Our Heritage

Ancient History

The area around St. Edmunds Hill has been occupied since the iron age, when it is likely that there was a farm complex just to the West of the present school. Roman coins have been found in the vicinity. The land to the East, now dominated by the Moreton Hall Estate, shows signs of sporadic use from the Bronze to the Iron Age.

There is no evidence of Saxon occupation but the sloping valley to the West of the school has yielded many late mediaeval and early modem finds suggesting agricultural use. While this higher heavy clay land was little used because of the difficulty of cultivation and probable deep natural forest, the rising chalky land to the East of the river Lark proved an ideal spot in Mediaeval times for vineyards of the great abbey of St. Edmund. They were protected by the wooded ground which reached a high point at St.Edmund’s Hill, before falling away across Appledown valley heath towards the nearby hamlet of Barton. There was little change on the hill until the building of the Hall, apart from the disappearance of the vineyards and the splendid view of the Abbey, which was dissolved by Henry VIII.

Moreton Hall Preparatory School
John Symonds

Moreton Hall acquired academic connections long before it became a school. Its builder and first resident was no less than the Professor of Modem history and Languages of the University of Cambridge. John Symonds, born in 1730, was the eldest son of Dr. Symonds, the rector of Horningsheath, near Cambridge, and Mary Spring, the younger daughter and co-heiress of Sir Thomas Spring of Pakenham Hall. The Springs were a prominent Suffolk merchant family, who, with the Earl of Essex, were largely responsible for the building of Lavenham church. Sir Thomas Spring’s grandfather had married the daughter and co-heiress of Lord Jermyn of Rushbrook Hall. This house once stood on an eminence south of Bury and would have been clearly visible from St. Edmund’s Hill.

 

Design – Exterior

A painting of the first hot air balloon to take off from Bury St. Edmunds (1789) clearly shows the hall in the background, then a simple square, prominently located on the brow of a hill overlooking the town.

The house is a three-storey squarish building with a pyramidal roof, in itself an unusual Adam design, but Moreton Hall has probably the most notable pyramidal roof of all their properties. Each facade was given a pediment with three bays below. The drawings show a rectangular porch but an early (undated) sketch of the house shows a circular one. The original porch was later replaced by a rectangular one, but this has since been removed. The ground and first floor windows on the East and West were formed into bowed projections with balustraded parapets above; on the second floor, behind the balustrade, each of these facades was given a single Diocletian window.

There is no drawing for the North (entrance) facade. The current porch is deeper that the one shown on Adam’s plans. Above, there are four Spalatro order pilasters running through the first and second floors. When considering classical facades, it is useful to begin by recalling that the Adams said they sought principally to achieve ‘greater movement and variety on the outside composition.’ They noted that this was not always compatible with practical use, but even when they could not introduce great movement, they could still have a good variety of shapes. In the case of Moreton Hall, the house was given little movement on the front and back, but bowed projections on each side.

Moreton Hall Preparatory School
Design – Interior

There have been many changes inside Moreton Hall, and drawings for the decoration do not survive. However they are were doubtless designed by Adam, as he certainly designed some chimney-pieces for the house, and the study ceiling incorporates four plaques of dancing girls identical to those shown on four drawings in the Soane Museum and repeated on a larger scale in plaques elsewhere. Unusually, Moreton Hall had a first floor public room. There are only three major public rooms, a ground-floor hall and dining room, and a first floor drawing room. Perhaps the dining room and drawing rooms were put on separate floors because, in a small house, it seemed the best way of keeping them apart. Certainly Adam recommended that these two rooms should not be adjacent lest the noise from the gentlemen in the former proved troublesome to the ladies in the latter.

The house was originally a square building, with a large bow on the East and West ends. The bow on the East end, which must have contained the original stairs (see the stairs in the Athenaeum in Bury, built at the same time and designed by the same architect), was subsequently demolished when the wing which now contains the dining room, offices and headmaster’s flat, was built. The present magnificent staircase was added at the same time, as must have been the present front door and porch. The original door faced onto what is now the rose garden, and the driveway grandly swept round the house. The original house had a ‘Salon’ on the ground floor, which is now used as a chapel, the existing entrance hall, study, and drawing room. The first floor comprised the main drawing room, the principal bedroom, second bedroom and a small chapel. On the second floor were two secondary bedrooms. In the attic there were three servants’ rooms. Between the first and second floors there are two or three maids’ rooms with only 5′ headroom- hence the expression ‘tweenies’ to designate those who lived in the ‘tween floor’ rooms. The kitchens, still rooms, wine cellar etc. were in the basement.

Moreton Hall Preparatory School
Other Occupants of the House

Henry Francklyn Esq. Took up residence in the house in 1844. There are many similarities between the arms of the two men, so Henry Francklyn could have been a cousin of Symonds. However, it is a mystery as to who occupied the house between 1807, when John Symonds died, and 1844. Kelly’s Directory records that, in 1900, the house was in the possession of Mr Ferdinand Eyre (b. 1854, d.1887), the son of Vincent A. Eyre of Lindley Hall in Leicestershire. In 1880 he married Gabrielle, daughter of Sir Henry Paston Bedingfield of Oxborough Hall. The Bedingfields were prominent courtiers in Tudor times, and rode in support of Mary Tudor in her successful bid for the crown. He was Deputy Lieutenant, Sheriff of Suffolk in 1893, and mayor of Bury St. Edmunds in 1898.
When the Hall was sold by auction in 1884, presumably to the Eyres, the views shown in the sale particulars of the South front clearly show the lower eastern wing, which contained the dining room and kitchen, and the cart sheds beyond. In addition the North porch, the gatehouse at the entrance top the drive, and the grand staircase inside had been built and embellished with beasts bearing the Eyre coat of arms. During this period, the estate comprised over 400 acres, mainly farmland and woodland. The Eyres remodelled the gardens, probably installing the pond and fountain, and renamed the building ‘Mount House.’