Seckford Hall is a magnificent Tudor building in Suffolk, steeped in a huge amount of history. Here is a little about how it came about, right up to present day.
The Domesday Book mentions two allocations of land in Sekeforda and in 1185 there is the first mention of a manor called Seckforth. By the sixteenth century this manor is called variously Sackford or Sekford and from this the modern spelling Seckford emerges. The name is derived from sedge ford, a ford through an area of rushes.
The architectural evidence in the Tudor Bar and guest room seven at Seckford Hall show timber fragments dating the original house back to as early as 1489. There is also documentary evidence that a former hall did exist, which is detailed in a will made by Thomas Seckford in 1503.
Construction of the present hall began in 1530 but was not completed until between 1541 and 1550. Sadly there is no clear evidence of who undertook the construction thus ruling out George or his son, Thomas Seckford. More than likely it can be attributed to Thomas Seckford, also referred to as “Thomas The Settler”. Thomas the Settler was born in 1495 and is known as “The Settler” for consolidating the Seckford Estate and building a robust Seckford dynasty.
It is believed that Queen Elizabeth I held court at Seckford Hall.
The most distinguished member of the Seckford family was another Thomas Seckford, second son of “The Settler” and his wife Margaret. He was born in 1515, educated in Cambridge, and became one of the two “Masters in Ordinary of the Court of Requests”. His duty was to accompany the Sovereign when she journeyed in the provinces and Queen Elizabeth I had a passion for travel. Indeed the four poster bed in the Tudor Room is dated back to 1587 and is far too big to be taken out of Seckford Hall. It is believed Queen Elizabeth I slept in it during her stay at Seckford Hall.
Thomas Seckford died in January 1587 without leaving issue and was buried in a chapel he had erected in the north side of the Chancel in Woodbridge Church.
The last of the Seckford family, Henry Seckford a nephew to Thomas, bestowed the estate upon his wife Dorothy who then transferred it to Seckford Cage, who heavily encumbered the estate with mortgages. Finally in 1709, Seckford Cage sold the Lordship to Samuel Atkinson of Croydon and it remained in his family until 1832 when it was sold at public auction.
By 1885 the whole estate had passed to George Tomaline, High Sheriff of Lincolnshire and Suffolk, MP for Sunbury. Upon his death in 1897 , it passed to Rt. Hon. E G Pretyman, MP for Woodbridge. During this time, the property suffered intense neglect and was sub-let to a local farmer, George Watkins Hunt, who even used the Great Hall as a granary!
By the start of the twentieth century The Hall was in a poor state and the process of saving it was started in 1920 by Colonel Woodley.
Then, in 1939 The Hall was purchased by a demolition contractor – but fortunately saved in 1940 by Sir Ralph Harwood, former financial secretary to King George V. Six weeks later The Hall was commandeered by troops and anti-aircraft guns were positioned in the hills surrounding the estate. However, by 1945 Sir Ralph had regained control of the estate and commenced the task of restoring and upgrading the property. Some of the furnishings are reputed to have been given to Sir Ralph by Queen Mary as Tudor style throughout would have given The Hall too heavy an effect.
In 1951 the property was acquired by the Bunn family and converted it to a country house hotel and restaurant, until 2012 when it was purchased by the current private owners.
A few other historical facts about Seckford Hall:
- Fifteen, six ton lorry loads of paneling, ceiling, doors and carved beams went into the original refitting of the Hall in 1945.
- With two storeys of local brick it was built in an E-shaped with a nine bay frontage.
- The five arch screen now in the Great Hall was a reredos retrospectively fitted with glass to make it draught proof.
- The ceiling beams and joists came from Beau Desert Manor in Staffordshire and the central beam is finely carved to represent grapes and vine leaves with the head of Bacchus at its heart.
- The paneling in both the Great Hall and the Dining Room came from an old monastery in Middlesex.
- The figures on either side of the portrait doors are from Polesdon Lacey.
- Some of the furniture throughout The Hall can be traced back to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle.
- It is believed that one of the armchairs in the Great Hall is the very one in which King Edward VI died.
- Seckford Hall Farm (The Courtyard) was built in approximately 1550 and was most probably a tithe barn. It contained stables, tack room and a coach house.
- A secret passage is believed to exist between The Hall and Woodbridge Abbey, now the pre-paratory department of Woodbridge School. It was most probably used in smuggling operations as The Seckfords were merchants and Woodbridge was an affluent port.
- The Hunting Lodge housed a gamekeeper and was used as a lookout for game.