1040 — 1250
From the Little Domesday Book
“Aelfgar held Kentwell freely under Sward of Maldon as a manor with 2 carucates of land with Soke... 1 horse at the hall, 5 cattle, 30 pigs, 80 sheep... Value 40 shillings.”
De Kentwelle Family
Both Aelfgar and Sward were Saxons and soon after the Norman invasion in 1066, Saxons nearly everywhere were displaced by Normans. Here, Frodo brother of Baldwin, Abbot of the great Abbey at Bury St Edmunds took the manor. After Frodo, his son Gilbert took the name de Kentwelle, to be followed by Richard, then another Gilbert; this one accompanied the Earl of Clare, known as Strongbow, in the invasion of Ireland in 1170. There he settled and 600 years later a Kentwell, probably a descendant or of his clan, was transported on the 3rd convict ship to Botany Bay. His descendants have since flourished — with a family Association — in Australia where many named Kentwelle now live, while there are few, if any, of that name in England. The last de Kentwelle, probably another Gilbert, held the manor until about 1250 when it was in the hands of the King.
1250 — 1375
De Valence Family
King Henry III gave the manor to his half brother William de Valence, a Frenchman and one of the most powerful magnates in the land. As was his son and successor Aymer, nicknamed ‘Jospeh the Jew’ by Gaveston King Edward II’s favourite because he was ‘a tall pale man’. Aymer was at one time Guardian of England, in the King’s absence abroad. He may have been regularly at Kentwell as major works on the manor date from his time. He was captured in Burgundy and held to pay an enormous ransom for his release. He was murdered in France in 1323. Both father and son were staunch supporters of King Edward II in his disputes with the English nobles.
1375 — 1404
Katherine Mylde or Meld — the heiress of de Valence’s line — was born a few years after the worst of the Black Death and in about 1375 married as his third wife the much older Sir Thomas de Clopton of an ancient Saxon family long established in Suffolk.
The builders of Kentwell
300 years of the Clopton family
1404 — 1446
Sir William Clopton, son of Katherine Mylde to whom by will dated 1404, Katherine left Kentwell Manor and its associated manors.
William resided not at the ancient Kentwell Hall but at nearby moated Luton’s Hall on the site of the present House. In time the house there — as the principal dwelling on the main manor — became known as Lutons otherwise known as Kentwell Hall. William fought under the Duke of Gloucester’s banner at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 as a Lancer. In troubled times, he had to resist in the courts a challenge by armed theft and forgery of a rival claimant to some of his land. He lost his first wife and three children to plague in 1420. He started the rebuilding of Melford Church and lies buried under an impressive monumental tomb there. Apart from the moat little obviously survive of his Lutons dwelling.
1446 — 1497
John Clopton (born c. 1420) son of the last named, supported the Lancastrian cause in the Wars of the Roses. Captured at the Battle of Towton, he and four other prominent Lancastrians were imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was pardoned in February 1461 on the very day the other four were executed.
John was a powerful figure in these parts and was principally responsible for rebuilding Melford’s great Church. It had some 90 new stained glass windows installed some of which survived later depredations and many of these contain representations of some 35 of John’s relatives and connections. These are reckoned some of the finest medieval stained glass in England. These include three judges one or more of whom may have secured his pardon. Other early fragments can be seen in windows at the House. John was summoned to be made a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Edward V, one of the Princes in the tower who was murdered before the event took place. John must also have built new at Kentwell. Who would build a church and not a home ? The Moat House dates from his time and probably served a building later demolished or subsumed in the present house. He too lies buried under an impressive monument in the most important position in Melford Church.
1497 — 1530
Sir William Clopton, born 1450, son of the last named, married first Joan, daughter of William Marrow, Lord Mayor of London and a merchant, a marriage which Sir Simonds d’Ewes described as the unworthiest match that ever I yet find any Clopton had. For his third marriage he married an heiress of the Knyvets, a most distinguished family, and with the finances she brought he continued building the Hall. Like his father, Sir William was prominent locally and organised the local defences against Lambert Simnel’s invasion. He was knighted at the wedding of Prince Arthur with Katherine of Aragon [later wife of Henry VIII]. Sir William’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Sir Geoffrey Gates and two of their sons orchestrated the plot by the Duke of Northumberland to put Lady Jane Grey — Northumberland’s son’s wife and sometimes called the ‘Nine Days’ Queen — onto the throne. Luckily for them it appears their Clopton cousins were not involved.
1530 — 1541
John Clopton, born c1475, son of the last named who married a co-heiress (with his father) of the Knyvets — which Sir Symonds considered the ‘noblest match’ of any Clopton — Thereby he too had funds to continue the building of the Hall and following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1540 he bought Monks Manor. This comprised land between the house and the Church. The patent confirming this is the first record describing Kentwell, surely completed by then, as a mansion.
1542 — 1563
William Clopton, born 1509, his son sometimes wrongly described as the builder of the Hall by a misreading of his widow’s will. This William married first 1550 and had four sons and after his first wife’s death two more by his second, who survived to become adults but only the youngest of them had children.
1563 — 1578
Francis Clopton, born 1539, second, but by then eldest surviving, son of the last named. In 1577 he built the long gallery extension atop the centre block of the Hall for a possible visit of the Queen to Melford in summer 1578. Alas, he died childless in April 1578 before the Queen’s visit.
1578 — 1589
William Clopton, born 1541, brother of the last named, welcomed Queen Elizabeth to Kentwell. The Queen, legend has it, was not impressed by her entertainment at Kentwell and called it Hungry Hall. His wife, Anne Elmes, deserted him. He was Sheriff of Suffolk in 1588 and must have been much involved in efforts that year to resist invasion by Spain which culminated in the Spanish Armada’ defeat but died so suddenly and unexpectedly in December 1588 while filling that office that poison was suspected.
1589 — 1596
Thomas Clopton, born c1565, half brother of the last and the youngest of the six brothers. He married Mary Waldegrave of whom there is a surviving portrait. He was left to dispute with his half-brother’s widow in legal proceedings in which she accused him of having poisoned William and he her of having done so and of having forsaken her husband. Sir Simonds D’Ewes noted on a document in which William summarised his marital difficulties that his widow was the wicked Anne. A view clearly shared by Thomas, who faced claims for support from some of his deceased brothers’ dependants. Perhaps the burdens led him to die young.
1596 — 1616
Sir William Clopton, born 1592 described when at Cambridge in his carriage and demeanour civill and quiet, right befitting a gentleman. He married on Ist January 1610 Ann Barnardiston, when he was 18 and she 15. They had a daughter Anne. He was knighted, 20 February 1613 by James I on Newmarket Heath when he was just 21, probably for reward,. His wife died in February 1615 and he had soon re-married Elizabeth Pellicini, a widow. He died in March 1618 aged 27. His widow bore him a son, William, posthumously, and later remarried Sir John Tracy.
1616 — 1632
William, Lady Tracy’s young son who died aged 6 and thereafter Lady Tracy, who retained possession of Kentwell as part of her marriage portion until 1632 but never lived there. From 1616 until perhaps 1641 the Hall was occupied by one Thomas Gardener, yeoman, whom Sir John Tracy described as a dishonest man.
1632 — 1641
Anne Clopton, born 1612 — Sir Symonds D’Ewes, born 1602. Anne inherited when her young half brother died. In 1626 aged 14 she married Sir Simonds D’Ewes, barrister, noted antiquary, sometime MP for Sudbury and a leading historian. Carlyle called him a thin high-flown character of eminent perfection and exactitude... Simonds in his autobiography describes in somewhat absurd language his wooing of Anne. He acquired a knighthood, probably for reward, to persuade Anne’s mother he was a suitable match against grander rivals. In 1640 he was advanced to baronet by Charles I who wanted D’Ewes’s support in his dispute with parliament. He was proud of marrying into such an ancient family and collected many Clopton documents which now form part of the Harleian manuscript collection in the British Museum. They are useful for Kentwell’s Re-Creations of everyday Tudor life. There is a portrait of Anne probably painted at time of her marriage. Sir Simonds upon marriage found himself involved in disputes which had deterred his rivals for Anne’s hand. First with Lady Tracy, touching possession of the manor, and secondly with Anne’s father’s brother, Walter who disputed Anne’s entitlement to inherit. By 1632 Sir Simonds had paid each off but Walter removed some, and perhaps all, Clopton portraits from the House. [Walter Clopton’s descendant and namesake, Walter Clopton Wingfield, in 1873, found fame for having devised the game now known as lawn tennis]. Anne died in 1641, Simonds in 1650. She was the last Clopton of Kentwell. A name rarely — if ever — found in England nowadays but plentiful in the USA, held by descendants of Clopton puritans who had emigrated there in the 17th century and have a flourishing family association.
Sold twice in 30 years
1641 — 1676
Sissilia D’Ewes, Anne Clopton's daughter, inherited Kentwell on the death of her monther and married Sir Thomas D’Arcy. The couple lived at kentwell where they had one child who died young. Sissilia died in 1661. Thomas remarried and had 9 more children, 6 of whom died in infancy. He was some time MP for Maldon. Perhaps losing so many children persuaded him to sell in 1676.
1676 — 1683
Thomas Robinson, born 1618, bought Kentwell in 1876 as described in the Particulars of Sale as a "...very faire brick house with 12 wainscot rooms. The park stored with 150 deers...". The land totalled some 1300 acres. He was soon knighted, probably to go with his new status as landowner, and advanced to baronet in 1681 — probably each time paying for the privilege. He was an attorney of Staples Inn. In 1657, he purchased the office of Prothonotary of the Common Pleas, an important clerical office for which he paid between £5,000 and £10,000, a massive sum at the time. In return he enjoyed numerous small fees paid by litigants. He became a bencher and, at the time of his death, Treasurer of the Inner Temple.
Thomas Robinson died when trying to escape the fury of a fire by jumping from the first floor window of his Chambers was bruised, being gross, so that within an hour he died. In his room was found £10,000 in silver and gold. He had previously contributed £8,000 to the rebuilding of the building where he died which had been burnt down in the Great Fire of London. Sir Thomas carried out significant works at Kentwell and planted in 1676 the Lime Avenue which still lines the approach.
1683 — 1684
Sir Lumley Robinson, his son, who died within a few months following his father and buried under an impressive memorial in Westminster Abbey.
1684 — 1706
Sir Thomas Robinson, born 1681, Lumley's son who lived at Kentwell with his mother. He was a spendthrift and gambler and may have sold Kentwell in 1706 to pay his debts.
1706 — 1820
The Moores of Kentwell
Sir John Moore (1620-1702), was a rich city merchant, who had made his fortune in the East India trade. After the Restoration, he became a staunch supporter of the King, in the King’s disputes with the City of London. He became Lord Mayor of London in 1681 during difficult times for the King. As a result for his great and exemplary loyalty to the crown, his family were empowered by Charles II to bear one of the Lions of England as augmentation to their arms — a rare honour. He left the bulk of his fortune said to have been £80,000 to his nephew John Moore and niece Sarah Mould who used it to buy Kentwell.
1706 — 1713
John Moore, born 1658, a clothworker of London who purchased the Kentwell Estate for £21,200 out of his inheritance from his uncle. He died childless left the estate to his sister’s son, John Mould, on condition he changed his name to Moore.
1713 — 1735
John Moore (formerly Mould), born 1697, the nephew of the last named and only son and heir of Sarah Mould, co-heiress of Sir John, who had married Henry Mould. John moved with his parents to live at Kentwell with his childless uncle as soon as the uncle purchased the estate and soon changed his name to secure his inheritance. He was 16 when he inherited and 18 when both his parents died within a few months of each other. Still 18 in August 1715, he married a neighbour’s daughter. She bore him 12 children of which 6 lived to be adults, reflecting an age when for a time annual deaths out-numbered births.
1753 — 1773
Henry Moore (1730-1773), son and heir of the last named. Educated at the grammar school at Bury, Henry inherited Kentwell when he was 23. He never married. He was High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1757 which showed that he had integrated into county life.
1773 — 1782
Richard Moore, born 1734, younger brother of last named and 5th and youngest son of John Moore. In 1775, he too became High Sheriff of Suffolk. The estate map of 1777 — now in the Yale centre in New York — which lists all Kentwell lands shows that it may be Richard who reduced the height of the roof over the centre block and installed parapets around it in 1777 — Roofs were, in the fashion of the day, thought to be unsightly and were made shallower and hidden behind parapets.
1782 — 1823
Richard Moore, born 1769, son of the last-named and just 13 years old when he inherited Kentwell. His life is a tragedy — some of it self-inflicted. In 1796, he married the delightfully named Sidney Arabella Cotton, then 20. They had 10 children of whom 5 grew to adulthood. From an early stage after coming of age, Richard undertook alterations on a grand scale to the Hall and also to other houses on the Estate. On one farm, in 1812, he built an elegant Villa Residence in the style of a Cottage Ornée with 5 bedrooms. Not for any tenant but as a bolt hole for him then facing bankruptcy. In the Hall, he carried out major improvements including raising the height of the towers. One particular extravagance was to alter the ground floor of the East Wing so that three rooms could open up to form one 63ft long room for grand entertaining. He also consulted Humphry Repton about landscape plantings on the park.
Richard was a godson of William Jennens, born in 1701, known as the richest commoner in England, who lived at nearby Acton Hall but was childless. Richard’s expenditure on the House and Estate — allied to gambling losses — led him to borrowing substantial sums from his godfather who indicated that by his will, not only would he forgo any debt but he would also leave Richard further well provided for. This source of revenue doubtlessly fuelled Richard's extravagance.
Jennens died in 1798 reputedly leaving £2 million but unfortunately for Richard, he died intestate. The Gentleman's Magazine reported in 1798 that ""A will was found in his coat-pocket, sealed, but not signed; [due to his] leaving his spectacles at home when he went to his solicitor for the purpose of duly executing it." Thereafter, it seems Jennens, of a great age, had forgotten all about it. This unexcuted will had favoured Richard as promised. As it was, lawyers fees in endless litigation — fictionalised by Dickens in Bleak House — between rival claimants lasted for years and consumed most of the fortune in lawyers’ fees. However, the heirs insisted that Richard had to repay his debt.
In 1810, Richard who tended to leave much of the estate management to Sidney Arabella, had engaged a young man, John Miller, as steward to help run the estate. Miller initially lived in the house but after moving out still attended at the house to work on the accounts with Richard’s wife, often when Richard was absent in London. In 1811, Richard was apprised of what the servants knew: Sidney Arabella’s affair with Miller. Richard immediately kicked her, albeit pregnant, out of the house. He took proceedings against the steward, charging him with criminal conversation with his wife and commenced divorce proceedings. In 1812, he was granted a divorce, almost unknown in those days, on the ground of his wife’s adultery.
Richard became increasingly in debt, not helped by a costly divorce and assuming the expensive office of Sheriff of Suffolk. In September 1813, he started selling assets, but not enough to prevent a first creditors’ meeting later that year. He stumbled on even persuading his son to join with him in breaking the entail so that he could mortgage the Estate but he could not keep up the payments. In 1820, he held a fire sale of just about everything else on the Estate and moved out of the house perhaps to the Villa he had built. He later sold by auction valuable pictures from the Hall. He even sold all the lime trees in the avenue to Muzio Clementi, the piano maker, to make piano keys but Richard’s mother bought most of the trees back. Nothing could save Richard. The Villa went too. He was made bankrupt and committed to the Debtors’ prison where he died in 1826, having dissipated Sir John Moore’s fortune. But before then, the Norwich Union had foreclosed and sold the Kentwell Estate.
Sold twice more & more scandals
1823 — 1838
Robert Hart Logan, born 1772, the son of a Scotsman who had emigrated to Canada where he made a fortune. He returned to England in 1815 and set up business in London. In August 1821, he took a 3 year lease of just the Hall, probably for the shooting, as on the later sale Logan was described as having taken great pains to maintain the stock of game. In 1823, while Logan was tenant, the Estate was put up for auction described as "a spacious mansion with surrounding parks... comprising 3,250 acres... The mansion is on an eminence overlooking rich and beautiful extensive vale... And possesses every Accommodation for a family of distinction." Kentwell failed to sell at auction but Hart Logan thereafter bought the house and just 1960 acres. It was rumoured that he paid £53,000. He immediately set about substantially remodelling the interior of the house both structurally and decoratively in the then fashionable Gothic style — but took pains not to alter the exterior — under the architect Thomas Hopper. His works were the most substantial remodelling the house ever underwent despite Richard Moore having done much just 20 years previously. Hart Logan became prominent in local agricultural activities and in 1837 was elected to Parliament for West Suffolk. Nearby Sudbury enjoyed a reputation as the most corrupt burgh in England and there were some rumours that Hart Logan had engaged in similar practices to get elected. He died suddenly soon after in 1838 somewhat in debt. He had no children. His brother, his heir, immediately sold Kentwell to Edward Robert Starkie Bence.
1838 — 1889
Edward Robert Starkie Bence, born 1823. The particulars described the house as "...an original specimen of the Elizabethan Order, and has recently been entirely renovated without regard for expense , and is now in a perfect state of repair, as well substantial as ornamental". The Estate, the same 1960 acres as Hart Logan had had, was bought for £85,000 by the trustees of 15-year-old Edward Bence, who had inherited some £130,000 from Elizabeth Starkie, a cousin, upon condition he added Starkie to his name. This was but little imposition given that his father had changed his name from Sparrow to Bence for much the same reason. Edward was a second son and his father had a significant Estate at Thorington, Suffolk which his elder brother would enjoy. Edward held Kentwell for 50 years. He purchased a captain’s commission in the First King's Dragoon Guards and saw service in the Crimea in the 1850s.
Considering the corruption affecting Sudbury elections, it is surprising that Capt Bence attracted complaints that he placed himself in front of the voting booth in the West Suffolk Election so as to prevent all but those he favoured from voting. It may be little surprise that his eldest daughter eloped, by climbing out of a window at night, to run off with a cowman on the Estate. She was not only immediately cut off without a penny but Capt Bence had her painted out of a group family portrait. Capt Bence was a local magistrate and it fell to him on 1st December 1885 to read the Riot Act to election rioters in Long Melford and was stoned for his pains. He had the distinction of being one of the last people in the UK to have done so.
1889 — 1938
Edward Stark Bence, born 1862. On Capt Bence's death in 1889, his son and heir Edward, a life long bachelor, chose not to occupy the Hall, but let it for the next 50 years to a succession of tenants. Some were well known. One Sir John Aird, grandson of the builder of the first Aswan Dam (among much else). Another H. Turton Norton, a partner in the leading firm of solicitors now Norton Rose. He acted for the Tichborne Claimant and in the 1840 and 1850, and was one of the main solicitors for numerous railway companies at the time of the great expansion of the railways. His daughter was the blue stocking historian and writer Lucy Norton brought up at Kentwell. Another was the family of Dick Seaman who later became the leading English racing driver immediately before WWII, albeit for a German marque.
Yet another was Sir Connop Guthrie, a film producer and apparently a sometime spy, who wanted to buy the Hall but Bence would not sell. His son Giles — later chairman of BOAC —, with few hours of flying experience and at the last moment, in 1935 took the place of Charles Scott’s co-pilot on the Mildenhall to Johannesburg air race and their aircraft was the only finisher. Giles kept his plane at Kentwell and used the east park as an airfield. The Guthries entertained well known film stars and some locals used to line the avenue at weekends to see them come and go. Sir Connop also owned Creole said to be the most beautiful yacht ever built and since owned by some of the world’s richest families. Lady Guthrie was a keen gardener and substantially re-formed the gardens.
1938 — 1969
Another emigration & another name change
Charles Douglas Bunbury Starkie Bence (otherwise Ross), born 1895. When the second Edward Bence died, he left Kentwell to Edward Ross the son of his second sister — the eldest sister having been disinherited as noted above — which son had emigrated to Vancouver, Canada, some 30 years previously, on condition the nephew took the name Starkie Bence. This Ross did, primarily for the benefit of his son Richmond.
1939 — 1946
Kentwell during WWII
Almost immediately WWII broke out, Richmond joined up and was killed in 1942. Initially the Bences took in evacuees who were marshalled by the housekeeper who was known as the dragon. Later Kentwell was requisitioned to be a major army transit camp set up in the park, either side of the main lime avenue with the avenue itself used to hide tanks and heavy guns on concrete laid between the trees. The garrison of about 8 or 9 soldiers running the camp was based in the Hall. They took over almost the whole of the ground floor and the East Wing first floor. Also the Moat House, where upstairs was the Armoury, and the Stableyard. Mr & Mrs Bence were lucky in being permitted to have use of one or two rooms for themselves, whereas many in their position had to move out entirely. Kentwell was luckier still in that apart from parts of the house being decorated by the army in chocolate and green and soldiers using good quality doors to hold their dartboards (and endure their misses), the army left little sign of their occupation. Many of those involved in the D-Day landings assembled in the transit camp which at times held up to some 3,000 men. Senior officers attended a briefing for it in Bury St Edmunds which one of whom said was the most exciting day of his life. After the war, Mr and Mrs Bence were a somewhat sad couple, bereft of their son and like fish out of water, as a former Canadian neighbour described them. They did little more than camp in the House. After Mr Bence died, his wife immediately sold up and on departure said that it was like leaving prison.
1971 — to date
Patrick Phillips, born 1941, a lawyer and a Queen’s Counsel, bought at a time when no-one else was prepared to take it on. Not so surprising given its neglected state and signs of army occupation. From that time on, Kentwell restoration began!