Or, ‘The Hares of Norfolk‘.
Or, ‘Three Hares and a Beevor‘.
To East Anglia, a region where the proliferation and resilience of its rodent population has long been matched by their human namesakes. Handed on follows the trail of the Hares and the Beevors taking in three centuries-old Norfolk estates, quite separate but with common roots in the same lineage.
Just north of the town of Downham Market lies Stow Bardolph, ‘one of the most charming tucked-away estate villages imaginable‘.¹ It was acquired by the Hares in 1553, remains in their hands today and – stretching that introductory analogy a little further – could perhaps be considered the home ‘set’. But while it is the oldest of the three estates featuring here, Stow need detain this blog least. For no less than three separate Hare baronetcies and three houses have been associated with this place – and all have gone.
The first incarnation of Stow Hall was built by Nicholas Hare c1589, substantially rebuilt in 1769 and finally completely replaced by a looming Victorian edifice. Latterly serving as a hospital, Stow Bardolph Hall was not overly mourned when it was bulldozed in 1994/5. Interestingly the outline of the building is preserved by yew hedges visible from the vantage point of the still-standing entrance steps to the Hall. And the gardens are among a smorgasbord of diversions to be found at Church Farm Rare Breeds Centre all overseen by descendants of the 5th baronet. (The title, though extant, is now adrift).Just a few years after Nicholas Hare built Stow Hall his brother John acquired the manor of Docking 25 miles to the north. Here would be built the e-plan house which stands today, still the seat of this branch of the Hares and the hub of an estate which in 1935 extended to 3,600 acres.
The single readily-available image of Docking Hall shows the early C17 north front; the S and E were subject to substantial ‘High Victorian’ alterations by Ewan Christian, architect of the National Portrait Gallery and many a church across the land.A relatively low-key domestic assignment in his canon, Christian’s involvement here very likely came about through an association connected to the one significant deviation in the Docking Hares’ line of descent.
By the 1740s Docking had devolved to the widowed Catherine Henley, only surviving child of Hugh Hare. Catherine had no children and would eventually pass the estate on to her kinsman Edward Christian, son of the vicar of Docking, who assumed by Royal Licence the name and arms of Hare upon succession in December 1798.
Meanwhile, 50 miles south, no such devices have been necessary at Hargham, house and a later title having passed relatively straighforwardly across well over 300 years. Sir John Hare of Stow Bardolph (d. 1638) would leave the core of his estate to eldest son Ralph but there were enough outlying properties to make provision for his five younger brothers. Nicholas would get the manor of Hargham and in turn his son Ralph would, in the 1680s, build Hargham Hall.
‘A compact house of mellow brick’,² little-seen Hargham was originally even more modestly proportioned than appears today, the pronounced sixth bay having been added c.1800 to create a new principal entrance on the West front. (A lower wing would also be built in 1815). A later owner of Hargham, Sir Hugh Beevor (d. 1939), would develop a theory that the Hall might be that all-too-rare thing namely a surviving work by influential C17 architect Sir Roger Pratt whose own seat Ryston Hall (previously featured) lies a mere three miles from Stow Bardolph.
There are Hares buried at All Saints church, Hargham (pro. Harpham) but mostly it’s Beevors. The Rev. William Beevor had married into a landed Yorkshire family but was drawn east when offered two East Anglian livings in the gift of the Duke of Norfolk. And some of William’s male descendants were to prove masters of the advantageous marriage. Grandson Thomas married the sole heir of the Branthwaytes of Hethel Hall (12 miles N-E of Hargham) and was created a baronet in 1784. His eldest son Thomas, 2nd bart., despite long appearing something of a liability (‘always chronically short of money’²), finally wed, in 1795 aged 42, a local woman half his age. Usefully, she was Anne, daughter and sole heir of Hugh Hare of Hargham Hall.
Whilst many a Hare sought active participation in national public affairs, the third baronet represents the Beevors’ high water mark in this regard. A committed social and parliamentary reformer, he took to styling himself ‘Citizen Beevor’ and personally bankrolled his political hero William Cobbett‘s attempts to get elected to Westminster. One enduring legacy of this friendship are locust trees on the estate, a stand first being planted in 1829 on Cobbett’s recommendation of it’s rot-resistant timber. And despite the legendary hurricane ravages of 1860 and 1986, timber has continued to play a sustaining role at Hargham.Quite literally, in fact. About ten years ago Sir Thomas Beevor, 7th Bt., and his wife moved out of the Hall (handing the reigns to heir Hugh) and into an award-winning eco-friendly wooden house (r) commissioned with a stipulation that most of the timber used in its construction be sourced from the estate. This progressive approach to affairs is evident elsewhere at Hargham suggesting that a repeat of this ad of 1897 is unlikely any time soon:
‘Announcement of Sale of the noted sporting and residential estate known as Hargham Hall, comprising an area upwards of 2,250 acres and including a family residence, picturesquely situated in a well-timbered park’.³ The decision to sell up followed several decades in which, for various reasons, Hargham had been tenanted. The market at that moment was not propitious, however, and 5th bart. Sir Hugh soon thought better of it, moving back and taking the place in hand a few years later.
Being unable to see the wood for the trees seems no longer to be a problem at Hargham – the only shame is we can’t say the same about the Hall…
¹ Longville, Tim. Country Life, April 22, 2009.
² Carter, Anne. The Beevor story, 1993.
³ The Times 14 April 1897.