Friday, 31 March 2017

(256) Austin of Brandeston Hall

Charles Austin (1799-1874) came from relatively humble origins as the second son of an Ipswich miller. However, his father understood the value and importance of learning and gave his sons the best education he could afford. After Bury Grammar School, Charles was initially apprenticed to a surgeon in Norwich, but finding this was not the career for him, he won a scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge and after graduating in 1824 proceeded to the Middle Temple, where he was called to the bar in 1827. Already at Cambridge his exceptional brilliance in conversation and debate had been remarked, and over the next twenty years he devoted himself unremittingly to developing a highly lucrative practice at the Parliamentary bar. His fortune was made in particular by the railway mania of the 1840s, when hundreds of railway companies needed the services of parliamentary counsel to secure the legislation that would allow them to acquire land and to operate, and Charles Austin was the top name in that field. His capacity for hard work and the incisiveness of his intellect were legendary, and Austin was not distracted by the blandishments of those who wished he would stand for parliament or seek judicial office. His career plan seems to have been to make a fortune and retire to the life of a country gentleman, and that is exactly what he did. In 1846 he purchased the 650-acre Brandeston Hall estate near Wickham Market in Suffolk and instructed a local Ipswich architect to repair and modernise the Tudor house there. Work was approaching completion when in 1847 the building was gutted by a devastating fire caused, apparently, by a spark from the night watchman's living room fire. The building was not insured, and the loss was estimated at £20,000, but this represented at most six months' income for Charles Austin and work resumed quickly on reconstructing the house on much the same lines as before. Austin retired from practice in 1848 and was living at Brandeston by the early 1850s. He held local office as Chairman of East Suffolk Quarter Sessions, but played no other part in public life, and devoted himself to his interest in literature and to the management of his estate.

He also got married and produced a family. His wife was Harriet Jane Ingilby (1831-1902), a scion of the Ingilbys of Ripley Castle in Yorkshire. When Charles Austin died in 1874 he left his widow a life interest in Brandeston Hall, and she continued to bring up their young family there. Unfortunately their younger son died while a schoolboy, and their daughter, who married in 1879, died less than ten years' later, but their elder son, Charles Austen (1858-1937) survived to maturity. He came of age in 1879, and may have been a rather wild young man, like many who are the heirs to fortunes and know that they will never have to earn a living. He occupied his time breeding racehorses, and one report says that he lost the Brandeston estate playing cards with his friend the Duke of Hamilton, but that the Duke declined to accept the deeds to the estate when they were offered. In 1889 he was cited as co-respondent in the divorce case between John Henry Learmonth and his wife Harriet, and two years later he married Harriet, who was the daughter of a sawyer from Downham Market (Norfolk). It is said that the marriage was kept secret as Charles could not face up to confessing such a misalliance to his mother, and in the 1891 census Harriet was living next door to her parents with a servant and Charles is described as single. After Charles' mother died in 1902, they lived together at Brandeston, but Harriet became an invalid and an alcoholic, and died of an overdose of strychnine (which had been prescribed for her by a doctor) in 1910; her death may have been accidental, as the coroner decided, or suicide. Soon afterwards Charles married again, this time to the local vicar's daughter. Over the next few years, they produced two sons and a daughter, and Charles evidently grew into the role of benevolent squire, even though the hall was let and the estate shrinking, for press reports at the time of his death in 1937 stress the genuine affection of the villagers for him. Charles Austin (1912-93), who inherited what was left of the property, had little chance to establish himself as the new squire before the Second World War broke out and the Hall was requisitioned for military use. When it was returned after the war, the old squirearchy seemed a remote memory, and Charles sold the freehold of the Hall in 1947 to Framlingham College. It opened as the College's preparatory school in 1949, and continues to serve this purpose today.

Brandeston Hall, Suffolk

Brandeston Hall: the entrance front from an early 20th century postcard.
A red brick Tudor house close to the church, which is said to have been built for Andrew Revett in about 1543. It was purchased in 1845 by Charles Austin, who commissioned a restoration by J.M. Clark of Ipswich, in the course of which it was gutted by fire in April 1847; only the porch and the shell of the east end were preserved. Clark began a rebuilding along the old lines, and the rainwater heads are dated 1848, but the restoration was apparently not completed until 1866, by which time R.M. Phipson (who also restored the church in 1861-63) was in charge, and the house had grown beyond its original footprint at the western end. 

Brandeston Hall: the garden front.

The house has obsessively regular diapered brickwork which produces an intensely Victorian effect and makes it look a small stray fragment of Keble College, Oxford or Rugby School. The windows are all of the same height on each floor and all have transoms, though they vary in width from two to six lights. At the western end a service wing projects forward to form an L-shaped entrance front. Inside, the elaborate interiors include material imported from elsewhere (for example, the dining room mantlepiece is said to come from the Great White Horse Hotel in Ipswich), and there are painted ceilings in the entrance hall and library by W. Hagreen and F.B. Russel. The house was sold to Framlingham College in 1947 and became its junior school two years later. The inevitable unsightly additions for school purposes have been kept tidily to the west of the main building.

Descent: Henry Bedingfield sold 1541 to Andrew Rivett (d. 1572), who built the house; to son, John Rivett (d. 1616); to son, Nicholas Rivett (d. 1643); to son, John Rivett (d. 1671); to son, Thomas Rivett (d. 1704); to son, John Rivett (d. 1773); to son, John Rivett (d. 1809); to widow, Catherine Rivett (d. 1820) and then to daughter, Catherine Anne, wife of John Pytches (d. 1829); to son, John Pytches (later Rivett) (d. 1830); to son, John Pytches (d. 1897), who sold 1842 to John Wood, solicitor; sold 1845 to Charles Austin (1799-1874), who rebuilt the house 1847-66; to son, Charles Austin (1858-1937), who let the house from c.1907; to son, Charles Austin, who sold 1947 to Framlingham College.

Austin family of Brandeston Hall

Austin, Charles (1799-1874). Younger son of Jonathan Austen of Ipswich (Suffk), miller, born 26 March 1799. Educated at Ipswich and Bury Grammar Schools, and was then for a time apprenticed to a surgeon in Norwich, but finding this career not to his taste he went instead to Jesus College, Cambridge (matriculated 1819; BA 1824) and the Middle Temple (called to bar, 1827; QC 1841). He was the younger brother of John Austin (1790-1859), who was a noted academic lawyer. His brilliance in debate and conversation was legendary; he gave John Stuart Mill 'the impression of boundless strength, together with talents which, combined with much force of will and character, seemed capable of dominating the world', and his conversational talents were compared with those of Macaulay and Sydney Smith; he was President of the Cambridge Union, 1822. He at first joined the Norfolk Assize Circuit, but quickly developed a large and very lucrative practice at the Parliamentary Bar, and was retained particularly to assist in securing the legislation for railway companies; his income in the 1840s, chiefly from this work, was estimated from £40,000 to £100,000 per annum. He retired from practice with a large fortune in 1848. His friends wanted him to enter Parliament but although he retained an interest in public affairs he played no part in them, and never stood for any constituency or sought judicial office; he devoted his time to his duties as a landowner and to his passion for classical and modern literature. JP and DL for Suffolk (Chairman of East Suffolk Quarter Sessions c.1848-70); High Steward of Ipswich, 1848-74. He married, 10 June 1856 at St Pancras (Middx), Harriet Jane (1831-1902), daughter of Capt. Ralph Mitford Preston Ingilby and niece of Sir Henry Ingilby, bt. of Ripley Castle (Yorks WR), and had issue:
(1) Jane Austin (1857-87), born 21 April 1857; married, 18 February 1879 at St George, Hanover Square, London, Reginald Brooke, eldest son of F.C. Brooke of Ufford (Suffk) and had issue two daughters; died in France, 5 April and was buried at Brandeston, 16 April 1887;
(2) Charles Austin (1858-1937) (q.v.);
(3) John Austin (1862-77), born 2 June 1862; died at school in Slough (Bucks), 27 April 1877.
He purchased Brandeston Hall for 30,000 guineas in 1845 and rebuilt it between 1848 and 1866. At his death he left the hall to his widow for life and then to his surviving son.
He died at Brandeston, 21 December and was buried there, 26 December 1874; his will was proved 19 February 1875 (effects under £140,000). His widow died at Tunbridge Wells (Kent), 26 December 1902; her will was proved 5 November 1903 (effects £2,285).

Austin, Charles (1858-1937). Elder and only surviving son of Charles Austen (1799-1874) and his wife Harriet Jane, daughter of Capt. R. Mitford Preston Ingilby, born at The Abbey, Woodbridge (Suffk), 22 August and baptised at Brandeston, 24 October 1858. Educated at Eton. Major in the Royal Artillery militia. JP for Suffolk. He was nominated as High Sheriff of Suffolk, 1890, but not pricked, probably because he had been cited as co-respondent in the divorce proceedings between his first wife and her first husband in 1889. Chairman of Brandeston Parish Council; President of Framlingham Livestock Association. He married 1st, 1891, in London, Harriet Kate (1865-1910), daughter of James Richer, sawyer, of Downham Market (Norfk) and formerly wife of John Henry Learmonth, and 2nd, Jan-Mar 1911 at St Peter, Eaton Square, London, Eileen Marion O'Callaghan (1880-1974), and had issue including:
(2.1) Charles (k/a Bunny) Austin (1912-93)born 31 March 1912; his nickname may have been adopted in conscious emulation of the famous tennis player, Bunny Austin, who was his near contemporary; inherited Brandeston Hall in 1937 but sold it to Framlingham College in 1947 and lived latterly at Rendham (Suffk); died 10 October 1993; will proved 8 February 1994 (estate £760,873);
(2.2) Eileen Mary Austin (1913-96), born 7 August 1913; married, 26 March 1942 at Brandeston, Capt. Gerard Trevor Hollebone (1912-2013), son of Trevor Hollebone of Claygate (Surrey), and had issue one daughter; died 13 January 1996; will proved 14 March 1996;
(2.3) John Austin (1917-81) of Grove Farm, Cretingham (Suffk), born Apr-Jun 1917; died 20 December 1981; administration of goods with will annexed granted 1 July 1982 (estate £179,252).
He inherited Brandeston Hall on the death of his mother in 1902, but let the house from 1907 onwards and sold some of the land in the 1920s. He left the rest of the estate to his elder son, Charles, who sold the Hall in 1947.
He died 19 March 1937; his will was proved 15 July and 15 November 1937 (estate £30,464). His first wife died of an overdose of strychnine tablets, 8 May 1910, and was buried at Brandeston. His widow died 16 February 1974; her will was proved 3 May 1974 (estate £1,877).
* She gave her age as 25, implying a date of birth of 1857, when she was married in 1882, but her age at death and in the census returns accord with a date of birth around 1865-67 and there is a baptism at Feltwell in January 1868 which appears to confirm that. She was thus probably under legal age when she was married.


Burke's Landed Gentry, 1898, i, p. 43; J. Bettley & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Suffolk - East, 2015, pp. 136-7.

Location of archives

Rivett and Austin of Brandeston Hall: deeds, estate records etc., 18th-20th cents. [Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich: HA10]
Austin of Brandeston Hall: conveyances of the manor, with a plan of estate, 1846 [Cambridge Univ. Lib. Maps.MS.Plans.a.26]

Coat of arms

None recorded.

Can you help?

Here are a few notes about information and images which would help to improve the account above. If you can help with any of these or with other additions or corrections, please use the contact form in the sidebar to get in touch.

  • Can anyone provide a view of the house before the fire of 1847?

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 31 March 2017 and was revised 1 April and 22 September 2017 and 26 August 2018. I am most grateful to Susan Harford and Anthony Breen for additional information.


  1. Sir,

    Some details you may already have encountered regarding the first marriage of Charles Austin (1858-1937)- he appears in his mother's household at Brandeston in the 1891 census, listed as 'single' (albeit likely because his wife was not in evidence in the household, or some error on the enumerator's part), alongside two Brooke nieces. Harriett Austin is to be found at Downham Market, Norfolk, 'married', with one servant girl.

    In the 1901 census, however, Charles is at Richmond Green with wife Harriett, and brother- and sister-in-law John and Mabel Richer (both born at Downham Market, Norfolk, as was Harriett; I don't understand the difference in surname- perhaps half-siblings?). I can find no (obvious) evidence of any issue from this first marriage.

    1. Thanks for this. I had found the 1901 census entry but failed to notice the 1891 one. Presumably Mabel was Harriett's sister and John Richer was her husband. I agree, there is no evidence for children from the first marriage.

    2. Sir,

      I have just now managed to locate in birth records/ the census corroborative details that I believe confirm the Richer identities: based on the dates in the 1901 census, the only two viable candidates are John Edmund Richer (1871-1939) and Mabel Mary Richer (1882-1901), children of James Richer, of Downham, a sawyer, by his wife Mary, in which household they appear in the 1891 census. I presume James Richer's business was fairly successful or that he was otherwise somewhat affluent, as the family employed a servant girl.


Please leave a comment if you have any additional information or corrections to offer, or if you are able to help with additional images of the people or buildings in this post.