The Benacre Estate

The Gooch Family of Benacre Estate

A Brief History

The Estate of Benacre has descended in a direct line ever since 1746. The Gooch family has long been established in north Suffolk, living principally at Mettingham.

In 1691 Thomas Gooch (later known as ‘Bishop Gooch’) entered Ciaus College Cambridge. (In 1716 he was elected Master of Caius, a position he held until his death.) Bishop Gooch had a long and distinguished career in the Church. William Gooch, the brother of Thomas, entered the Army beginning a connection that lasts until 2002. William’s career was equally distinguished and in 1727 the King of England made him Lt. Governor of Virginia (in the American Colonies) and it was written that “ ‘twas justly (and what could be better) said, that he was the only governor abroad against whom inhabitants and merchants never once complained”.

In 1747 he was elevated to the baronetcy. Sir William’s heir to the title was to be his brother (Thomas) and then his brother’s eldest son (Thomas, born in 1720) because of the earlier death of his only son.

This same year Sir William returned from the Americas, having sold his estates there, but kept his furniture. On his return Sir William and his wife Lady Gooch took up residence at the family house at Hampton and this is where in 1751 he died.

Bishop Thomas Gooch became Bishop Sir Thomas Gooch (2nd Bt) then died in 1754 leaving the bulk of his considerable fortune to his eldest son Thomas.

Sir Thomas Gooch (3rd Bt) was married in 1743 and during this year he acquired Benacre Estate. It is said that ‘he settled down to consolidate his Estate, even though the anticipated income from wrecked ships along the coast did not live up to his expectations! In 1761 Sir Thomas inherited an even greater fortune from (his uncle) Bishop Sherlock which included land in Birmingham, and it was this that became the principle source of income over the next two hundred years, allowing the enhancement of the Benacre Hall and lands.

By the end of the 18th century the family were well established and the account books show consistent agricultural improvements and the creation of a fine park with the addition of a large number of trees immediately around the Hall. In 1790 Sir Thomas (4th Bt) extended the Estate through the purchase of the adjacent Wrentham Hall.

Sir Thomas was interested in sporting activities and bred coursing greyhounds. His daughter Sophia married Captain George Manby the founder of the lifeboats in 1818.

The 5th baronet, Sir Thomas entered Parliament in 1806 and forged the close ties with the Army by raising the first Yeomanry Cavalry Corps in England to counter the effect of a potential French invasion in 1792. During his long period as MP for Suffolk (1806-1830) he consistently supported the needs of farmers, distillers and merchants especially during the agricultural depression following the Napoleonic Wars.

Sir Edward Sherlock Gooch (6th Bt, Sir Thomas’ eldest son) succeeded his father as MP for Suffolk (1800 – 1864) was succeeded by his sons who inherited in succession: Sir Edward 7th Bt., (1843-1872); Sir Francis, 8th Bt. (1850 – 1881) and Sir Alfred, 9th Bt. ((1852 – 1899).

In 1889 the Estate was inherited by Sir Thomas Gooch 10th Bt. and now hosted innumerable events surrounding The Coursing Club, The Flower Shows and the Pedigree Cow Shows. Sporting activities became part of the yearly routine, in particular steeple chasing and cricket.

The eldest son Robert joined the Life Guards as a Lieutenant and enjoyed a long and distinguished career in the army becoming a Commander of the Household Cavalry Regiment 1942 - 1946. However he is perhaps best remembered in Suffolk for his breeding prize animals. He served both in the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society of England and as Liaison Officer to the Ministry of Agriculture.

In 1926 Benacre Hall suffered a terrible fire, however Sir Thomas (10th Bt) applied himself to the task of rebuilding, and by mid 1929 the reconstruction was well advanced. In 1951 Sir Robert’s eldest son, John, came of age and followed his father into the Army. John had a strong interest in history and the arts and during the 50’s and 60’s collected furniture. In 1978 on succeeding his father he undertook the alterations to the house returning it to the look of the original 18th century style.

On the death of Sir John (12 Bt) in 1999 the succession went to his brother Timothy Gooch. The decision had to be made on the future of the Estate (consisting of some 6,800 acres). Death duties had to be paid, the Hall and out buildings required re-wiring, re-plumbing and repairs made to the fabric of the buildings. The main priority of Sir Timothy (13 Bt) and Lady Gooch was to find the best way to preserve the Estate for the next generation. They were determined to keep the Estate intact and to make certain that nobody lost their jobs.

The Estate maintains a wealth of activities, both traditional and modern. These include property maintenance, hothouse fruit, flower growing, thatching, reed-cutting, film making and machine harvesting. There are 20 employees and some 75 – 80 people make their livelihoods from estate-based businesses. Many of the thatched barns and buildings are not only intact but still in use.

The Family  plans improvements and changes to the Estate that are geared towards keeping its priceless traditions intact. We aim to make the Estate more accessible to the public, and have already provided an educational centre at a collection of thatched barns at Wood Farm. The Hall has undergone extensive conversions to create self contained apartments.