By Haydn Brown,
Now, every old Norfolk Hall seems to have a good story to tell – if only their walls could speak!
At Fishley Hall there is such a story; firstly, it is of a tunnel having once existed which ran from the cellars (which still exist and have brick barrel vaulted ceilings) under the north wing and then to a boat dyke that directly connected the user to the River Bure – and to the sea beyond. By 1812 the boat dyke, and no doubt the tunnel had long since been disused; however, there exists an estate map of the same year which provides such evidence. But one may well wonder who, and for what purpose would cargo be transported to and from the Hall during that period – smuggling maybe, or just bringing provisions for the Hall, farm and the estate?
A clue may lie with William Luson himself – pure speculation of course! He was indeed a wealthy merchant who came from a staunchly non-conformist family and had lived in Great Yarmouth; he had made his money, legitimately one must suppose, from trading with Holland. He could, therefore, well afford to purchase Fishley Hall; which he did in 1712, from the previous owners who were the Pepys family of Impington near Cambridge. They were distant cousins of the famous diarist, Samuel Pepy, and had created their own wealth as lawyers in London.
By 1724, William Luson, was also the owner of the much larger Gunton Hall and its estate near Lowestoft, making him the lord of the manor of Gunton. This ancient title also gave salvage rights to the owner to anything washed ashore from sea wrecks which, over the centuries, were numerous. Is there a link here with the then William Luson and his Fishley Hall mooring facility?
In his Will of 1731, William Luson bequeathed everything, including both estates to his second son, Hewling Luson. Again, none of the Luson family came to live at Fishley Hall. Instead, Hewling continued to live at Gunton Hall in Suffolk, with the same entitlements. It was during his period there when he is credited with the discovery of a seam of clay on his land which was said to have been used later in the making of the famous Lowestoft Porcelain.
The story goes, according to the Suffolk historian Gillingwater, that the Lowestoft factory that was later established, came about under remarkable and somewhat romantic circumstances. It began when, around 1756, Hewling Luson befriended a shipwrecked Dutch mariner and provided him with accommodation at Gunton Hall until such time as the sailor was able to return to his own country.
On walking over his estate one day with the sailor, the latter noticed some clay which had been newly turned up, and remarked to his host:
“They make Delft-ware of that in my country.”
Acting upon this comment, Hewling was said to have taken the first steps towards experimenting with actually making porcelain. Gillingwater’s account also stated that Hewling’s pottery experiment seemed to have been reasonably accurate, but there was no actual indication of the whereabouts of the clay deposit used, or indeed whether this was the source actually used later by the Lowestoft Porcelain factory. Nevertheless, the account forms the basis of our knowledge of events today.
A year later, around 1757, the Lowestoft Porcelain Factory was founded by the partnership of Messrs. Walker, Aldred, Richman, and Brown; it did not include Hewling Luson, although he clearly knew his tenant, the above Philip Walker, who became the principal of the new company. As for Hewling thereafter; by the October of 1761 he became bankrupt and his Gunton Hall estate and the Fishley estate in Norfolk was sold to Sir Charles Saunders.
Hewling Luson remained in Lowestoft until at least 1765 when the Manor Roll records that:
“Robert Luson was admitted to the Fish Houses in the occupation of Hewling Luson, late of Gunton and now of Lowestoft” and, according to Gillingwater was “one of the town’s herring boat owners.” By 1777 Hewling had moved to Bethnal Green in London and died there.