 George Holt Wilson sold most of the contents of the Muniment Room at the Hall. This was a room on the ground floor which contained Estate and manorial records and legal documents relating to the successive owners of the Estate dating back to the Middle Ages. The bulk of the early material went to the University of Chicago, where it forms an uniquely important collection of documents for studying Mediaeval and Tudor history.

Two boxes of documents from the Muniment Room survive in the Holt-Wilson family. They comprise some 10,000 items dating from 1770 to 1870, and provide a valuable insight into the workings of the Estate, and the lives of the people who depended on it for a living. The documents have been catalogued by the Redgrave History Group as part of a six-year research project.

 
     
CHANGING TIMES

In 1924 George Holt Wilson died, and his son George Rowland died in 1928. The Estate had to pay two lots of death duties tax in four years. This set the scene for the climate of financial stringency facing John Holt Wilson (1900-1963) when he took over running the Estate, and would eventually lead to the destruction of the Hall.

 
A series of portrait photographs were made of the Park in the 1930s, with a view to letting or selling it. They show a stunningly beautiful landscape of mature and veteran trees, with views down to the sinuous expanse of the Lake, and the Hall as a compact focal point. They show the realisation of 'Capability' Brown's aesthetic vision some 160 years after it was conceived, and the result is a masterpiece. However the landscape of the Park today is a sad reminder of the tides of change in the 20th century which have destroyed that vision.  
 

 

 


  The Orangery, c.1930
 

 

 
 
Also in the 1930s, Mrs Roberta Wilson took a series of snapshots of the Park in the 1930s, including two very rare interior shots of the Hall.  
   

Victor Orves, chauffeur, seen here at the Stables, 1920s
Photo courtesy Redgrave History Group

 
   

Photo courtesy Ivan Debenham

   

 
For a few years in the 1930s John Holt Wilson was able to let the Hall as a hotel and country club. In 1936 he was once again advertising for tenants. In 1937 he drew up modernisation plans including installation of electricity, to try to make it easier to let.
   
THE END OF THE HALL

World War Two was not kind to Redgrave Park. The 65th General Army Hospital, the biggest U.S. Air Force hospital in Western Europe, occupied most of its north-eastern side, and a prisoner of war camp (POW Camp 231) was built on the Warren on the other side of the Lake. For more information see here.

A succession of military personnel (British and American) were billeted in the Hall, and damaged it in many places. American soldiers broke into the garden cottage where family portraits were stored, and cut the paintings - in some cases just the heads - from their frames to send home as souvenirs. Statues were used for target practice. The gardens becae a wilderness. According to gamekeeper 'Wop' Garnham, British soldiers - including officers - of the Middlesex Regiment were among those to blame for this damage.

   
After the War, John Holt Wilson decided to demolish the Hall to raise money to plough into the Estate. The interior features - fireplaces, ceilings, staircases - were sold, and then the house itself was taken down brick by brick. Some of the beams were taken to Boston in Lincolnshire where they became part of a new house.

All that remained was the kitchens - the core of the Tudor house - and the cellars beneath. He hoped one day to be able to make them part of a smaller house.

Demolition 1947

Demolition, 1947.
Photo courtesy of National Monuments Record

An interesting photo showing the back of the Hall,
with game larder (left) and Tudor kitchen block next to Georgian addition.
Photo courtesy of National Monuments Record

'A finely carved fireplace ... One of a collection recently removed from Redgrave Hall, Diss, Norfolk'.
Picture courtesy Jean Sheehan

A fireplace ready for sale. Lot 22.
Picture courtesy Jean Sheehan

 

The surviving Tudor core c.1947.
The stone plaque over the door shows the hand of God writing,
with the Bacon motto 'Mediocria Firma' in a scroll above it.

 Photo courtesy National Monuments Record

 


View from the front, 1955
Photo courtesy Derek Addy

By the 1960s the remains of the Hall and the Orangery were dangerous. The Orangery was demolished in the mid 1960s, and the last of the Hall went in c.1968, along with the crumbling remains of the hospital and prisoner of war camp.


The Orangery doors, 2008

In 1965, Mrs Pauline Wilson took a series of photos of the remains of the Hall.



In the 1950s, a sewage works was constructed on the south-western part of the Park to serve the village of Botesdale. The decaying nissen huts and concrete installations of the Hospital and POW camp were an eyesore; they were demolished c.1970, leaving only a watertower standing (near the A143 road).
 
REDGRAVE PARK TODAY
In 1971 Redgrave Park was sold out of the Holt-Wilson family. This directly ended over 750 years of continuous manorial history and, indirectly, the ecological continuity of its wood pasture.

The new owners, Guy and Elizabeth Topham, carried out substantial changes to the way the Park was run, and set about turning it into a farm. The Old Stables was partly demolished to make into a more suitable farmhouse. The walled gardens were demolished. Much of the Park was turned over to arable farmland, and many old trees were removed. A complex of large prefabricated sheds were set up in the centre of the Park, and used for storing agricultural produce. Belts of trees created by 'Capability' Brown on the north-eastern side known as the 'Straight Parts' were removed. Of the buildings erected by Brown, only the Roundhouse and the Kennels survive, and are subject to a Grade Two* preservation order to keep them for posterity. In the 1990s the walls either side of the Park gateway were rebuilt, and a monumental triangular plinth constructed as a new focal point at the junction with the road.

For over 750 years large areas of Redgrave Park had been wood pasture; it was part of a manorial system reaching back to Anglo-Saxon times; it had a building at its centre, symbolising the prestige of the Lord of the Manor and his household. This system continued through titles owned by the Bacon, Holt and Wilson families. The Park was the centre of Redgrave Estate. But with the increasing impoverishment of the Estate in the late 19th century, and with the transition in Britain of economic power from rural, landed society to urban, industrial society, the Park and all it represented became increasingly irrelevant to the business of making a living in a modern capitalist economy. The letting of the Hall to tenants, the sale of the ancient manorial records in its Muniment Room c.1920, its demolition in 1947, the sale of the Park in 1970, and the fragmentation of the Estate can be seen as stages in the inevitable dissolution of manorial and squirearchial power.

The Park is now no longer the symbolic centre of a community of economic and social interest represented by the Estate. In keeping with many other farms in Britain, it may now be described as part of an agri-business, but one with a fascinating history.

In November 2007 Redgrave Park hit news headlines across the globe when free-range poultry units there became the centre of an outbreak of H5N1 avian influenza.

 

 

 
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RHG

Introduction

Before 1542

1542 - 1702

1702 - 1799

1799 - 1971