Nothing remains of Beaupré Hall, an unloved manor house, that was eventually abandoned. In the 1960s, developers replaced it with a housing estate.
In the late 1960s, the owner of a new bungalow in the long-straddling village of Outwell, that lie on both sides of the River Nene in Norfolk, gazed out at the remains of a stone building in his back garden. What to do with them? In the years to come, these would presumably have been removed and the gardens landscaped to match the modern house. The stones might well have come in handy.
Over fifty years later, there are no traces of those ancient stone relics.
Once upon a time, this was a house called Beaupré Hall, erected in the early sixteenth century by the Beaupre family, who also held the manors of Sautrey, Wells, Norton, Hakbech and Thurning. The estates became the property of Edmund Beaupré, and eventually absorbed into the Beaupré estate.
The house was built between 1500 and 1530, added to later with a castellated gate house, and subsequently extended and altered by members of the Beaupré and Bell families. Dorothy Beaupré had married Sir Robert Bell in 1559 and succeeded to the manor. He was a speaker in the House of Commons of England and the Beaupré estate stayed in his family for generations.
By the end of the eighteenth century, the house had fallen into disrepair, the family fortune squandered by Beaupré Bell in the late 17th century onwards. He was said to have been a keen antiquary, more interested in collecting relics than spending money on the upkeep of the old manor house.
His son, also Beaupré Bell, died unmarried in 1741 and the house passed to his sister, Elizabeth, and her husband William Greaves. They made repairs to the house and demolished those parts beyond restoration. It was inherited by their daughter, Jane Greaves, who had married Charles W. Townley of Fulbourn in Cambridgeshire.
In 1889, a correspondent, known simply as H.K., wrote in The Methodist Recorder:
“Far back into centuries I should have to go in imagination to find the man who built Beaupré Hall, with its gabled and mullioned windows and beautiful gateways and courts and porches, with its picturesque towers and chimneys outside, and its wilderness of oak-panelled rooms and passages inside.”
Charles Townley thought the house surplus to requirement and had unsuccessfully attempted to dispose of it at auction in 1888. The house was probably tenanted because, at this time, Beaupré Hall was occupied by three ladies – the Misses Wilsons – who kept an open house for visiting Methodist preachers.
In the 1890s, Beaupré Hall was finally sold to the Newling family who remained until the twentieth century. On hindsight, the problems for the old manor house started here. A gale in 1915 severely damaged the building, and a chapel in the north-west range had its roof torn off and allowed to become derelict.
Christopher Hussey, the architectural writer, visited Beaupré Hall in 1923, its condition was such that he anticipated its eventual destruction.
Beaupré’s biggest problem came in the form of the Royal Air Force, who requisitioned the hall during the Second World War. Afterwards, the mansion was in serious disrepair, with substantial roof damage.
There were those who almost loved the house and might have saved it. In 1947, the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, gave it listed status, but little else. A fire in 1953 worsened its condition, and it was left to Mrs Kingsman, (formerly the wife of Edward Newling, who had married Stuart Kingsman), to offer the hall to the National Trust. It declined the offer, becoming the second heritage body that turned its back on Beaupré Hall.
The house and 13-acres of land was put up for sale and had two subsequent owners. Nevertheless, Beaupré Hall was quickly becoming a ruin.
During the 1950s, barrack huts left over from RAF occupation were used to house students on the ‘Holidays with Pay Scheme’, the ruins of Beaupré Hall no doubt providing an adventure.
The ‘Victoria County History’ reported that much of the building was still standing, but the development of a modern housing estate in its former grounds was a shadow quickly advancing on the house. A photograph taken by Country Life magazine in 1963 showed new bungalows in front of the broken-down house.
Nine years later, the Ministry gave permission for the house to be demolished, the only reminder being the name of the road on which the housing estate stands… Beaupré Avenue .