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The History of Woodhall Manor

WOODHALL MANOR at Sutton in Suffolk, sometimes called ‘Wood Hall’ and ‘Sutton Hall Farmhouse’ in records, has spent much of its life as a satellite farm of the Sutton Hall Estate.

It is a building listed Grade II* by English Heritage as a dwelling of ‘architectural and/or historic interest’. The star suffix denotes an especially fine example within its class and is applied to less than five percent of all listed buildings. The oldest parts are medieval, although as the date on the eastern porch attests, restoration and additions were made in 1566, the sixth year of the reign of Elizabeth I. The 16th century H-shaped part of the house, still in evidence on the east and west facades of the garden front – which was formerly the entrance front – was considerably enlarged in a loose Tudor style in 1903. The E-shaped portion to the right is of 1566 but the porch and fenestration are of 1903, to designs by W. Kemp, whose architectural drawings hung in the entrance hall here as late as 1988.

History WMA battlemented parapet has at its centre a recessed circular panel with moulded surround bearing a shield with the initials CQ. These almost certainly stand for ‘Cuthbert Quilter’, who was the owner [but not the occupier] of the house in 1903. A wide corridor of this date now runs along the eastern front of the house between the two formerly projecting wings. The staircase to the left of this has moulded Jacobean balusters and square paneled newel posts with ball finials. A ground floor room boasts some richly moulded Jacobean wood paneling, although it seems likely that this was brought from elsewhere. The brickwork of the walled garden is as old as the house, except for that top range which was added circa 1903 in order to raise the height to ten or twelve feet. The open loggia facing on the walled garden walls and a ceiling formed of moulded ceiling beams which were probably removed from the old part of the house during the early 20th century alterations. The barn is of 16th or 17th century origin.

Its size and craftsmanship suggests that Woodhall Manor has always been a house of importance. Nearly all dwellings constructed before 1750 were considered grand in their day, not least because by modern standards the number of people needing a place to live was small. When this house was built there were only about 3.5 million people in England and Wales – half the population of modern-day London – of whom more than half were the labouring poor. The poor either lodged with their employers or were housed in flimsy huts ‘of a kind which a man may build in three or four hours’. These cabins lasted no more than a generation or two before they needed rebuilding.

The Sutton Hall Estate was owned by ‘Thomas Short [1635-1685], Doctor of Physic’. A son of the Rev. William Short, he was born at Easton, Suffolk. He was sent to the grammar school of Bury St. Edmunds, and then to St. John’s College, Cambridge. He graduated B.A. in 1653, and was created M.D. by Royal mandate on 26 June 1668. He settled in London and was admitted a candidate at the College of Physicians in December 1668, but was not elected a fellow till 26 July 1675, perhaps because he was a Catholic, against whom there was then a strong prejudice. He attained a considerable practice. Thomas Sydenham [1624-1689] one of the most famous of English physicians, found Short’s ‘genius disposed for the practice of physick’ and praised both his learning and practical shrewdness.

Slider 2 smallShort died 28 September 1685 and was buried in St. James’s Chapel, London. To his ‘dear wife, Elizabeth Short’, he advised his Sutton Hall Estate, including Woodhall, ‘for the terme of her natural life’. Everything was then to go to his oldest son, Peregrine Short. The good doctor seems to have been a rich man because he left £2,000 each to his youngest son, William, and to his daughter, Frances.

In 1710 the occupier of ‘the farm of Wood Hall’ was Frederick Jones, succeeded about 1735 by his son, also called Frederick, here until about 1770. The farm then passed into the occupation of a family named Edwards, who were to occupy it through several generations. They held it on lease from the Waller family.

Thomas Waller of Sutton Hall was the owner from the late Georgian period until about 1880. Then or subsequently it passed to the absentee William Naunton Waller [b.1833] the second son of Rev. Charles Waller of Trimley St. Martin, Suffolk, who in later life lived in Little Bealings, Woodbridge, Suffolk. From at least 1896 to about 1900 Woodhall was owned by his widow, Edith, the daughter of Sir Francis Knight of Melbourne, Australia.

Shortly after the turn of the century, the Sutton Hall Estate became the property of Sir (William) Cuthbert Quilter [1841-1911] whose collection of art included Holman Hunt’s Scapegoat. When this painting was sent to the Royal Academy in 1856 ‘it arrested attention but puzzled the critics. Sir Robert Peel, the founder of the police force, offered £250 for it’. Quilter, who was an ardent countryman, was President of the Suffolk Horse Society and Vice President of the Suffolk Sheep Society. He was also a director and one of the founders of the National Telephone Company. For twenty-one years from 1885 he sat in Parliament as the Liberal Unionist member for the South or Sudbury Division of Suffolk.

When Quilter died, 18 November 1911, aged seventy, his estates and title devolved upon his eldest son, Sir (William Eley) Cuthbert Quilter [1873-1952] a kindly gentleman but a largely absentee landlord. He is less remembered today than his younger brother, the composer, Roger Cuthbert Quilter [1877-1953] who always admitted that his early years at Sutton had a profound influence on his artistic development. ‘He learnt from his parents, to whom he was devoted, to cultivate kindness and restraint and his artistic impulses were fostered in particular by his mother’. His notice in the Dictionary of National Biography states that: ‘by the time of his death in London, 21 September 1953, he had decorated a page of English musical history with a distinctly individual mark. The National Portrait has a portrait by Glehn’.

Having looked at the owners of Woodhall we can now pick up the story of their tenants. The 1841 census places the house in the occupation of Henry Edwards, ‘farmer’ and Hannah his wife, the descendants of the Edwards family here in the late 18th century, mentioned above. Part of the house was sub-let to Elizabeth Bristow, a woman of independent means. A county directory for 1844 lists it under Henry Edwards and his brother, Thomas, although the latter seems to have lived elsewhere. In the spring of 1851 Henry Edwards was a sixty-seven-year-old widower. He described himself as ‘farmer of 1,000 acres employing 30 labourers’. Born at Sutton in 1784, he lived here alone apart from four resident domestics and a housekeeper.

When Henry Edwards died about 1857 the tenancy of Woodhall passed to his son, Thomas Edwards [b.1811] who was newly retired from the service of the East India Company, which then served as the agent of British administration for India. Thomas Edwards was succeeded at Woodhall by his elder brother, Robert Vertue Edwards [1808-1871] described himself as a ‘farmer of 750 acres employing 24 men and 2 boys’. When Edwards moved to Essex about 1878 his landlord, Thomas Waller, was unable to find a new tenant for the farm, probably due to the onset of a long-lasting agricultural depression. Although Waller did find a tenant for Woodhall between about 1879 and 1895 in the person of Henry Orford, when the latter died, the old problems again manifested themselves. In consequence, the house stood empty for almost twenty years except for brief periods when it was utilised to accommodate agricultural labourers and their families. Not surprisingly, it fell into a state of disrepair and was several times close to being demolished.

It was rescued from this fate at the end of the First World War when it was restored as a dower house for the Quilter family. Between 1922 and 1925 it appears in the county directories as ‘the seat of the Dowager Lady Quilter’, the widow of the first baronet. When Lady Quilter died about 1926 it was let by her son to a prosperous engineer, Eric S. Hervey. By 1939, the last year for which records have been searched, Sir William Quilter, who lived chiefly ay No.28 South Street, Mayfair, and at Methergate Hall, Woodbridge, Suffolk, had rented it to Alexander Norman Carruthers [a son of Sir William Carruthers, a director of Barclay’s Bank] and his American wife, Olive nee Buttrick, who had married at Concord, Massachusetts, in June 1928.

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