Wherstead Park through the ages

Now home to a multitude of weddings, parties, and events every year, Wherstead Park and its beautiful grounds have been woven into the Suffolk landscape through the generations. The mansion has played host to many walks of life across the years, acting as a family home, party venue, convalescent hospital, a space for war torn children, and more.

Originally built on the site of a previous house, the Wherstead Park we know today was completed in 1792. The mansion was built for Sir Robert Harland, the son of Admiral Robert Harland who commanded the HMS Princess Louisa of the Royal Navy during the Seven Year’s War in 1759. The death of his father meant that Sir Robert inherited several estates, including Sproughton, Belstead and Wherstead Park which he decided to redevelop.

Sir Robert commissioned famous architect Jeffry Wyatville for the project, as well as Humphry Repton, a renowned landscape architect to design the gardens. Although most well-known for the alterations and extensions he made to Chatsworth House and Windsor Castle, Wherstead Park is one of Wyatville’s earliest designs and many of the original features are still prominent in the mansion today.

Nine years after the completion of Wherstead Park, Sir Robert married Arethusa Vernon, the sister of John Vernon who was at the time in possession of Orwell Park. Initially the couple lived at Wherstead Park, however in 1813 Sir Robert and John Vernon exchanged their two properties. It is rumoured that this exchange took place as Sir Robert needed money, while John Vernon was fond of hunting and game which was easier to find in Wherstead Park because of the woods and 5,000 acres of land. Vernon sold many of the small farms which he owned in Suffolk, and paid Sir Robert an £80,000 mortgage for the property.

In 1818 John Vernon died, leaving Wherstead Park to his sister Arethusa as he had no children.  Arethusa and Sir Robert continued to live at Orwell Park, and Wherstead Park was let to Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl of Granville, and his wife Henrietta.

The couple lived at Wherstead Park until 1824. During this period, the house played host to numerous parties featuring many famous faces. Henrietta was a notable society hostess, who regularly entertained guests including Prince Frederick, the Duke of York, and the Duke of Wellington.

From 1824 until 1835 the ownership of Wherstead Park was passed over to John Fitzgerald who was a member of Parliament at the time and the father of the poet Edward Fitzgerald. Edward Fitzgerald spent many of his early years at Wherstead Park.

After the Fitzgerald’s tenancy ended, the Harland’s returned to Wherstead Park until Arethusa’s death in 1860 (Sir Robert having died in 1848). After Arethusa’s death, Wherstead Park was inherited by Reverend Charles Jenkin, a distant relative who changed his name to Vernon in order to comply with the conditions of the inheritance.

After Jenkin’s death in 1863, Wherstead Park was inherited by Arethusa’s great nephew Charles Edmund Dashwood, as similarly to John Vernon, Jenkin had died without male issue.

When he inherited Wherstead Park, Dashwood was only six years old. As his father Captain George Astley Dashwood died a few months before his inheritance, his mother Harriet took charge of the property until he came of age. Wherstead Park become the family’s home, and was occupied by a governess, a butler, a housekeeper, footmen, two ladies maids, two housemaids, two laundry maids, a kitchen maid and a scullery maid, as well as the family.

In 1867, Harriet remarried, wedding Lord Montagu William Graham who also came to live there until his death in 1878. In 1881 Charles, now of age and running Wherstead Park married Emma Baker and the couple occupied the house for many years.

During the first World War, Charles and Emma converted part of Wherstead Park into a convalescing hospital designed to accommodate 12 beds. The Park grounds were also part of the war effort and used as a staging depot for horses before they began the long and dangerous journey across the Channel to France and Flanders.

Identified patients sent to recover at the Park included Sergeant-Major Alexander McKinnon, one of the heroes of the Battle of Loos, who was suffering from rheumatism when he arrived at in 1915. He was discharged from the hospital in August 1916. Another casualty of the Battle of Loos, Seaforth Highlander Sergeant Arton was transferred from Colchester Military Hospital in October 1915 after being wounded.

The Dashwoods continued to live at Wherstead Park until 1934, when the mansion was sold to local businessman Stuart Paul a year before his death on 29th April 1935. From this point the house remained empty and silent for a number of years until 1937.

In 1937, Wherstead Park was again put into commission. The mansion was used as a home for Basque children who were evacuated during the Spanish Civil War. After the town of Guernica was bombed by the planes of the Nazi Condor Legion, many children were brough to Britain as refugees. After sailing on 21st May 1937, one hundred Basque refugee children arrived at Ipswich railway station on 23rd June 1937 and were taken to Wherstead Park.

Supporting the children’s evacuation to Ipswich were sisters Chloe Armorel & Hope Mureur (“Poppy”) Vulliamy, daughters of Ipswich Solicitor and Coroner Lionel Hastings Vulliamy. Prior to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the sisters were living on the Costa Brava and so were passionate supporters of the Spanish Republic, particularly the recently implemented educational reforms.

Chloe and Poppy were involved in ensuring that there were facilities ready for the refugees who came to Britain. Chloe became the organising secretary of the Ipswich & District Committee for Spanish Refugee Children. The committee were supported by the local Co-operative Society and collected charitable donations to support the children, as part of the government’s agreement to the evacuation was that no public money could be used. While many children returned to Spain after the war, several remained in Suffolk and built their lives here.

Since then, Wherstead Park has been the home to several large companies, including Eastern Electricity which took possession in 1948. Later EON and most recently the East of England Co-op Headquarters have taken possession of the house and land. The space has played a part in so many couple’s perfect days and we still know how to throw a great party!

As well as surviving two world wars, Wherstead Park has now weathered the storm of Coronavirus. We’re back, better than ever and ready to start making more history in Suffolk.