Many of you may be wondering what the significance is of the beautiful monkeys in the Woolverstone Hall logo. Local folk lore tells the tale of William Berners’ pet monkeys raising the alarm when Woolverstone Hall caught fire enabling the family to escape unharmed. Following this, Berners had images and statues of monkeys made to adorn the Woolverstone Hall estate.
The Gardeners Chronicle and Agricultural Gazette of February 1867 said of the grounds that “it is impossible to conceive of a richer or better clothed landscape than that which stretches out in all directions from Woolverstone, like a boundless panorama of satisfying beauty”. Little has changed in well over 100 years.
It is now the home of Ipswich High School for Girls and although very much a school it has not lost sight of its origins and remains a much loved house.
Woolverstone Hall was built in 1776 for William Berners, a property developer from London who had gradually been acquiring extensive landholdings on the Shotley peninsula. When he was able to purchase the estate in 1773, it was no doubt with the idea that he could now build a fashionable gentleman’s country residence in a prime situation.
The site of Berners’ house is, of course, typical of the 18th Century interest in the landscape and appreciation of beautiful views and vistas. The back of the house overlooks the River Orwell at a picturesque curve and from the sides of the house there are views both down and upstream towards Ipswich. Unlike many 18th Century houses of greater repute, Woolverstone Hall is as attractive from the back, as the front.
Berners engaged as his architect John Johnson, a Leicestershire man, self taught and typical of the middle ranking 18th Century designer, who could provide a building in the fashion and taste of the time. Johnson had already worked on designs for houses in London (Cavendish Street, Harley Street and Grosvenor Square) including some in Charles Street on land developed by Berners, and these share internal details with Woolverstone Hall. Woolverstone Hall is the best of Johnson’s surviving country houses and is therefore of some architectural importance.
Johnson’s design is classically Palladian, consisting of a central block comprising the main living areas, flanked by two smaller wings containing the domestic offices; kitchen, larders, laundry, brewhouse and so on which made the typical English country house a self-sufficient community. The wings are connected to the central block by elegant corridors.