The Ralphs of Grimston Hall

IMG_1917  The barely legible head stone of Samuel Ralph, son of Samuel and Jane Ralph.

In memory of Samuel, son of Samuel & Jane Ralph who departed this life

January the 20th 1813 Age 23 Years.  “Remember now thy creator in the days of thy youth.”

(Ecclesiastes 12:1)


On Saturday 8th September 1909, a letter appeared in the “East Anglian Miscellany’ Column of the East Anglian Daily Times. No address was published, simply the abbreviated name of the writer, S.D. Wall. His letter was comparatively brief and said,

“Samuel Ralph, of Grimston Hall.

I wondered if I could procure through your Miscellany column any information in reference to the ancestry of ‘Samuel Ralph’ Yeoman Farmer, of Grimston Hall, Trimley, deceased, 1823. Also, I would like to know who were the occupants between the death of Thomas Cavendish – the celebrated navigator, 1593, who was lord of the Grimston Manor – and the residing there of the aforementioned Samuel Ralph. – S.D. Wall.

I was captivated by this request because I’d stumbled across it during the course of a semi-idle hour, trawling one hundred year old plus newspapers during my own search for information about Samuel Ralph.  One of my self-appointed tasks is to try and document the residents of Grimston Hall and Samuel is, as the Police might say, a person of interest. I had some details about him and with  focused research I have subsequently discovered more. My every instinct was to impart my information to Mr Wall, to talk to him about my findings and to politely enquire about his own interest with Grimston Hall.  But of course, I couldn’t This interest was recently exacerbated when I fell into correspondence with one of Samuel Ralph’s descendants called Nicholas. His own request for information caused me to assess my notes and pull them into a semi presentable shape.  And therefore, nearly one hundred and ten years later, I am attempting to give answers to both my correspondent and the late Samuel Durrant Wall, Watchmaker of 247, High Road, Walton, Suffolk.

If the details on his own headstone may be believed, then Samuel Ralph, who was buried on or about 8th March 1823, reached the age of seventy. This makes his estimated date of birth circa 1753 during the early years of the reign of George III. Although his entry in a Baptismal Register has yet to be uncovered, it is my theory he may have originated in the Holbrook/Woolverstone/Freston area of Suffolk or even Dedham.  A record exists in the Stoke Green, Ipswich Baptist Register for an Elizabeth Ralph, the daughter of Robert Ralph and his wife Jane, who was baptised on 6th February 1778.

It is also worth noting Samuel was a Wesleyan Methodist and therefore, a Non-conformist. Non-conformists held their own birth and baptismal registers. Some of these date back to the seventeenth century, although not the Methodist Registers.  Most were sent to the General Register Office in 1837 when Civil Registration started. However, an examination of the Baptism entries in the Church of England Parish registers for Freston, Woolverston and Holbrook reveals over twenty ‘Ralph’ births between 1813 and 1900[1], which further supports the notion the Ralphs had a strong presence in the area. Certainly by 1779, Samuel was working as a Farmer in Woolverstone when he signed a Marriage Bond, together with Joseph Sage. Jane Sage.  Dated the 6th October 1779, the Marriage Bond relating to Samuel and Jane is now deposited in the Ipswich branch of Suffolk Record Office[2] . The marriage took place the next day in Freston on 7th October 1779[3] and signified the start of a highly productive union.

Freston and Woolverstone are contiguous parishes on the Shotley Peninsula and today, I can drive to either of them in about fifteen or twenty minutes from Trimley St. Martin; then, it may have taken perhaps two or more hours of comparatively rough traveling along the uncertain roads of the period. The mention of Woolverstone may be an important factor in what then happened regarding Grimston Hall, which was where the young couple were destined to spend their married lives together.

At the time of Samuel Ralph’s tenure at Grimston Hall, the Lord of the Manor of Grimston with Morston and six other Manors, was George Nassau (1756 – 1823). He was the Great, Great, Grandson of the Frederick Nassau de Zuylestein[4], (1608 – 1672) part of the House of Orange and as such was assuredly in the Upper Ten Thousand. George Nassau inherited his Manors from Sir John Barker of Grimston Hall and was  the last Lord of the Manor to occupy Grimston Hall. His occupation was of a very short tenure an probably dates to sometime in the mid 1770s, almost immediately prior to Samuel Ralph’s occupation. The connecting point between George Nassau of Grimston Hall and the Berners of Woolverston Hall, was the former’s close friendship with Charles Berners and his father who owned Woolverstone Hall. Although I have no concrete proof, it may be the Berners were familiar with one of their tenants,  Samuel Ralph, and could possibly have recommended him to Nassau.  However it came about, a lease was signed at the start of 1780 between Nassau and Ralph.

Samuel was not a Freeholder but a Copyholder[5] and this meant the land belonged to the Lord of the Manor and as such could be of a finite duration. In the first instance, the lease was for fifteen years, although it would appear Samuel still held it when he died.  Freeholders, such as the Cobbolds of Capel Hall, effectively held the property in perpetuity, whereas Copyholders did not have the same latitude or independence. If you compare the dates of Samuel’s marriage and the dating of the Lease, you will see only four days separate the events.  Although it was signed on 2nd January 1780, the lease ran from 10th October 1779 and was for the,

“…farm called Grimston hall with the Houses, Outhouses, Edifices, Buildings, Barns, Stables, yards, Gardens, Orchards, meadows, pastures, Marshes and feeding grounds now occupied therewith situate lying and being in Trimley Saint Martin or Trimley Saint Mary or one of them and now in the Tenure or Occupation of the said Samuel Ralph…”

It was a sizeable farm surrounded by twenty five fields and these were not the complete extent of the land Samuel held in Trimley, as the Enclosure Map of 1807 would later demonstrate.  There were inevitably caveats surrounding the lease. Mentioning only a few, these included,

“…not to use Gates but for their proper purpose…

To find beer for the coachmen…

To sweep the chimnies…

To give an account of crops…

To preserve the fish and game…”

The entire extensive document is carefully constructed leaving little room for error. The indented lease was witnessed by Dr. Samuel Kilderbee[6], the Town Clerk of Ipswich and one of Nassau’s lifetime friends. The Ralphs commenced their life in Grimston Hall,  surrounded by Grimston Park.

Grimston Hall had been given something of a facelift during the eighteenth century and is supposed to have been re-built at some point. However, I suspect it was only the front part of the house, now visible from the end of Grimston Lane, that underwent changes. Inside and upstairs on the side of the house running adjacent to the top pond, the walls show an earlier construction as you may see below:

IMG_3247Corridor on the upper floor  of Grimston Hall.

Here Jane Ralph, the seventeen year old bride, began her married life, giving birth to at least ten children who reached adulthood. There may have been more and indeed there is an unknown child, whose burial is recorded in 1780 in Trimley St. Martin Churchyard. Thereinafter, a succession of girls proceeded more or less as follows; Elizabeth, Mary, Deborah, Rebecca baptised on 17th March 1787, Maria baptised on 3rd January 1789, Hannah, Samuel born on 1st February 1792, Charlotte, Harriet and Sarah. All of these children reached adulthood but Samuel, namesake and might-have-been heir to Samuel, died at the age of 23 12th January 1813.  However, even after his untimely death, the household would have been busy and full to capacity.

Servants would have been in occupation as well as farm labourers and Jane would have been engaged in all the duties of a Yeoman Farmer’s wife.  To gauge the breadth of her duties, an extract form “Mary Bacon’s World”[7] provides strong clues as to how her days may have been filled:

“A wife…needed a wide range of culinary expertise, especially useful at harvest time; she was expected to make brawn, pickle pork, skim milk from her dairy and grains from her brewings, and preserve vegetables and fruit…make butter and wean the calves…the care of poultry…”

Combined with nurturing at least ten children and being pregnant for the best part of twenty years, it is a truism to say Jane was fully occupied from dawn to dusk.

By the time her last child was born at the start of the nineteenth century[8], it was time for her oldest daughters to become wives themselves. I suppose most traditional fathers consider the cost of weddings and suspect Samuel was no exception. A notice appeared in the Bury Advertiser on the 24th December 1806 announcing the double wedding two of his daughters;

“Yesterday se’night was married at Trimley Mr. E. Gooding, merchant, of Ipswich to Miss Rebecca Ralph, of Trimley St. Martin.

Same day Mr J. Thompson of Rougham was married to Miss Mary Ralph, daughter of Mr. Sam. Ralph, farmer, of Trimley.”

Both were good solid matches and provided security for the two young women. Marriage was more or less essential security at the time for women, as anyone who has ever read any of Jane Austen’s novels will be aware. Samuel took the precaution of having a marriage bond drawn up between himself and Ebenezer Gooding although curiously enough, not with John Thompson.

Dorreen Rayner writes, in ‘Walton-cum-Felixstowe’, that in 1798 Samuel Ralph bought a property in Walton. This property was a double fronted Elizabethan property and Samuel spent time in both this house and Grimston Hall. He was an established Farmer by this time and as a respected member of the community, a Rate Payer and a member of the Colneis Hundred Association. During this period there were other major events impacting on Samuel’s life. On 28th August 1804, George Nassau wrote to his Solicitors, Messrs. Wenn and Dunningham[9]. The letter, composed in Campsea Ash commenced thus,

“Dear Sirs,  My father sometime since mentioned to me the Inclosure of Trimley Common. Of course, I cannot give but help give my concurrence to the measure, but it will not be in my power to attend the meeting…”

And so began the Inclosure of the Trimleys, Kirton, Falkenham and also  Nacton. The inclusion of this latter village, which was not one of Nassau’s demesnes, was a matter of economics: it made sense to share the costs of presenting the Inclosure Bill to Parliament.  It took over three years to bring this ‘measure’ into being and generated considerable correspondence. Meetings were held in The Mariners, land holders debated the most equable and efficient distribution of plots, maps were drawn and Samuel Ralph, amongst others was probably pleased with the result. The Enclosure Map is held in Suffolk Record Office and gives an early nineteenth century view of a long gone Trimley. The accompanying description of the lands, clearly spells out the responsibilities and extent of the landholder’s plots of land. A good example is the allotment of one particular piece of land to Samuel Ralph.

“And we the said Commissioners do hereby assign set out and allot unto Samuel Ralph of Trimley St. Martin aforesaid one piece of land containing by measure one rood and nineteen perches bounded by law allotted to the said Richard Erle Drax Grosvesnor[10] toward the north west and south east by the first described Public Road towards the north east and by land belonging and allotted to the said Samuel Ralph towards the South West And we do hereby order and direct that the said Samuel Ralph and his heirs shall make and forever hereafter keep in good repair the fences in the said allotments against the allotments made to the said Richard Grosvesnor and against the first described  public road.”


Drawing taken from the map of the Inclosure Award Map, 1807[11]

The area of land referred to is that opposite Seamark Nunn’s business on the High Road. The plot they now occupy was also held by Samuel Ralph. In fact, he held the two adjacent fields, now known as Goslings Farm Shop.  He also held other plots scattered throughout St. Martin.  This of course was in addition to the lands surrounding Grimston Hall. He was a yeoman farmer of some substance and much hard work.

A later map of Grimston Hall, dated approximately 1823, names the twenty five plots of land surrounding the Hall. At least one has been adopted by local housing developments; Kempsters and Little Kempsters.  The name Fingerbread Hill may still be seen on Ordnance Survey maps for our area. Tucked away in the corner of another map dating from about 1820, a small plot of land is secreted away in the furthest south west corner; it’s called Ralph’s Grove. Was this a small piece of orchard or woodland he planted to help perpetuate his name?

One other feature of interest regarding the Inclosure map is the name J. Thompson inscribed on the plot of land now known as Owl Cottage in Grimston Lane and you can also see this on the map above. Could this be the same J. Thompson who married Mary Ralph in December 1806? I rather think it is and suspect he occupied it for a while before moving on to another dwelling.

It is at this juncture, I return to my recent correspondence with Nicholas. He is a descendent of John Thompson and Mary Ralph and contacted me for further information. One of his areas of interest relates to John and Mary Thompson’s son, Samuel Thompson who was born in Trimley in 14th April 1824 and after some exchange of information, Nicholas  sent me a picture of the house where Samuel Thompson was born. Subsequent research has revealed John Thompson was a farmer in Trimley St. Mary but I have completely failed to identify the house in the photo, although it does feel familiar. If anyone can think of where this house is or was located, I would be pleased to know.


The small, unknown farmhouse in Trimley where Samuel Thompson, grandson of Samuel Ralph, was born in 1824

After the death of his son Samuel in 1813, there was no natural heir to inherit the farm and accompanying lands and in 1815 Samuel wrote his will, leaving all his worldly goods and chattels to his nine daughters. His executors were his son-in-law John Thompson and John Ridley, liquor merchants of Ipswich.  However, Samuel didn’t die until March 1823, and following his death, the farm was vacated. His “Farming stock, implements of husbandry, Goods, Chattels, Personal estate and effects” were sold. Altogether, his estate came to under £4,000. In today’s money this would be approximately £467,705.26p, a not inconsiderable sum for his nine daughters. With care, the unmarried daughters might expect a comfortable life. Later that year in October, two of his daughters had a joint wedding. On the 29th October 1823 The Bury and Norwich Post gave the following announcement:

“On Monday the 13th inst. Mr Saml. Lucock, of Hasketon to Deborah, third daughter of the late Mr. Samuel Ralph of Trimley – And the same day Mr. Williams, of Hinton, to Maria, fifth daughter of the said Mr. Ralph.”

Maria was 34, Deborah was approaching 40. Deborah was the subject of a Marriage Bond, witnessed by her brother-in-law, John Thompson. Was it a coincidence the two women didn’t marry until after Samuel’s death? It is difficult to gauge.

This is more or less the extent of my research into Samuel Ralph. With his estate disbanded, the way was clear for new tenants at Grimston. There may have been a short lease for someone as yet unidentified but by about 1833, the next long sitting tenants took up residence, the Lasts of Grimston Hall, who were to remain there until more or less the start of the First World War. They were the occupants when Samuel Thompson, Samuel Ralph’s Grandson died and when Samuel Durrant Wall posted his request for information about Samuel Ralph in 1909

I wondered what motivated Mr. Wall, Watchmaker of Walton,  to post his enquiry in 1909. It wasn’t until I identified him in the 1911 Census that I had anything to gauge his interest. Once I did, I looked back to the 1901 Census and there was a clue to his query. Aged 20, he was living with his siblings in Grimston House and next door to his Grandparents, the occupants of Ralph House. The houses were situated a little between the old Feathers Pub and Bloomfields, I believe.  It was part of the property Samuel Ralph had purchased in 1798.  Samuel Durrant Wall  spent a lifetime investigating more than just the Ralphs; he was an avid local historian, who worked and corresponded with W.G. Arnott. He died in 1977 at the age of 96, the Great Grandson of Samuel Ralph, nearly two hundred years after Samuel Ralph moved to Grimston Hall. You may see a blue plaque above the house where he lived in Walton[12] placed there in September 2014.  It is my hope and belief he lived long enough to discover the history of the Ralphs of Grimston Hall.


If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:

LR  28/06/2019


[1] Suffolk Baptism Index Colneis and Samford Deaneries 1813 – 1900   Suffolk Family History Society.






[7] Ruth Facer. Mary Bacon’s World: a farmer’s wife in eighteenth- century Hampshire 2010 Threshold Press

[8] The specific date for the birth or baptism of the last child is as yet unknown.

[9] MS 23958 LETTERS and papers relative to the enclosure of lands in Trimley St. Mary, Trimley St. Martin, Kirton, and Nacton, co. Suffolk; 1804, 1805. Partly printed. The writers are George White, Isaac Johnson, Samuel Kilderbee, Robert Malyn, Charles Wedge, Henry Brosyne, James Cullum, Richard Firmin, William Browne, and John Hull. Paper. Folio.

British Library

[10] Richard Erle-Drax-Grosvesnor was part of the Grosvenor family whose head is the Duke of Westminster. See:–1819)

[11]  B150/1/3.16 Enclosure award, parishes of Trimley St.Mary, Trimley St.Martin, Kirton & Nacton. 3 maps, parchment, coloured (1 map for Trimley St. Mary & St. Martin, 1 for Kirton & 1 for Nacton). (1 award; enclosure by private act, not including open field arable). Deposits Acc. No. 35. Suffolk Record Office


1911 and 1901 Census and 1939 National Register for details about Samuel Durrant Wall, Watchmaker of 297 High Road.

Dorren Rayner  Walton-cum-Trimley  1991 Privately published.  (Available from good second hand bookshops.)

Free  BMD at:


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