The history of Thorington Hall

J.Ratcliffe, Glazier, Nayland, Suffolk etched into a diamond window pane

Little is known about Thorington Hall’s 16th-century origins. We do know that a Thomas May, who probably built the west wing including the carved staircase, owned the house until his death in 1645. The house then passed on to two subsequent generations of the same name of Thomas May.

Thorington Hall gets turned around

London merchant Bedingfield Heighmam bought May’s estate in 1700. Bedingfield and wife Esther turned the house around by building what has been the main entrance ever since, at what was then the back of the house! Daughter Hester Wade made east-wing additions and passed the house to an Uncle Thomas White in 1741.

Thorington Hall as a tenanted farm

Thomas White sold Thorington Hall in 1764 to a Sir Rowley and it became part of the Tendring Hall Estate. From then on the house, and associated farmland, was let to tenants and there are records showing exactly who they were. The same family were tenants from 1784 to 1901.

A state of disrepair

We are yet to research who lived at Thorington Hall between 1912 and 1937, although Basil Oliver described it as being in a state of disrepair in 1912. Photos from 1937 show it practically derelict as well as candle marks on the attic ceiling, thought to ward off evil spirits.

Renovation and gifting to National Trust

In 1937 Professor Lionel Penrose bought the house. He employed architect Marshall Sisson and sought advice from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), on restoring it. Thorington Hall was gifted to the National Trust in 1940 but was occupied by the Penroses until 1973.

Second World War evacuation hostel

Now owned by the National Trust, and lived in by the Penroses, the house was let to the Friends Relief Service as an evacuation hostel for elderly bombed-out Londoners, including an old lady with a fondness for yodelling! It was a happy ending for two war-widowed evacuees when they met and married at Thorington Hall.

Mr and Mrs Wollaston

Still under the guardianship of the National Trust, Mr and Mrs Wollaston lived in Thorington Hall between 1976 and 2007. Despite stinging nettles growing under bookshelves and toothpaste freezing in the tube in winter, the couple were happy to have traded a busy London life for a more rural and relaxed one in Suffolk.

Domestic facilities improved

After the Wollastons left in 2007, we carried out extensive research which helped us understand Thorington Hall’s significance. It enabled us to install new plumbing, heating, bathrooms and an upgraded kitchen without compromising the character of this magnificent building.

Don't miss...

• Graffiti on the western staircase windows
• The panel painting with a humorous touch in the Parlour
• The 20th-century nuttery in the garden
• The oriel window in the Parlour Chamber
• Magnificent carvings on the western staircase
• Jewel embellished beamwork in the Parlour