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Darsham Old Hall

Darsham means “home of the deer” and it is thought that the Old Hall, originally over 5 times its current size, was sited in order to take full advantage of the excellent hunting that was afforded by the surrounding estate. However, the wealth generation needed to commission such a grand house is likely to have stemmed from the local wool industry and its trade links with London and the continent via Dunwich which, was at the time, one of the most significant ports in Britain.

Roger Bigod (Bygot) was granted the estate for fighting alongside William the Conqueror in 1066. The first records of the house date back to 1150.  Income from the estate was used to fund Thetford Priory.  With the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536, Henry VIII gave the manor and estate to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, whose main seat was Framlingham Castle.  Two of his nieces, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, married Henry VIII to become Queen of England.

The current house, has 13th century origins. Having been partly destroyed by fire the main part of the Old Hall, as seen today, dates from the early 1500’s.

In 1611, the Old Hall was purchased by Sir Thomas Bedingfield and his wife Dorothy of Flemmings Hall, in Bedingfield, Suffolk, and the family Coat of Arms is still evident on the south wall (above the veranda).  The Manor (as it was then), was bequeathed to their eldest son Philip, who in turn sold it to his younger brother Thomas.  Thomas, born in 1593,  was Attorney General of the Duchy of Lancaster, MP for Dunwich, Commissioner of the Great Seal of Charles I and a judge at the Court of Common Pleas.  In 1649, following the execution of Charles I, he refused to work for Cromwell, retired from public life and came home to the family seat in Darsham. He died in 1660 and is buried in Darsham Church.

Anne Bedingfield, who lived in the house until she died in 1641, was the first female proprietor of a theatre in England, running the infamous Red Bull Theatre in London. It is here that she met William Shakespeare and it is likely that he stayed at the Old Hall during his well-documented journey to Dunwich. Anne was a great Alms giver and it is perhaps for this reason that she is seen holding a purse on the brass that covers her resting place in Darsham Church.

The Old Hall remained within the Bedingfield family until Thomas’s grandson, another Thomas, who had inherited the estate, was killed by a Mr Berney, following a bar-room brawl in Norwich in 1684. Mr Berney was summarily tried and executed for the offence. After this tragic event, the estate was passed to the murdered Thomas’ younger sister Philippa, wife of Sir John Rous, the 1st Earl of Stradbroke, who lived at Henham Hall, the current location of the Latitude Festival.

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