For 500 years Kentwell has been home for a succession of families. Some as owners, others as tenants. Each has left their mark.
The Clopton family came to the Manor of Kentwell Hall in 1385 when William (the first of several Clopton Williams) Clopton married the then Kentwell heiress. Here the family remained seated for some 300 years. Members of the Clopton family were distinguished locally with just one or two (in the late 15th C. and early 16th C.) in the thick of national events. In the 15th C. they rebuilt Melford’s famous church which, before later depredations, was more a monument to Cloptons than to piety, with numerous stained glass windows illustrating the family and brasses to their dead. Successive members built the present Hall between about 1500 and 1550, gradually over perhaps 5 or 6 phases to create what is to be seen today. The last Clopton descendant died at Kentwell in 1661.
In 1618 the Manor descended to a Clopton daughter who married a lawyer - the distinguished, perhaps England’s first, antiquary, Sir Simonds D’Ewes. He was so proud of marrying into such an ancient family that he collected as many of their papers as he could find. They are now housed in the British Museum and are used as the basis for Kentwell’s Re-Creations of everyday Tudor life. The widower of their daughter sold Kentwell to another lawyer, Sir Thomas Robinson. He enjoyed the very lucrative and quaintly named office of Prothonotary of the Common Pleas. He was the first to ‘improve’ the Tudor House, tho' not significantly. Within 30 years, this family was gone when his grandson sold (due to gaming debts) to the heirs of Sir John Moore, a rich merchant and sometime Lord Mayor of London.
The heirs were obliged to take Moore’s name and through several generations were at Kentwell for 120 years until about 1820. The last of their line, Richard Moore, also ‘improved’ the House significantly and may have employed Repton to landscape the Park. He divorced his wife on account of her ‘unlawful conversation’ with their steward, whom he sued for damages. He spent (much on the House and its surroundings) & gambled away his inheritance and died in a debtors’ prison.
Emigration and another Name Change
The House was sold by creditors to Robert Hart Logan, the son of a Scotsman who had emigrated to Canada. Hart Logan made a fortune, which he invested in the Kentwell Estate, then noted for its shooting. He substantially remodelled the interior of House in the ‘Gothic style’ (but took pains not to alter the exterior) under the architect Thomas Hopper. Probably due to lack of funds, his intended works were never completed. Yet, his was the most substantial remodelling the House ever underwent.
He scarcely lived long enough to enjoy it. He died suddenly and in debt.
The Estate was sold once again. This time to the trustees of a 15 year old second son who had been left a fortune by his aunt. He added her name to his to become Starkie Bence and lived at Kentwell for 50 years uneventfully. An excitement during his time was that his eldest daughter eloped with an estate cowman and was 'cut off without a penny'.
On Starkie Bence's death in 1889 his son let, rather than occupy, the Hall for the next 50 years to a succession of tenants. Some were well known, like Sir John Aird, son of the builder of the first Aswan Dam (among much else), Sir John Norton, a leading solicitor of the day (solicitors had just become respectable), the family of the racing driver, Dick Seaman, and Sir Connop Guthrie, whose wife entirely re-formed the Gardens.
Another Emigration and Name Change, Wartime and thereafter
When the second Starkie Bence died he left Kentwell to his second sister’s son, who had also emigrated to Canada some 30 years previously, on condition the nephew took the name Starkie Bence, which he did. Almost immediately WWII broke out and Kentwell was requisitioned to be a major army transit camp. Many of those involved in the D Day landings assembled here.
After the war this new Starkie Bence and his wife did little more than camp at Kentwell until he died in 1969 when she sold up. Patrick Phillips bought at a time when no-one else was prepared to take it on.
The impact of all these families on the Hall can be seen by visitors. Yet despite these different occupiers the House has remained essentially the same for 500 years. Outbuildings may have come and gone but the Hall (give or take the occasional improvement) and its Moats (albeit later enlarged) are essentially those created by the Cloptons in the early 16th C.