Crow’s Hall is a Grade II* listed 16th century moated manor house in the heart of the rolling Suffolk countryside, just a couple of hours’ drive from London. Shared today for just a handful of country house weddings in Suffolk, it owes much of its Tudor charm to a significant marriage in the 16th century. It is situated on a summit of ground rising from the River Deben near the small historic town of Debenham and approached by a straight avenue flanked by a double row of oaks.
Although manorial history at Crow’s Hall dates back nearly a millennium to Domesday times (AD 1086), the site could very possibly have been occupied from the earliest times.
The local area of Debenham has provided evidence of early settlements, with local finds including Roman and other pre-Norman Conquest coins. It is believed by some to have been on an important trading route in Anglo-Saxon times, when kings such as Raedwald – thought to be buried at Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge – ruled the Kingdom of East Anglia.
According to local legends, a location in close proximity to the Crow’s Hall estate known as ‘Blood Field’ was the site of an early battle. Speculation has even suggested that it was where the Anglo-Saxons battled the Danes in AD 870, following which King Edmund was killed and martyred, later to be enshrined at Beodricsworth – now Bury St Edmunds – and for some period, recognised as the patron saint of England.
Unfortunately, we must disappoint ornithologists. The name ‘Crow’s Hall’ seems to derive from the site’s occupation in the 13th century by John Crow, thought to be from a Yarmouth family who made their money in shipping. John Crow’s name appears in the Hundred Rolls 191 of 1274/5.
In 1397, it was bought by Jenk in Framlingham and was passed on by descent until the late 17th century. Descendants included the Framlingham family and later the Gawdy family.
From the perspective of Crow’s Hall however, perhaps the most significant of Jenk’s descendants turned out to be Sir Charles Framlingham (pictured here) who inherited it in 1559 from his father, Francis Framlingham.
Sir Charles was the fifth generation of Framlinghams at Crow’s Hall and it was his marriage in 1561 to his first wife Dorothy, daughter of Sir Clement Heigham of Barrow, Suffolk, which was to have a significant impact on the manor house. Sir Charles’ tomb is in St Mary’s Debenham – View here»
Many of the 16th century buildings at Crow’s Hall are attributed to Sir Charles Framlingham – and his marriage to Dorothy. Recent dendrochronology confirms that two timbers in the roof structure were felled in summer 1559 and one in winter 1559/60. The present north wing containing a suite of reception rooms was therefore almost certainly completed just after he inherited Crow’s Hall and in time for the 1561 wedding!
An elevation in Charles Framlingham’s status a few years later probably gave rise another building spree. Again, dendrochronology establishes that major alteration to the service range outside the moat took place around 1585 – shortly after Sir Charles was knighted at Westminster (1581) and became High Sheriff of Suffolk (1583).
The west gable of the north wing and the gatehouse range appear to have been rebuilt, perhaps replacing timber-framed structures. It is is likely to have been when the new bridge and dovecote were built too.
Most of the 16th century and earlier parts of the manor house were demolished by about 1700.
Although this included the Great Hall range to the east and the service wing to the south, the north reception wing (built around 1560) was spared, likewise the gatehouse to the west which has survived to the present day. At that time, the two were interlinked by a screen.
By about 1700, a narrow single-story range filled the space between the gatehouse and the west gable of the north wing. At the same time a small service wing was added to the north side, re-using roof timbers apparently from the demolished Great Hall. Two centuries later – soon after 1900 – an extension within the courtyard was built.
The north wing contains an upper dining chamber (since divided into bedrooms) with panelling of c.1560, and more of it has been moved round within the building. The dining chamber was approached by what may be the earliest example of a balustraded box staircase in England.
The barn at the centre of the service range had been built by an ancestor of Sir Charles in c.1478. Here, there are very early examples of queen post roof structures.
Sir Charles made a large westward extension to the barn in c.1561 and a second extension at the east end in c.1585, which may have been used as a brew house and granary.
His grandfather’s family crest appeared over the gatehouse.
Regrettably the crest is now too worn to decipher, but it contained the Neville quartering’s of his grandmother, Anne Horne, herself a granddaughter and co-heiress of John Neville, brother to Warwick The Kingmaker.
Ironically, the present owner of Crow’s Hall, Caroline Spurrier, is a great-granddaughter of the Fifth Earl of Warwick.
When Sir Charles’ Framlingham’s son, Clement, pre-deceased him, Crow’s Hall was left to his only daughter, Anne, who married Sir Bassingbourne Gawdy.
Their second son – another Charles – inherited the property. He died in 1628 and it went to his son and namesake, Charles Gawdy (1612-1650).
Finally, his son (pictured here) – yet another Charles who was born in 1635 and created First Baronet in 1661 – inherited Crow’s Hall. Having only one son who was described as ‘of infirm mind’ however, he sold it before his death (1707) to John Pitt MP in 1694.
It seems that at about this time Crow’s Hall may have been in a state of disrepair and the Hall at the east and the south wing were demolished.
The occupancy of Crow’s Hall at this time is yet to be researched by the current owner.
Crow’s Hall appears to have been sold to James Bridges in 1764 and sold again to Sir John Major of Worlingworth Hall by Lady Catherine Stanhope in 1776.
Sir John Major’s daughter inherited the property, married John Henniker and it remained in the Henniker family until sold to the then tenant, Herbert Gill, in 1948.
Two years later, Crow’s Hall was sold on to Commander Cuthbert Carr in 1950.
Commander Carr was responsible for some renovations, namely replacing the Georgian windows put in during the time of the tenancy and changing some of the fireplaces.
In 1960 he sold it to a neighbouring farmer, Victor Knowland.
Crow’s Hall came up for sale some 45 years later. It was to be purchased by the current owner, to be loved back to life and become a most beautiful Suffolk home which, as she discovered, others would just love to share.
In 2005, Crow’s Hall was purchased by the current owner who has recently undertaken an extensive repair schedule on the house.
This was prepared and managed by Nicholas Jacob Architects and executed by R & J Hogg, including re-roofing and the removal of some late 20th century additions.
These works have received awards for Craftsmanship by the Suffolk Association of Architects.
Thanks to a biomass boiler nicknamed ‘Boudicca’ installed on the farm estate to support the grain stores – and some clever pipe laying across the moat, historic Crow’s Hall has been brought into 21st century with a sustainable energy system.
Visit Crow’s Hall on a Historic Houses visit
As part of the renovations, the owner has also landscaped the inner moat with gardens – influenced by traditional gardens – designed and laid out by award-winning garden designer, Lady Tollemache. The courtyard also follows early foundations of the former Hall and south wing, whereas the knot garden on the north side maps foundations discovered during the renovations.
Outside the hall’s ring-moat are further moat structures relating to 18th century landscapes, although these probably started life as mediaeval fish ponds. To the northwest, between the moats, is the 16th century dovecote and to the south is the fine barn, thought to be the longest range in East Anglia.