Ryston Reflections

Michael Pratt, Churchwarden Emeritus, writes:" A marble plaque just inside the South Door of the church states that: “the thatch was stripped from the roof of this Nave and replaced by tiles and a semi-circular ceiling by Sir Roger Pratt of Ryston, Knight, A.D. 1675.”

The earliest record of my family was of one Richard Pratt who was land agent or Factor to the Lords Bardolph of Stow. He fell in love with and married the daughter and heiress of a Mr Walter Guylour, the then owner of land at Ryston, in 1528 – the land has been in the family ever since.

In 1620 the young Roger Pratt was born, and, growing up during the Civil War, decided to improve his health and education by travelling in Europe, where he developed an interest in architecture, before returning to Restoration England in around 1660. His cousin Sir George Pratt asked him to design and build a house for him on his estate at Coleshill in Warwickshire. This was so successful that other commissions followed, most notably Kingston Lacey House near Wimborne in Dorset for Sir Ralph Banks, which is now one of the jewels in the National Trust’s crown. A commission for Lord Chancellor Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, in Piccadilly, London, attracted the attention of King Charles II, and Roger Pratt was knighted, whereafter he joined noted architects Hugh May and Christopher Wren to work on the rebuilding of the Square Mile of London after the Great Fire of 1666. We know from the manuscripts that he kept that Sir Roger had just as much influence on the designs for the majestic St Paul’s Cathedral as Wren himself.

It is an unfortunate fact that succeeding generations could never be satisfied with what he had left them, and sought to leave their own mark on Ryston Hall. In the latter half of the 18th century, Sir John Soane was commissioned to enlarge and improve the house, probably because of the needs of a larger family and also the addition of those necessities, bathrooms! Other adaptations were made throughout the twentieth century - when I was very young, water for the house was still supplied from a muddy pit to the north of the hall, and pumped up to the tanks in the roof by an electric motor run by our own generated 50 volt electricity supply, which could manage a rather poor lighting supply and nothing else; no modern appliances, and even the lights went out quite early in the evening if the Chauffeur had not run the oil engine to charge up the batteries! Fortunately a portrait of Sir Roger’s original house still hangs in the front hall at Ryston.

I took over the running of the estate after my father died in 1966, when there was a small Home Farm and thirteen tenanted farms – today all these have been modernised and are managed by my younger son, Nicholas.

One of the many interesting historical facts about Ryston church is that there is still in the grounds, an oak tree, now over 800 years old, where the rebels who supported Kett’s rebellion met in 1549. Bloomfield’s history of Norfolk claims that the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Doctor Parker, preached to the rebels under this tree, and exhorted them to lay down their arms, which nearly cost him his life.”