300-year-old mansion opens for weddings

IPSWICH: New life has today been breathed into an historic Suffolk home which has thrown open its doors for weddings, conferences and formal parties.

Jo Thewlis

IPSWICH: New life has today been breathed into an historic Suffolk home which has thrown open its doors for weddings, conferences and formal parties.

Built in 1714, Wherstead House is one of Suffolk's best-kept secrets, tucked away in idyllic grounds overlooking the scenic Orwell valley.

Used since 1948 as the headquarters for Eastern Electricity, the impressive Grade II-listed building has been mostly closed off from the outside world for decades.

When the East of England Co-operative Society bought the building as its new headquarters in 2008, they set about freshening up the interior of the impressive property, which is about to embark on a new chapter in its long history.

Following an application to Babergh District Council, the Co-op finally won planning permission to be a training, conference and meeting venue offering wedding ceremonies and functions earlier this month.

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Lesley Frost, commercial manager at the hall, was brought in by the Co-op team to oversee the improvements and develop the new side of the business.

She said: “I get great joy and satisfaction from showing people around here for the first time. To open it to the public is a new chapter in its history.”

Boasting conference suits, meeting rooms and airy reception spaces, the spectacular house and grounds can now share its future with generations to come.

A wedding fair is being organised next month to showcase the mansion's potential, with Wherstead Church nestling near its 17-acre grounds.

Lesley said: “We had this amazing facility attached to the office space so it was almost a no-brainer to develop it further. It lends itself perfectly for conferences and private dinners and weddings.”

The mansion is also home to 120 P&O Ferrymasters staff who moved to office space attached to the historic hall in February last year.

Richard Samson, the society's chief executive, said it was an exciting time for both the East of England Co-Op and the future of the building itself.

“We are very proud of the building and have worked with it,” he said. “Most people didn't even know it was here.”

Rear Admiral Ellis Brand bought a property thought to be Wherstead Park in 1714 for �460.

The house was bought by the Harland family in 1791 and was extended by Sir Robert Harland junior, who inherited the property from his father.

The house was used as a convalescent hospital for soldiers returning from the Great War and as a billet hall by the army in World War Two.

Eastern Electricity bought the mansion in 1948 and lovingly created tennis courts, a bowling green, a football pitch complete with pavilion even a croquet lawn.