Travellers on the road between Wrentham and Lowestoft are acquainted with the broad expanse of Benacre Park where mighty trees present a picture of wooded splendour, typifying as they do the green heart of an England whose praises are sung in song and story. Also, to many people Benacre Sluice has a familiar sound, whilst the little stream known as the hundred River, trickling between lush meadows gives that refreshing touch which ever appeals to those whose business lies in mighty city or smoky industrial town. Yet the actual village of Benacre is probably unknown except to the very few, in which, of course, there is nothing surprising, for Benacre itself is situated some distance from the busy highway, in a district where the average motorist seldom travels.

The tower of the church, however, can be seen looming above the wealth of branches, and to reach its vicinity it is necessary to turn to the right just through Wrentham, where stands the lodge of Benacre Park, with close by a pleasant and expansive farmhouse, whose weathered appearance harmonises delightfully with the arboreal glories which exist here in such unfettered profusion. Yet despite the numerous natural attractions, the houses comprising Benacre street are very far from being the type one, somehow, expects to find, for instead of homely thatch and plaster they are chiefly constructed of red brick and roofed with slates, their well-built appearance suggesting the town rather than the heart of the Suffolk countryside.

And the church of St. Michael here also has a somewhat modern appearance so far as its interior is concerned, which is partly explained by a tablet on the West wall, stating that: "This church, decayed through length of time, and falling into ruins, was repaired and ornamented at the sole expence of Sir Thomas Gooch, Baronet, in 1769..."

To begin at the beginning, however: St.Michael's comprises chancel and nave, aisle and South porch, and tall and fairly broad tower, and although signs of restoration are obvious in the exterior appearance of the building, these scarcely prepare the visitor for the striking appearance which the interior presents. For the whole aspect here is so different from that usually discovered in a country house of worship. Here there is nothing of that dim effect engendered by.... old stained glass and woodwork almost blackened by age. The appearance, indeed,is so bright and pleasing, so essentially new without being garish, that Benacre Church can claim to be a structure very much out of the ordinary, whilst the old-fashioned box-pews seem in some manner to be suitable for the building they eminently occupy.

Yet age is not entirely lacking here, for the font, of the usual octagonal shape, dates from the early English period as a glance at the arches gracing its bowl readily conveys. Even in this case renovation has been rendered necessary, for although the bowl is in a splendid state of preservation, the stem and base are obviously modern.

Many hatchments hang in Benacre Church, and there are numerous memorials to the Gooch family, one of whose representatives as we have seen, was responsible for the virtual rebuilding of the edifice. To describe the various monuments is impossible, as the church seems to be a kind of mausoleum to the Gooches, which is not surprising in view of the fact that they been lords of the manor of Benacre for a great number of years.

One of the later memorials is a rather posing affair on the South wall of the chancel commemorating Sir Thomas Sherlock Gooch whose death occurred in 1851, and who, over twenty-four years, was "a faithful representative" of the County of Suffolk in Parliament. Another good monument is on opposite wall, and refers to Edward North, who died early in the eighteenth century.

The Norths were also owners of Benacre Manor, and several of the line are
commemorated in the chancel. But the most pathetic memorial is undoubtedly a small monument near the priest's doorway, to North Carthew, only son of Thomas Carthew, who inherited the Benacre estate from his uncle Edward North, for the inscription here tells of "A child of the greatest expectations," whose death occurred in 1716, at the age of 5 years, 1 month and 16 days. No piscina and chancel step exist, but there is a very nice screen, which, although not ancient, is delicately carved and artistically attractive. But having reached this point, and after saying so much about the people connected with Benacre Manor, it is now advisable to discover something about the story of this.

As long ago as the eleventh century Benacre Manor was held by Godfrey de Pierrepont, and in the same family it remained for close on three hundred years, when it changed hands through the fact that Simon de Pierrepont, who had been summoned to Parliament as a baron in 1294, left as heir his daughter, Sybil, who became the wife of Sir Edmund de Ufford, thus carrying the estate to the latter. To mention all the owners of Benacre Manor is unnecessary, but later still it went to the Dacres. And the story of one of the Dacres is certainly interesting, showing as it does, that a single act of folly may bring a person high in favour with the mightiest in the land crashing to disaster and a shameful death. Probably, there was never a youth so smiled upon by Fortune as the ninth Lord Dacre. Friend of the eighth King Henry, popular at Court, esteemed by his own people, his life ran on the smoothest of lines. When the Prince of Wales was christened he played a prominent part at the subsequent celebrations. With the Duke of Norfolk and Lord Mountjoy, Lord Dacre welcomed Anne of Cleves to England, and, supported by a gallant company, escorted Anne to the presence of her future husband, who was meeting the lady for the first time. Disaster, however, was not far off. This event occurred in 1540, and in the following year Lord Dacre took part in an escapade which was to have terrible results.

He was then only twenty-four years of age, and with several companions as high-spirited as himself, Lord Dacre indulged, uninvited in the thrill of the chase at dead of night in a Sussex park. The keepers made no distinction between the adventurous instincts of youthful nobility and the deeds of a common poacher. A fight was the outcome, a fight in which blows were freely exchanged. One of the keepers fell, mortally wounded.

All the young gallants concerned in this lighthearted exploit, which so rapidly turned to tragedy, were arraigned for murder. Lord Dacre, although not responsible for striking the fatal blow, was found guilty of being an accessory. He left this world by way of the hangman's noose, at Tyburn Tree-a disgraceful and sad finish to a career which had commenced so brilliantly.

Although the estates were forfeited, the tenth baron received them back, and it was in his Chelsea home that he entertained Queen Elizabeth on Michaelmas Day during her journey to review the troops at Tilbury Fort. Goose was on the menu, and it is said that this originated the custom of making goose a Michaelmas dish, but what is more important, it was while the Queen was dining that news arrived of the proud Spanish Armada's defeat.

After some changes, Benacre Manor became the property of the Norths, and as we have seen, when Edward North died, he left the estate to his nephew, who erected the spacious mansion which stands within the glorious park just over two hundred years ago.

It was upon his death that the manor passed to the ancestor of the present owner, for Thomas Carthew's widow sold the property to Thomas Gooch, a prelate and scholar of distinction, amongst the many high offices he filled, being those of Bishop of Bristol, Bishop of Norwich, and Bishop of Ely. His brother, Sir William Gooch, fought gallantly in the wars of Queen Anne's time, and was one of those who assisted in defeating the Old Pretender in 1715. Afterwards, he became Governor of Virginia, and so well did he perform this difficult task, that it has been said, he was the only person to hold the position without complaint.

As colonel of a regiment at the siege of Carthagena, Sir William Gooch was bad1y wounded, upon which he retired to England and peace. When he died the baronetcy went to his brother, the bishop, and it was by the son of this high dignitary of the church, that the house of worship at Benacre was so thoroughly repaired.

To tell in detail the story of the Gooches, who were long established in Suffolk before they came to Benacre, would need far too much space. Suffice it that they have filled many positions of consequence, and from their representatives the country has drawn several of its High Sheriffs.

It was a Gooch, too, another Sir Thomas, and the son of the church restorer, who pro-proposed to Parliament that each district should have its detachment of yeomanry cavalry, and he himself became lieutenant to the original Suffolk Yeomanry, when it came into being in 1793.

Now, however, we must leave the manor of Benacre, and refer to something which links the village with very ancient times. In the year 1786 men working on the road here brought to light a stone bottle containing some nine hundred silver coins, about the size of the present sixpence, and dating from the days of the Romans. Treasure trove, however was nothing new to Benacre, for about twenty years before an earthen jar had been found, in which were nearly four hundred pieces of silver belonging to the reigns of King Edward, the First and Second.

Benacre, therefore, has been in the public eve to some extent, but at the present there is little here to attract the attention, but the beautiful prospect of its splendid park, through one of whose owners the house of worship was saved from destruction, so that today the church exists as a mighty monument to the memory of its eighteenth century benefactor.