Country Homes and Gardens Old and New “Country Life” Heveningham Hall Suffolk, the seat of Lord Huntingfield



Heveningham Hall’s parklands make a wide green patch on the map of East Suffolk, lying either side of the highway which there wanders with many a curve and turn from Halesworth towards some uncertain goal- Framlingham or Debenham- among the maze of Suffolk’s lanes. The sea is seven or eight miles to eastward, and on that side there is ancient reason for furtive lanes and windings and crookings. There was a time when the sea might bring an enemy ashore, and East Anglians did not love straight roads running seaward, tempting outlandish men to an inland foray. Ten miles due north of Heveningham were the thick walls of Bungay Castle. “Were I in my castle of Bungay upon the river of Wayeney”, sang the Bigod of the ballad, “ I would ne care for the King of Cokeney”, and at Heveningham we are on what were Bigod lands, held in Domesday Book by tenants of Roger Bigod, ancestor of the Earls of Norfolk, five generations of proud rebels. But by the 13th century, at lease, Heveningham Manor was in the hands of a race that took a surname from it, the Heveninghams of Heveningham. A stately name and a proud race, if we may judge from the genealogy compiled to delight their complacent eyes. The first ancestor upon their pedigree scroll was a far flight beyond the Conquest knights or Saxon thanes who satisfied their most ambitious neighbours. In cold blood Heveningham recorded his belief that his line began with Arphaxad one of the knights who watched Christ’s sepulchre, and slept as the stone was rolled away. “This Arphaxad” says a manscript now in the hands of the writer of these lines, “was surnamed Geffrey Maundeville of whome Mandefille Earle of Essex descended”. From Arphaxad the historian of the family hurries us with one breathless lead of a thousand years to his descendant Walter Heveningham a lord of Heveningham, “ who lived anno 19 of Canutus the Dane” as improbable a figure to the doubting antiquary as an Arphaxad with Maundefille for an alias. Between Walter and Sir Arthur for whome this pedigree was recorded in 1597, lie twenty Heveninghams, all knights, the matches growing more splendid as the ancestors mount the page into the regions beyond historical criticism. Here and there is anecdote and comment. Thus we learn that a certain Sir William with King Richard I at the siege of Acon in Syria, at which time a Saracen called Sapher captain of that castle, challenged any Christian to combat, and was slain by William in sight of his king. This tale is vouched for by appeal to the fact that the family crest was ever a “Morian’s Head”. Old Heveningham seals however show the crest as a pair of long ears, a better bearing with those who heard and believed the story of Arphaxad.

But even when Arphaxad is discredited and Walter the knight of King Canutus sent to joint the slayer of Sapher in the book of lying legends, it is not difficult to give these Heveninghams a long pedigree. A Simon Heveningham in King John’s time and a Peter of Heveningham living on the lands in 1235 may have been ancestors of the line, which can be easily traced to Sir Philip of Heveningham who in 1271 has a charter of free warren here and in his manors of Little Totham and Steeple on either side of the Blackwater in Essex. The family arms suggest that they were kinsfolk or tenants of the Mandevile Earls of Essex. Knight follows knight, although not with the unbroken regularity of the old pedigree, which asserts into the bargain that each Heveningham knight was a banneret by hereditary prescription. They were cousins to those Pastons whose happily-preserved letters give us back so much of the household live of our English forefathers, and on the Paston side in the long Paston quarrels. This is as much to say that they were for the White Rose, and Thomas Heveningham of Heveningham had a life annuity given him by Richard Crookback. This Thomas acquired Ketteringham in Norfolk by his marriage, and thereafter this important manor became the chief seat of the house, Heveningham being probably used as a dower house, or a house from which its lords might go to follow the deer which fed in its shaws. There remains a deed in which Thomas’ son Sir John with his wife Alice and his son Anthony, grant to squire Nicholas Bohun a buck in summer and a doe in winter to be taken in Heveningham Park, the said Nicholas at his pleasure shooting his buck with a longbow or hunting him with his greyhounds giving word before hand to the park-keeper.

By all the rules of novelists a proud race of knights and squires, sportsmen and fighting men, living at home on their immemorial acres, should have been hot cavaliers when the time came to be up for King Charles. But the party of King Charles was the party of the courtier rather than the country gentleman. William Heveningham squire at Heveningham when the troubles began sometimes sheriff of his county and member for Stockbridge took the Parliament side, and followed it without swerving. On three days he attended the High Court as one of those who sat in judgement on the king, although his name and seal are not found with the others at the foot of the death warrant. But he had gone far enough to peril his life at the Restoration, although importunate in his pleas for mercy. He had surrendered himself, the first to come in on the king’s proclamation and made the most of the fact that he had not signed the warrant, although Bradshaw had begged him to stand in with his desperate fellows. Also in petitioning the lords he remembered that he had been a good friend to at least one unfortunate cavalier, his own brother Colonel Arthur Heveningham. This was an unfortunate remembrance for the Colonel’s widow still lived and was ready to swear that he had cheated her and her family, turning them penniless out of doors. But interest of powerful kinsfolk saved him at least from the scaffold. His wife an earl’s daughter, was in no mind to be a gallows widow, and she found friends at Court. Squire Heveningham stood up in the Old Bailey dock and had sentence of death, but he was carried away to live out his days in one of the towers of Windsor. The Lady Mary Heveningham recovered the estate forfeited by attainder, and had even some hope of seeing here husband sent down to her custody at Heveningham, where she then dwelt. But his death after 18 years of captivity put an end to her petitions, and when his body was carried to the vault at Ketteringham she did not dare to mark the place of the regicide’s burial with aught more than a plain black stone. Before her death she had grown so bold as to set up a monument for husband, wife and children together; but William Heveningham’s name was never carved on it, and in later years the village loyalists of Ketteringham broke in upon the coffin of the man who had judged a king, scattering his bones. The widow died when William of Orange was on the throne and Heveningham’s deed of fifty years before had become an old tale. But Le Neve the herald who saw her lying in state in her Jermyn St lodgings and go through the City towards Ketteringham with funeral pomp of pennons, scutcheons and banneroles, was scandalised at the site of an attainted man’s widow having so much honour from the undertakers. Like many another son of a Puritan rebel, the regicide’s heir found his way to the Court and had his knighthood at Whitehall. His daughter Abigail brought Ketteringham and Heveningham to her husband, Henry Heron of Cressy, who at the end of the century sold the Suffolk estate to one John Bence. About the same time died Henry Heveningham son of the Cavilier colonel, Lieutenant of the King’s Guard of Gentlemen Pensioners and last male of Arphaxad.

Within little more than half a century Heveningham changed hands four times by bargain and sale. John Bence’s son Alexander sold to George Dashwood, who dwelt here ten years and sold to John Damer, who sold in 1752 to Sir Joshua Vanneck. There the buying and selling stayed for Sir Joshua’s heirs are still at Heveningham. The new lord of Heveningham was born in the Low countries, one of the six sons of Cornelius van Neck of Rotterdam, Paymaster of the Forces. Of the six there remained in their own land an Attorney General of Holland, a Rotterdam magistrate, a Maestrickht professor and a burgomaster at the Hague. Gerrard and Joshua came together to England and were merchants of that little colony of rich Dutchmen whose noble houses in the Autstin Priors wth their painted ceilings and stately fireplaces we have but lately seen torn down to make room for more stockjobbers offices. Gerard married the widow of Denis Dutry from Barbant, a director of the Bank of England whome King George had made a baronet, and wife and husband lie together in their Austin Priors vault with a monument above them. Gerard van Neck died in 1750, amazingly wealthy, giving some £100,000 to his brother Joshua the purchaser of Heveningham. Near the Dutry monument is the stone that covers ‘Mevrouwe Marianne van Neck gebworren Daubuz, huysvrouw de Heer Joshua van Neck’ who also died in 1750. After her death the widower was created a baronet having then retired to Putney in Surrey and within two years he had bought Heveningham and its adjoining manor of Huntingfield. Heveningham Hall was his dwelling, and on his Huntingfield lands he found one of those ancient manor houses for which the antiquary may mourn. Sir Joshua cleared the ground of it, a barbarous hall whose roofs were held up by six massy oaks. Heveningham served him without rebuilding. “The old house”, as he wrote in 1754 to Dr Ducarel, “built by the family who gave their name to this village” – who took their name about forty years since, the present house having been built about that time by one Squire Bence”. Of the Heveningham’s house Sir Joshua noted that the old offices remained where the initials of the regicide and the date of 1653 were yet to be seen. Within a year of Sir Joshua’s death in 1777, Sir Gerard, his son and heir, began the great house which now stands among the beeches and oaks of Heveningham Park. Taylor was the designer, the Taylor who is best remembered in London by the Lincoln’s Inn square of stone buildings. James Wyatt, an architect of a lighter hand- a ruthless hand when a cathedral chapter was feeing vandalism- finished the work, carrying out Taylor’s plans except in the western work. Much of what might be taken for freestone is a stucco composition; but this new Heveningham Hall, with the huntinghorns of the Vannecks high over the Corinthian pillars of its northern front, as all the mass and stability which Sir Robert Taylor could assure to his patrons. The ground floor windows of the centre are deeply set as the shot-windows of Norman donjon, the pillars above raise a weight undisguised by carved swags and medallions of the frieze. The pediments of the wings top solid temples. Commissioned to build law courts for London a bank of England or a Royal Palace, Sir Robert Taylor would have made little rearrangement of the columns, the arches and the balusters that served him at Heveningham. This stately entrance great as a paved court would receive dividend seekers litigants or courtiers as fittingly as it would open to the guests of Sir Gerrard Vanneck. The saloon has space for a Kings Bench hearing or for a royal levee. Walls and ceilings here are decorated in the Italian taste and by an Italian’s hand, that of Biagio Rebecca, ‘the facetious painter’ whose brush tricks of figures lit and shaded until they seem to step from their canvas delighted the connoisseurs of farmer George’s Court. Poor Rebecca, if we may believe his fellow painters, lived long enough in England to forget his native tongue, but not long enough to acquire another in exchange. He would paint you a history piece, a ceiling or a peepshow picture and he died miserably poor, forgotten by those he had amused.

When all is said, Heveningham remains one of the greatest houses in Suffolk, set in a fair scene, the Blythe river widening to a lake in the hollow ground before it. The long avenue to the hall is famous, and our illustrations show lawns and gardens in every note, from the stately beauty of the scenes on the southern lawns, terrace and dark trees behind it, to the wild tangle of flowers under the lee of the kitchen garden wall.

The Irish peerage given to Sir Joshua Vanneck, 3rd baronet, and member in six parliaments for the old Heveningham borough of Dunwich, came before the end of the 18th century. Its title was take from the historic manor of Huntingfield; but lord Huntingfield of Heveningham Hall is the full title of the head of the house of Vanneck who is master of this pleasant place and lord of the manor.

O.B.