The origin of the Great Halls
There are a remarkable number of great houses nearby. Kentwell Hall and Melford Hall amongst the survivors, and Acton Hall, once the size of a kings' palace now gone, along with Liston Hall.
Possibly the most enigmatic of these great halls is Melford Hall. Its origins are clearly monastic, but it is only recently that buildings archaeologists have taken it seriously, and they are now realising that the building is more ancient than we'd previously supposed.
Even Barry Wall's ingenious theory of attributing the major part of the building to the last abbot of Bury Abbey, Abbot Reeve, seems less cerain now, though he correctly suggested that there were remains of the 1450-1480 work in the building. What he took to be the grand west-facing monastic gatehouse now seems to be a later addition, replacing the original, and designed more for its visual effect as a grand garden backdrop. The north wing now seems likely to have originally been partly a chapel and partly collegiate cells. The south wing seems to have originated as a detached kitchen. The development of the hall seems to have been far more complex than previously thought, and to have taken place over an extended period.
Kentwell, too, had a rather more complex and protracted development as a house, and it is strange that the two houses evolved from such different origins to eventually look so similar, conforming to the classic Elizabethen E shape. Chilton Hall, as far as we can work out, once looked surprisingly similar to the two great Melford houses; all we can see now is one of the two side-wings. There is a great deal of work still to do, to understand these brick-built masterpieces. Our knowledge lags a long way behind timber-framed houses, which can now be dated accurately by their joints and by Dendrochronology. The study of the early history of the brick-built great houses of the area may yet bring some fresh surprises