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History of Melford Hall

The West Front of Melford Hall, a red brick house showing 4 towers and ogee roof
Melford Hall has a lot of tales to tell | © National Trust Images/Rupert Truman

Melford Hall has a long and varied history. Once the home of Benedictine monks, it was later owned by different generations of the Hyde Parker family. Discover the fascinating story of the Hall, from its royal connections to the times it was visited by children's author Beatrix Potter.

Who built Melford Hall?

Melford Hall was built in the 16th century, but it's not clear exactly when or by whom. It could've been built by John Reeve, the high-spending last Abbot of the Benedictine monastery of St Edmundsbury, or it could've been Sir William Cordell, one of the most able and ambitious ‘new men’ of the Elizabethan age. The present building probably combines the work of both men.

Monastic times

The manor of Melford had been owned by the great Benedictine Abbey of Saint Edmundsbury since before the Norman Conquest. When John Reeve, a proud Long Melford man, was elected Abbot, he seems to have embarked on a major campaign of rebuilding. Unfortunately, he didn't have long to enjoy his new mansion – although he'd tried to protect it from confiscation, he eventually signed the final document surrendering Melford Hall to the Crown.

Portrait of Robert Cordell, Melford Hall, Suffolk
Robert Cordell purchased Melford Hall in 1649 | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Melford Hall in Elizabethan times

Sir William Cordell acquired Melford Hall after the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and entertained Queen Elizabeth I at Melford in 1578. Of all Melford Hall’s visitors, Queen Elizabeth I was the most famous. Sir William didn't make himself popular with other Suffolk great houses, as his lavish reception for the Queen here in 1578 ‘did light such a candle to the rest of the shire, that they were follow the same example’.

The stained-glass panel of Elizabeth I in the Gallery was made about 200 years after her reign, possibly to evoke national pride at a time when Britain was again facing a naval invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte.

The Hall is neglected

Following the death of Sir William Cordell in 1581, and then his wife Mary four years later, Melford Hall passed to Jane Allington. She appears to have lived mostly in London and to have neglected the house. On her death, Melford was bequeathed to her grandson, Thomas Savage, who came from an ancient Cheshire family.

The Stuart connection

A lawyer, initially at the court of James I and later Charles I, Savage was appointed Chancellor of the Household to Queen Henrietta Maria. His wife Elizabeth also served as a lady-in-waiting to the Queen.

Savage set about completely refurbishing the house in the style of the time. He also made extensive alterations, possibly to accommodate his large family. The house was extensively plundered during the Civil War.

In 1649, Melford was purchased by Robert Cordell, MP for Sudbury and Sheriff of the county, who set about repairing and refurbishing the house. Cordell was succeeded by a son and grandson. They lived quietly at Melford for the rest of the century.

The modernisation of Melford Hall

The estate was passed by marriage to Charles Firebrace in 1710, and then on to Sir Cordell Firebrace, who in the 18th century was a man of his time.

Firebrace proceeded to modernise the house by demolishing the east range, leaving the present U-shaped building. Interested in continental art and tastes, he transformed the Hall’s interior from its late medieval and Tudor style into a rococo masterpiece, furnishing it with French and Dutch art and furniture. 

He followed fashion outdoors, where he swept away the crumbling remains of the east wing, opening vistas of the estate that are still enjoyed today. Appreciate his decision to replace the original windows with the elegant sash ones that now flood the house with light.

Hanging above the stairs at Melford Hall, Suffolk, is a portrait of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker II
Hanging above the staircase is a portrait of Admiral Sir Hyde Parker II | © National Trust Images/Graham Tombs

Melford Hall and the Hyde Parker family

In 1786, the Melford Hall estate was sold to Sir Harry Parker, 6th Baronet, and became the home of one of Britain’s most distinguished naval families. Sir Harry inherited his title on the death of his father, Vice Admiral Sir Hyde Parker. He married Bridget Creswell in 1775 and they had five children: William (who succeeded his father as 7th Baronet), Louisa, Edmund, Hyde (who became 8th Baronet) and Sophia.

Sir William Parker, 7th Baronet, inherited Melford Hall. He, and later his brother and heir Sir Hyde Parker, 8th Baronet, commissioned architect Thomas Hopper to remodel some of the interiors in an austere Grecian style. Sir William Parker, 9th Baronet, introduced his antiquarian tastes to Melford Hall by refurbishing the Great Hall with Jacobean panelling and dark oak antiques. He also restored the room’s traditional mullioned windows. 

Beatrix Potter at Melford Hall

Reverend Sir William Hyde Parker, 10th Baronet, married Ethel Leech, a cousin of Beatrix Potter. 'Cousin Beattie' often visited Melford, trying out her famous stories on the Hyde Parker children. On her visits to Melford Hall, Beatrix slept in the West Bedroom. She was often accompanied by her menagerie of small animals, who had their own quarters in the turret room.

The children looked forward to her visits and were always excited to see which animals she had with her. Her visits inspired many of her drawings that can be seen around the house – but the most treasured memento is the model of Jemima Puddle-Duck, which she created to accompany the story and gave to the Hyde Parker children.  

Sir William Hyde Parker, 11th Baronet, modernised several services at the house, introducing electric lighting in the Great Saloon, the Drawing Room and the Dining Room. A hands-on man, he farmed much of the estate himself during the agricultural depression. 

Melford Hall during the Second World War 

Sir Richard Hyde Parker, 12th Baronet, was born at Melford Hall in 1937. His sister, Elizabeth, followed in 1939, on the day war was declared. During the turbulent period that followed, the house was requisitioned and occupied by the army, with the family moving to a house on the green opposite.

North Wing fire 

In 1942, when Sir Richard was four years old, Melford Hall caught fire. The blaze gutted the North Wing and destroyed adjoining roofs. Water from the firemen’s hoses also caused damage to important interiors, and subsequently dry rot. 

Professor Sir Albert Richardson was the only architect prepared to restore the wing without demolishing the surviving structure, and his successful use of an internal concrete frame remains visible today. 

Unfortunately, his father, Sir William Hyde Parker, died before the restoration was complete, but his mother, Ulla, Lady Hyde Parker, resolved to complete the project that she and Sir William had begun.

Jean, Lady Hyde Parker, widow of Sir Richard currently lives in the South Wing of Melford Hall.

View of the Library at Melford Hall, Suffolk

Melford's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Melford Hall on the National Trust Collections website.

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The wood panelled Great Hall, at Melford Hall, Suffolk

Things to see in Melford Hall 

Explore Melford Hall, which was ravaged by fire in 1942 and brought back to life as a much-loved home to the family who have lived here for over 300 years.

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Explore the garden and park at Melford Hall 

Explore Melford Hall and enjoy a gentle stroll around the garden or a brisk walk in the park. Then pause on the north lawn to enjoy the views of the wider estate and wildlife.

Children in the garden and bags containing picnic blankets available for visitors to borrow at Melford Hall, Suffolk

Family-friendly things to do at Melford Hall 

Walks, picnics and discovering Beatrix Potter stories in the house are just some of the things you can do on a family day out at Melford Hall.

Overhead view of an octagonal table with the figure of Silenus, a drunken follower of Bacchu, in The Library at Claydon House in Buckinghamshire


Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.