I have always loved old things.
I love the stories that old things hold, whether it be an antique or a historic building. It doesn’t matter whether it is a wartime airfield or a medieval castle, I imagine the people that were there throughout history and the tales the walls tell.
In a village not too far from where I live, there is an old hall that sits in the grounds of the Rougham Estate. It is on private land and therefore is difficult to be able to get up close and personal with the stunning ruins, hidden in the woods. If you are familiar with Suffolk, Blackthorpe Barn, the popular christmas venue, is also part of the Rougham estate and sells tickets to join the owner of the estate, George Agnew, on a guided walk to the hall. It’s also worth noting that in the woods behind Blackthorpe Barn, a few Anderson shelters still stand from the war!
We joined him on a windy and gloomy walk last year, we enjoyed our visit so much, we had to visit again! This year, it was a stunning November afternoon; the sun sparkled through the crisp crimson leaves on the trees as we ventured through the woods, towards the ruins.
The house itself it fenced off, to stop people from stealing fallen masonry, as well as to prevent injuries from snooping and uninvited visitors! But as we were with George, he unlocked the gate and allowed us to get up close and personal, within reason!
The history of this hall is an interesting one, but also filled with myths and rumours that George was able to set straight for us. I won’t tell you all that George told us, as there is a lot to tell and I feel it is best if you hear certain things from George himself, as he is an excellent story teller! But I will recite what I can remember.
I believe it was either his grandfather, or great grandfather, who bought the house in the early 1900’s – the house itself was built in the 1800’s in a gothic style with the intention of making it look older than it was.
In the second world war, a bombing raid was carried out in the Bury St Edmunds area and Rougham Hall was targeted.
It is unclear as to why the Germans attacked Rougham Hall in particular – there was a report the following night in Berlin, saying that a nearby hall was hit, which apparently was home to either a Jewish family or a family helping Jews escape German occupation, but this one in Rougham was the only hall bombed that evening. It was also suspected that perhaps a German sympathiser lead the bombers to the hall but tilting their headlights into the sky, where they should have been down so not to attract attention of any German planes flying over (known as a ‘black-out’).
There had been some military activity in the area and some people thought Rougham Hall was some sort of headquarters, when in reality, it was George’s relatives family home! The family and the house staff were tucked up in bed when this raid occurred. It was a Monday night and the butler was spending his evening off duty in the nearby town after a weekend of hosting; it was the butlers job to get the household into the cellars when the air raid siren started. As it so happens, no one went to the cellars, which very luckily saved their lives, as the bomb hit the very spot where they would have been hiding! I believe the bomb even passed through the butlers bedroom!
The house was inhabitable and so George’s grandfather moved in with a relative nearby, leaving the house behind, although still in his possession. The house has been left to decay over the years – it would cost too much money to preserve, let alone restore, but much of the house can still be seen, including the bomb crater!
From what I have seen online, a lot of people assume that the bomb hit the tower which is still standing (right side in the first picture), because the floorboards have fallen through – this is not the case! If the bomb had hit this part of the house, the tower would not be standing. The crater is at the ‘back’ of the house, where most of the house is now a bare skeleton.
Another misconception is that the clock on the clocktower stopped when the bomb hit. George mentioned that it is more likely the clock stopped of its own accord and actually suspects some children had climbed up and turned the hands on the clock face! George insists that he wasn’t a part of that…!
I would have love to have seen this hall in all its glory, but a few images are around on the internet depicting it in its prime. Our gorgeous autumnal visit to this stunning ruin is surely going to become an annual event for our family.