Discover the history of The Ickworth in Suffolk

Our history

Our Italianate palace's history dates back to an entry in the Domesday Book, but in recent years, the house has hosted some of British society's leading figures.


The Herveys arrive with William the Conqueror

As key figures in the story of our house, it's definitely worth starting our timeline with the arrival of the Herveys in England. While they didn't come into possession of the estate until 1460, they were one of the country's most prominent families. The famous French philosopher Voltaire declared that, ‘When God created the human race, he made men, women and Herveys.’

This was apparent as early as 1109, when a Hervey became the 1st Bishop of Ely, and was described as a ‘man of secular tastes’. Samuel Pepys (the diarist of Great Fire of London fame) served as secretary to Sir Thomas Hervey (1625-1694), and evidently held him in low regard, writing ‘...but a coxcombe he is and will never be better in the business of the Navy,’ and was very unhappy with the way Hervey had behaved in response to the Great Plague of London.

It was his son, John Hervey, who was made 1st Earl of Bristol in 1714, in recognition for his support of King George I in the Hanoverian succession. The family from then on maintained positions of great importance in British politics, with the 2nd Earl being Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and Lord Privy Seal.


The Domesday Book

Ickworth is first recorded as a settlement of 16 households belonging to the Abbey of Bury St Edmunds in the Domesday Book.


The estate is given to Thomas de Ickworth

Thomas de Ickworth is granted land by the Crown to create a deer park. He is believed to have founded the 13th-century church, which still exists as part of St Mary's Church.


The Herveys move in

The Ickworth estate, including a manor house, passes into the hands of the Drury family. Jane Drury marries Thomas Hervey around 1460, and he acquires the site.


John Hervey becomes Earl of Bristol

John Hervey inherits the Ickworth estate and becomes the first Earl of Bristol. He transforms the ancient deer park into an aristocratic paradise and decides to demolish the old manor.


Ickworth Lodge is expanded

John Hervey consults architect John Vanbrugh, the designer of Blenheim Palace, and decides to convert and enlarge Ickworth Lodge, an existing farmhouse, to serve as the new manor.


The 4th Earl of Bristol builds the present house

The 4th Earl of Bristol, known as the Earl Bishop, inherits the estate and begins building the current Ickworth House with its distinctive Rotunda. He aims to create a gallery to display his extensive collection of art and treasures.


Napoleon seizes the collection

The Earl Bishop's collection is confiscated by Napoleonic troops. The construction of Ickworth House is incomplete when the Earl Bishop dies in 1803.


Ickworth is completed

Frederick, the 5th Earl of Bristol (later the 1st Marquess), takes over the building project and moves his family into the completed house. He changes the original concept, making the East Wing the family home and the Rotunda a gallery and entertaining space.


World War I

Ickworth and the neighbouring village of Horringer are affected by World War I. Many men from the area enlist, and the estate is used for training purposes. Food rationing and a Zeppelin bombing in the region impact daily life.


Ickworth given to the National Trust

The 4th Marquess presents Ickworth House and estate to the Treasury in lieu of death duties. The Treasury passes it to the National Trust, and it becomes publicly owned, except for the East Wing, where the Herveys continue to live.


The Herveys move out

The 7th Marquess had a terse relationship with the National Trust and was frosty towards the tourists who came to visit his former family home, being known to stand on the lawn pointing his shotgun at the visiting tourists. This, combined with the 7th Marquess’ disastrous finances (he is thought to have blown through a £35m inheritance), resulted in him giving up the lease to the East Wing in 1998, a year before his death.


After the Marquess left, the National Trust leased the East Wing to Luxury Family Hotels, who turned it into the hotel it is today, opening in 2002.