Researching the last squire’s life

View of the Hall shrouded by thick fog. Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk.

Bonnie Lovelock is one of the National Trust’s volunteers who helped the University of Leicester to research the life of Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer.

The last squire bequeathed his beloved Felbrigg to the National Trust after much discussion.

A time of secrecy

It was widely acknowledged that the last squire was homosexual by those that knew him and for those who live locally it seems to be the worst kept secret.

But he was Justice of the Peace, he was the Sheriff, he was a public figure at a time when it was criminal to be homosexual, so he never had a relationship that we know of because he could never act on, or publicly reveal his feelings.

The Unfinished Portait featuring volunteer John Wing as the squire
Volunteer John Wing standing on a fallen tree at Felbrigg
The Unfinished Portait featuring volunteer John Wing as the squire

Researching the archives

As a renowned researcher who studied and published biographies of important literary persons in the past with integrity, he would most likely have known that future research on his works, life and times might be studied and published.

‘Bunny’ as he was affectionately named by friends, included his personal papers and books in his bequest to the National Trust. Others he bequeathed to the University of East Anglia.

We discovered so much more to him than what we know. He’s a well-known biographer of Thomas Gray and Robert Walpole, and discussed their same-sex desires in an open and honest way.

But we also found beautifully written poetry, love poetry, from his time at Oxford when he was just 19 years old.

" We get a sense that it was difficult to be who he was. We know he would’ve been aware of what happened to people who were found to be homosexual, and that would be a difficult, if not terrifying, prospect."
- Professor Richard Sandell

We could see from his papers that he was generous and kind, he truly cared about the people that worked for him, which we don’t always see in historical landowners.

Furthermore, as a historian, he would have known that the core values of the National Trust were social reform and justice.