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Ipswich Icons - Queen Elizabeth held court at Seckford Hall during visit

PUBLISHED: 09:45 17 December 2016

Seckford Hall in Woodbridge

Seckford Hall in Woodbridge

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Seckford Hall was built in the early years of the 16th Century, there had been an earlier house on the site incorporated into the present building which was finished between 1540 and 1550, writes John Norman, of The Ipswich Society.

Seckford Hall once played host to Queen ElizabethSeckford Hall once played host to Queen Elizabeth

Parts of the smaller, timber framed building remain within the structure of the current hall.

The earlier house belonged to George Seckford (who died in 1450, 100 years before the hall was finished) and then to his son Thomas (died 1505). Thomas left a will written in 1503 which included a chantry, an instruction for the priest to ‘sing’ after his death to assist him on his journey to heaven, either in St Mary’s Great Bealings or at Seckford Hall. Needless to say the chantry included financial contribution to enable this to take place. This contribution could have been in the form of land, the income from which would contribute to the priest’s income.

Thomas’s son, also Thomas (1495-1575) is credited with the building of the present hall; he is usually referred to as Thomas the Settler. He was named ‘the Settler’ after he had consolidated the Seckford estate and built a robust Seckford dynasty. He had seven sons (and perhaps daughters, they were of little significance when recording the succession) and left part of his fortune to each of them.

His eldest son married Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Whitting of Newbury in Staffordshire (how did he meet her?) and they had three children. He pre-deceased his father and thus his eldest son, Charles, inherited the Seckford estate in 1575.

The second son of Thomas the Settler, yet another Thomas (born in 1515) was to become the most notable of the Seckford dynasty. He had received an inheritance from his father which enabled him to study at Cambridge after which he was articled to become a lawyer at Greys Inn in 1540. He went on to become ‘Master of the Ordinary’ at the Court of Requests, the most important job of which was to organise and accompany Royal tours of the provinces. Given that Queen Elizabeth had a passion for progress; Seckford (the Master of the Ordinary) was kept busy.

As is the case today, Royals didn’t simply turn up unannounced, the Master of the Ordinary had previously made arrangements for the route, for transport and accommodation. The landed gentry would compete to ‘entertain’ Her Majesty. To enable route planning to take place, Seckford needed maps. Until this time there were none in existence that had been produced from an actual survey. Thomas commissioned Christopher Saxton, a relatively unknown Yorkshireman to survey the whole of England. The resulting atlas was published in 1579.

Unsurprisingly Seckford arranged for Elizabeth to stay at Seckford Hall and hold court with her Suffolk nobles. It is reputed that in 1587 she slept in the four poster bed which still resides in room 7, the Tudor room. This bedroom, like the snug bar on the floor below, has timbers dating back to the 15th Century, timbers that predate the current building.

When Thomas (‘Master of the Ordinary’) died in 1587 he had no offspring so ownership passed to his nephew, Henry Seckford, and his wife, Dorothy. Henry died first but in 1672 when Dorothy died the inheritance passed to a distant cousin, Seckford Cage, and in 1709 he sold the lordship and the estate to Samuel Atkinson of Croydon.

The hall remained in the Atkinson family until 1832 when it was sold at a public auction and came into the ownership of George Tomline, High Sheriff of Lincolnshire and Suffolk and MP for Sudbury (Suffolk). Tomline is probably most well remembered for the railway from Westerfield to Felixstowe, notably with a station at Nacton (for Orwell Park, his country house). He died, unmarried, in 1889 and his estates passed to Ernest George Pretyman who allowed Seckford Hall to fall into disrepair and become a grain store, used by the local farmer, George Hunt.

In 1920 Colonel Ernest Woodley purchased the hall, in its decrepit state and set about restoring it. The Second World War put paid to his ambitious plans. It was purchased by a demolition contractor who reckoned the component parts were worthy of saving but it was spotted by Sir Ralph Harwood, who had been financial secretary to King George V and he took ownership of the partially repaired but watertight property. Six weeks later it became the wartime home to a troop of anti-aircraft gunners strategically positioned to defend the Suffolk coast, their guns positioned on the surrounding hills.

After the war ownership passed back to Sir Ralph Harwood and he set about the restoration using a Tudor theme as his guide. To a certain extent this was driven by his possession of a substantial quantity of panelling, carved beams, doors and furniture which he used to restore the hall. In 1951 he sold the house to the Bunn family who ran the establishment as a hotel and restaurant until 2012 when it passed into the hands of the current owners.

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