Santon Downham 

the heart of the Forest

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Downham Hall

Downham Hall

Most villages would still be clearly recognisable if you stepped back 100 years. But turn the clock back in Santon Downham and you would find a very unfamiliar scene.

The area revolved around the shooting estate of Downham Hall, but the hall was demolished in the late 1920s. Much of what has been built since was for the emerging forestry business based in the village.

SDdownhamhall.jpg (43462 bytes)Downham Hall was a seven bay brick house, with a projecting porch and a higher, three floor, three bay centre, with a shallow bow to the rear garden. But for such a large building, surprisingly little is known about it, and few photographs or plans survive. The 22 villages team was delighted recently when this postcard was given to us by Ann & Bernard Rush.

Four families dominate the estate's history, starting with the Wrights who lived there for more than 150 years in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was Thomas Wright who brought Santon Downham to public notice in 1668 with his dramatic account of a sand flood and how his house became "almost buryed in the Sand". A substantial house of 12 hearths was recorded on the site 1674 in Thomas Wright's day.

The Cadogan family was the next to own the hall - it was bought by the 1st Earl of Cadogan, in about 1800. The property was described in the Ipswich Journal at the time of the sale as a "Mansion sashed, fronting South, with all conveniences, gardens, meadows &c... [with] rights of fishing and swanning" . But a mystery remains about exactly when the Hall was built. In 1829, it was described as being "a modern house of apparently the former part of the last century" - so it doesn't sound like the same place where the Wrights lived 200 years before. It seems likely that the Cadogans replaced, or Georgianised, Wright's house.

The Cadogans used the estate as a shooting lodge - these were becoming popular in Breckland at the time. Records show that new tree plantations were soon established. It is even suggested that the landscaping was advised upon by the great "Capability" Brown, as he was deputy to the Earl, who was Surveyor of the King's Garden.

Lord William Paulett, later the 3rd Duke of Cleveland, took over ownership in 1830. He brought in the architect Lewis Vulliamy in 1836 to carry out alterations, probably as a result of a fire. The beautiful avenues of limes which still lead to the village are believed to have been established by the Duchess.

Edward Mackenzie bought the hall in 1871. By 1879, it was described as a "noble mansion built of white Suffolk brick, situated in a well-timbered park". It was said to be "the heart of an extensive game preserve, and the gardens are laid out in the Italian style".

But no more families lived there after the Mackenzies. The estate was sold for 75,310 in 1918 and owned by a succession of land speculators and companies before its acquisition by the Forestry Commission.

SDdownhamhallplan.jpg (28754 bytes)Demolition soon followed. Of the hall, little now remains. The billiard room and listed ice house still stand to the south, the coach house on the west and the tack room to the north (see plan).  And, here and there, elements of the surrounding park and gardens still survive.

by Lisa Russell & Tim Kaye 2004, designed and maintained by Icehouse Media drawing on material from the Forest Heath District Council 22 villages website, designed by ArtAtac

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Last updated 23 January 2006