By Haydn Brown.
In 1889, a correspondent, known simply as H.K., wrote in The Methodist Recorder:
“Far back into centuries I should have to go in imagination to find the man who built Beaupré Hall, with its gabled and mullioned windows and beautiful gateways and courts and porches, with its picturesque towers and chimneys outside, and its wilderness of oak-panelled rooms and passages inside.”
An Architectural Pen Picture of Beaupre’ Hall:
Beaupré Hall used to be a large 16th-century house mainly of brick, which was built by the Beauprés and enlarged by their successors the Bells. Like many of Britain’s country houses it was demolished in the mid-20th century.
When it did exist, the oldest parts of Beaupre Hall dated from about 1500 and included much of the central block running south-west to north-east, with a long wing running north-west at an angle. The Gate House was placed in front of the main block and was probably dated from about 1525. Fifty years later, after Sir Robert Bell succeeded to the property, by virtue of his marriage with the heiress of Edmund Beaupré, the north-east section was rebuilt from the screen of the Hall, a porch with an upper story was added on both sides, and a bay added at the daïs on the front. About the same time a large wing was constructed at right angles to the south-east, and connected with a wall to the gatehouse to form a court. Before the end of the 16th century another court was formed to the south-west by a wing projecting from the main block and abutting upon the south-west side of the Gate House. Considerable alterations, mainly internal, were made about 1750.
The Gate House, built around 1525, was placed in front of the entry facing South-East. This structure was built upon an old model, probably by Edmonde Beaupré during the time of his marriage with Margaret the daughter of Sir John Wiseman, servant to the 15th Earl of Oxford. His second wife, Katherine Wynter (widow of John Wynter of Great Yarmouth) was the daughter of Phillip Bedingfield of Ditchingham Hall. The gatehouse was also of brick with stone dressings and with the upper part being mainly of ashlar. The arches of the passage were four-centred. Above was a room, lighted back and front by a square-headed window with stone mullions and transom. The room contained a late-16th-century fireplace. Around 1570, the south west end of the Gate House was fitted with a new building that connected a gated section of wall to the south-west wing, making another courtyard. This wing spanned north-west to the main block, and from the main block extended the chapel, which had an altarpiece in the far north-west end.
There used to be some excellent 16th-century chimney-stacks and the main door of the house having 16th-century linenfold panelling. Several rooms on the first floor retained late-16th-century panelling; another room had early 18th-century panelling and yet another Georgian wainscoting. The drawing-room, formerly part of the hall, had an early 17th-century chimney-piece and a deep wooden cornice which disappeared long before the Hall met a similar fate. The back of the house was somewhat altered in the 19th century and was said to have suffered greatly in the process. Of the Hall’s latter years, a number of windows which had been modernised in the main block were restored to their original form with stone mullions and transoms. The building at the southwest angle retained its characteristic flanking finials, which were also formerly found on the porch and other parts.
The roofs of Beaupre were covered with stone tiles, except some portions which had been repaired with blue slates. To the south were some fine contemporary farm buildings with stepped gables, moulded brick stringcourses, and massive timbers. The two windows of the entrance hall were filled with fine heraldic glass dating from 1570–80.
History of the Hall:
The history of the Hall begins with its family origins, a Norman from Saint-Omer who dwelled and, according to Christopher Hussey “christened his domain with gallic grace, among the dull-sounding names of the Danes.”
The knight of St Omer (de Beau-pré) accompanied William the Conqueror’s invasion of England; he “appears in the Roll of Battle Abbey, and his descendants lived here in their place of Beaupré.” Several other noted members of the St Omer family were Sir Hugh de St Omer and John de St Omer, who according to the chronographer Matthew Paris, were known to have ‘penned a counterblast’ to a monk of Peterborough who had lampooned the people of Norfolk during the reign of King John; which elevated them to literary fame.
A Sir Thomas de St Omer was Keeper of the Wardrobe to King Henry III. His successor William de St Omer was granted a fair at Brundale and at Mulbarton, Norfolk, in 1254, where his arms could formerly be seen on a monument in the church. Mulbarton came to Sir William Hoo (1335-1410) through his marriage to Alice de St Omer (died c. 1375), daughter of a later Thomas de St Omer and Petronilla de Malmaynes. Sir William Hoo added to heraldic glass which they placed in the chancel windows, and (after a second marriage) was buried there beside Alice.
Beaupré to Bell:
Christian, daughter and coheir of Thomas de St Omer, married John, the great-great-grandson of one Synulph, who lived during the reign of King Henry II, and had issue: John (dicte quoque Beaupré), who lived during the reign of King Edward II, and married Katherine, daughter of Osbert Mountfort. Their son Thomas Beaupré was raised by his grandmother Christian (the last St Omer in this line) after the death of both of his parents. Thomas was knighted by King Edward III, and married Joan Holbeache, and died during the reign of King Richard II. Generations later the Hall was in the possession of Edmonde Beaupré. After his death in 1567 leaving no male heirs, the hall succeeded to Sir Robert Bell, by virtue of marriage to Edmonde’s daughter Dorothie in 1559; whereby his Beaupré line became extinct. Upon Sir Robert Bell’s passing following the events of the Black Assize of Oxford, in 1577, the Hall passed to his son Edmonde, and his heirs successively until finally in 1741, Beaupré Bell bequeathed the Hall to his sister who married William Greaves, of Fulbourn. Their daughter Jane brought it by marriage to the Townley family, who held Beaupré Hall until it passed into the hands of Edward Fordham Newling, and his brother.
In the 1890s, Beaupré Hall was sold to the Newling family; some twenty-five years later problems for the old manor house started to emerge. A gale in 1915 severely damaged the building, and a chapel in the north-west range had its roof torn off and was allowed to become derelict. In 1923, Christopher Hussey the architectural writer, visited Beaupré Hall and saw that its condition was such that he anticipated its eventual destruction! It then took until the Second World War and the Royal Air Force to practically seal Beaupré’s final fate. The RAF requisitioned the Hall for the duration then, when peace came and the Service left, the mansion was found to be in a serious state of disrepair, with substantial roof damage throughout.
There were, of course, those who must have loved the house and might have saved it, given different circumstances. In 1947, the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, did give the Hall listed status – but pathetically little else. Then a fire in 1953 worsened Beaupre’s condition, and it was left to a Mrs Kingsman, formerly the wife of Edward Newling, who had married Stuart Kingsman, to offer the Hall to the National Trust. It was the second heritage body to turned its back on Beaupré Hall by declining the offer; presumably on the grounds that it would take too much public money to restore the property to something like its former glory. The Hall, plus thirteen acres of land was subsequently put up for sale and did inherit two subsequent owners; nevertheless, the Hall was seemingly destined to continue its headlong dash to becoming a ruin.
During the 1950’s, the barrack huts left over from the RAF occupation were used to house students on the ‘Holidays with Pay Scheme’ run by the government. Understandably perhaps, legends of headless horsemen and other spirits said to roam the Hall began to regain renewed interest and attention. It was in the book of the time, ‘The Bedside Companion for Ghosthunters’ by Ingrid Pitt, that an account of a ghost seen by a couple of the students of the government scheme was cited; they were brave enough to enter the Hall one night; the Beaupré ruins undoubtedly provided an adventure for them!
Norfolk’s ‘Victoria County History’ reported sometime later that much of the building was still standing, but the development of a modern housing estate in Beaupre’s former grounds was a shadow quickly advancing on the house. Then, in 1963, the ‘Country Life’ magazine showed the new bungalows of this estate which had crept up to the heels of the ruin; an image which might suggest that one party or the other had messed things up over previous years! Eventually the Ministry gave permission for the house to be demolished. It was left to the ‘East Anglian Magazine’ to lament the final demolition of the old Beaupre Hall in 1966. At the time, the magazine stated that the only section to escape demolition was the gatehouse. Nine years later, the Ministry gave permission for the house to be demolished, the only reminder being the name of the road on which the housing estate stands… Beaupré Avenue .
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