once two major country houses in the Blyth Valley - Heveningham
Hall and Henham Hall. In the 1870s, before agricultural depression,
and the social, economic and political changes of the twentieth
century destroyed the foundations of landed society, they were both
centres of estates large enough to rank in the top five in the county.
was pulled down in the 1950s. It had been built in the 1790s for
John Rous, sixth baronet and later first Earl of Stradbroke, to
the designs of James Wyatt. Henham was once the seat of the de la
Poles, Earls of Suffolk, until the execution of Edmund de la Pole
in 1513, when Henry VIII granted the property to Charles Brandon,
Duke of Suffolk. On his death in 1545, the Crown granted Henham
to Sir Arthur Hopton of Blythburgh, who sold it to Sir Anthony Rous
The large, red-brick
Tudor house, was destroyed by fire in 1773, thanks to a candle dropped
by a drunken butler stealing wine from the cellar - or so Suffolk's
historian Alfred Suckling records. John Rous, only 23, and on the
Grand Tour in Venice at the time, had succeeded two years before.
The £30,000 loss represented eight year's income from the
estate - a substantial blow. It was to be twenty years before he
to John Rous's money problems came from two financially advantageous
marriages (his first wife died in childbirth), and the sale of land
released from a trust by his mother in exchange for an enhanced
pension. By 1790 he was ready to rebuild. Humphrey Repton surveyed
the park and the extremely able and fashionable, but unreliable,
James Wyatt provided a design. Wyatt seems never to have visited
Henham and an increasingly frustrated Rous had to beard him in his
London office in order to make any progress.
Most of the
workforce was recruited locally, and supplemented by specialist
craftsmen from London. They were paid by the day and supervised
by Rufus Marsden, the clerk of the works, who was the estate carpenter.
The number of men on the site at one time peaked at about sixty
but over 400 different men worked on the project, most for quite
short periods. The work was no doubt a significant boost to the
local economy but it was spread thinly.
cost of moving heavy materials was high, they were obtained locally
if possible - estate timber from Reydon, Stoven, Sotherton, Darsham
and Bruisyard, and brick made at Uggeshall and on the site. Small
items were brought by road from London, including the prudently
purchased new hose for the fire-engine, but most materials came
by sea - Baltic timber and glass from Newcastle to Yarmouth, for
example, Portland stone to Southwold, and London goods to Aldeburgh.
Estate waggons collected the cargoes from the nearest stretch of
navigable water, the river Waveney at Beccles for instance.
The Rouses moved
into their new house in 1796. It had cost over £20,000 (Wyatt's
estimate had been £12,000), a sum which could not be covered by
estate income alone, confirming the paradox that country houses
appropriate for a landed estate and a family's standing could rarely
be built without the help of non-landed money.
The house was
given a Victorian gloss in alterations by Edward M. Barry in 1858.
In a letter to another noble client, Lord Crewe, Barry reported
that there had been a fire at Henham which came close to total destruction
and a potential loss of £30 to 40,000. Strangely, given the experience
of 1773, the fire insurance was still barely above the cover obtained
on the new house in 1797 - only £13,000.
survived the first half of the twentieth century but a combination
of the depredations of the second world war, agricultural rents
in the post-war years that were no higher than they had been one
hundred years before, and problems of succession within the family
to title and property, exacerbated by a complex will, sealed the
fate of the mansion. It was demolished in the 1950s, leaving only
the stables and lodges, in an ancient park, as reminders of former
Further reading: Alan Mackley, 'The Construction of Henham Hall',
Journal of the Georgian Group, 6 (1996).
Alan Mackley, Blythburgh, March 2000