Ipswich Icons: From Swein to Wolsey and Jimmy’s Farm

PUBLISHED: 10:00 01 April 2018

A recent picture of Pannington Hall, Wherstead. Picture: JOHN NORMAN

A recent picture of Pannington Hall, Wherstead. Picture: JOHN NORMAN


We can trace the history of Pannington Hall back possibly as far as Domesday (1086), when it was under the control of Swein of Essex (an ironic name given its current use).

Jimmy Doherty and old barn at Pannington Hall Farm, near Ipswich, in 2003. Picture: JAMES FLETCHERJimmy Doherty and old barn at Pannington Hall Farm, near Ipswich, in 2003. Picture: JAMES FLETCHER

He also held land in Essex and in Nayland, Suffolk, as well as some 50 other landholdings; clearly a man of wealth and power.

Swein was one of the wealthiest landowners in post-Conquest Essex; the Domesday Survey records that his lands were worth – wait for it – £255.

In 1202 the lordship of the manor passed to Gerard of Wachesham, who gave the estate to the priory of St Peter and St Paul in Ipswich, a gift or chantry such that the monks would pray for the soul of the dead nobleman on his journey to heaven.

With the dissolution of the monasteries in 1528 it was seized by the crown (Henry VIII), who granted it to his cardinal, Wolsey, to provide income for his developing college in Ipswich.

A statue of Cardinal Wolsey. Pannington Hall was once under his control. Picture: GREGG BROWNA statue of Cardinal Wolsey. Pannington Hall was once under his control. Picture: GREGG BROWN

On Wolsey’s disgrace and death it reverted to the crown and on September 2, 1532, Henry granted the estate to Sir William Butts.

There is evidence that parts of the current farmhouse, Pannington Hall, date from this period, although like most big houses it has been altered and extended over time.

Sir William Butts died in 1544 and the estate passed to his son and heir, also William, and then to his brother Thomas.

Sir William’s granddaughter, Anne, married Sir Nicholas Bacon in 1562 and they had two sons. When their first, Edmund, died in 1618 the land and property passed to Nathaniel, who became Recorder and Freeman of Ipswich. (He wrote The Annalls of Ipswich, a day to day diary of the town between 1643 and January, 1649).

Pannington Hall then passed to John Vernon (1776-1818) of Orwell Park, on the other side of the river. John’s sister, Arethusa, married Sir Robert Harland and they initially lived at Wherstead Park. John Vernon swapped houses with his brother-in-law and subsequently lived at Wherstead Park, adjacent to Pannington Hall.

In Victorian times Pannington Hall farm became a dairy farm, supplying milk to the rapidly-developing industrial Ipswich.

It played a crucial role in both world wars, especially during the second, when the Women’s Land Army girls were posted to the farm to ensure a regular and constant supply.

In 1945 the farm was purchased by the Wilson family who had moved from the Kintyre peninsular to Suffolk in 1927 to run more productive dairy farms. They remained at Pannington until 1988, when they sold their remaining cattle and vacated the farmhouse. It’s stood empty for years.

In 2002, Jimmy Doherty arrived at Pannington. He had been looking for a suitable farm on which to rear rare breed pigs since leaving work in London seven months previously. He had searched Devon, the Cotswolds and Herefordshire before coming across an advertisement in the EADT for the lease at Pannington Hall Farm (the hall by this time was uninhabitable, having been stripped of virtually everything by squatters).

What sold the farm to Jimmy was what had been the longest thatched barn in Suffolk, although when he first viewed it there were holes in the roof and a bare earth floor, not an ideal building for a butchery, farm shop or restaurant!

Today, Jimmy’s Farm is a major Suffolk tourist attraction: 120 acres of pasture and paddocks, home to Essex Pigs (the rare breeds he wanted at the outset), and a variety of other farm animals. There’s a small zoo with butterflies, birds and small mammals, 30 acres of woodland to explore, together with retail outlets – altogether attracting 150,000 people each year. Oh, and there’s a beer and sausage festival!

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