Visit to Ryston Hall

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On Saturday 22 October, around 20 members and guests of the society visited Ryston Hall, near Downham Market, Norfolk, by kind invitation of Mrs Sarah Pratt the current custodian of the hall and estate. The visit was organised by the society in connection to our 2022 publication The Literary Papers of the Reverend Jermyn Pratt (1723-1791).

Members and guests were given an introduction to the history and architecture of the hall by one of our vice presidents, Michael Sayer MA, MLitt, FSA, and were able to view both the north and south sides of the house, with a further opportunity to walk around some of the principal rooms (the Great Parlour, Drawing Room, Dining Room) before taking coffee (or tea) in the Dining Room. After coffee/tea we then proceeded to St Michael’s Church where Charles Farrow FinstLEx, a member of our council, gave us a guided tour, explaining the key features and monuments.

The Hall

North front of Ryston Hall
©Norfolk Record Society/Kristopher Harper
South front of Ryston Hall
©Norfolk Record Society/Kristopher Harper

The hall was designed and built between 1669 and 1672 by Sir Roger Pratt, a distinguished amateur who is recognised as one of the most important post-reformation architects in England. He designed only five known buildings: Coleshill House, Kingston Lacy, Horseheath Hall, Clarendon House and Ryston Hall (please see the notes below for more information on the properties). He was also one of the three commissioners delegated by Charles II to oversee the re-building of London following the Great Fire. In 1668 he was the first English architect to be knighted for his services.

Following his knighthood, and his marriage to Ann Monins, daughter of Sir Edward Monins Bt, Pratt retired to Ryston, which he had inherited in 1664 from a cousin, and began rebuilding. Of his work there, only the shell remains. The general disposition is his, a double pile of nine bays with a three-bay centre, consisting of a basement for offices and a raised principal floor. A painting survives which shows that the house had an upper story in the central three bays only.

Later remodelling was undertaken by Sir John Soane in 1787-8 and in 1864 by Anthony Salvin for the Revd Jermyn Pratt, principally bathrooms and sculleries. In 1913 E.R.M. Pratt raised the present pinched mansard roof over the centre, reorganised the chimney stacks and added a three-bay colonnade to the south front to link the two Soane pavilions.

Ryston Hall is still the family home of the Pratt Family.

The Church

Members and Guests approaching the Church
©Norfolk Record Society/Kristopher Harper
St Michael’s Parish Church, Ryston
©Norfolk Record Society/Kristopher Harper

St Michael’s parish church dates from the 12th century but the ruinated tower was restored in 1858 and further improvements took place in 1901, including new roofs on the nave and chancel. The church is a Grade 2* listed building and stands in parkland to the right of the present drive to Ryston Hall.

The church is predominantly built of carstone. The west tower with a saddleback roof is from 1858 by W. Lawrie, although the lower part is Norman. The chancel and two south-nave windows, featuring saints, are by William Wailes (c.1860-70).

The church contains several handsome monuments to the Pratt family. There is a floor slab in the chancel to Sir Roger Pratt (d. 1684), the architect, and very fine monument, attributed to Thomas Steyner, featuring a semi-reclining figure in contemporary dress representing Lady Anne Trafford (d. 1706), widow of Sir Roger, who married in 1692, as her second husband, Sir Sigismund Trafford. Also of note in the nave is a wall monument by John Bacon Jun., to Pleasance Pratt (d. 1807) with charming groups of small figures below an urn.

Memorial to Sir Roger Pratt
©Norfolk Record Society/Kristopher Harper
Memorial to Lady Ann Trafford
©Norfolk Record Society/Kristopher Harper
Memorial to Pleasance Pratt
©Norfolk Record Society/Kristopher Harper

Principal owners/occupiers of Ryston Hall (not a definitive list)

  • Sir Roger Pratt (1620-84) m. Anne Monins (d. 1706)
  • Edward Pratt (c.1655-1708) m. Mary Applewaite (1656-1738)
  • Roger Pratt (c.1689-1771) m. Henrietta Davers (1694-1731)
  • Edward Pratt (1717-84) m. Blanche Astley (1717-84). Edward Pratt was the older brother of Jermyn.
  • Jermyn Pratt (1723-91) m. Ann Stanforth (1721-87) (died without issue)
  • Edward Roger Pratt (1756-1838) m. Pleasance Browne (1765-1807). The present-day Pratts of Ryston Hall descend from Edward and Pleasance. (Edward was the son of Edward Pratt, 1717-84)

Further notes on Roger Pratt’s buildings:

Coleshill House – was situated in Coleshill in the Vale of White Horse. Historically in Berkshire, but following boundary changes in 1974 Coleshill is now in Oxfordshire. The house was gutted by fire in 1952 and demolished in 1958. The Coleshill Estate is now owned by the National Trust.

Kingston Lacy (Kingston Hall) – is situated near Wimborne Minster in Dorset. The house was designated as a Grade 1 listed building in 1958. The house was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1982 on the death of Henry John Ralph Bankes.

Horseheath Hall – was situated in Horseheath, Cambridgeshire. The house was rebuilt in 1663-5 by Roger Pratt and was a classical eleven-bay house with a three-bay pediment. It was further enlarged in 1668 but was pulled down in 1777.

Clarendon House – was a town mansion which stood in Piccadilly, London, from the 1660s-1680s. It was built for the politician Edward Hyde, first Earl of Clarendon, and was one of the grandest private London residences of its era. The property was sold and demolished in 1683 and is now the site of Dover Street, Albemarle Street and Bond Street.

Ryston Hall – is situated in Ryston, Norfolk. The Pratt family have owned land in the area since the middle of the 16th Century and still reside at Ryston.