I will approach the village from the main road to Ipswich, the A 140. Before Dunston Hall became an elegant golf course and hotel, while it was still semi-derelict and used as Wallace King’s furniture repository, there was a pleasant cricket field on this corner. The pavilion, where the spectators would sit on chairs under the trees while the sound of leather on willow made their characteristic sound, gave an entirely English flavour to the weekend. This has unfortunately now been replaced by a green of the Dunston Hall golf course. I suppose it could have been worse and have been ploughed up for arable land; but only marginally worse.
This picture of my wife Molly and me was taken at a Royal Mail reception and meal at Dunston Hall, shortly after my retirement in 2009. It was a reward for long service, and a very pleasant occasion it was too, which we shared with a colleague called Matthew Feaks and his girlfriend from Drayton. There were over 20 other employees from the Norwich area; Matthew and our boss Tony were the only ones I knew. We were celebrating 20 years of employment; as you mat imagine, it was all done at the Royal Mail’s expense, but it was the only such entertainment I enjoyed.
The Hall at Dunston was built in the 19th century by the Long family. The last member of the original family, Sarah Long, had died unmarried in 1797 and left her property to a distant relative, the Revd Robert Churchman Kellett. He thereafter assumed the surname Kellett-Long. Dunston Hall was built in the Elizabethan style from 1859 to 1878 by Fortescue Kellett-Long. In fact the Longs hardly lived there at all after it was finished. Although the house continued to belong to the family, it was let for many years while the Longs themselves lived in the much more modest Manor House overlooking the common, their traditional seat. In 1892 the Hall was occupied by Sir Edmund Lacon of the Yarmouth brewing family. In 1912 it was the Deputy Lieutenant of the county, Geoffrey Fowel Buxton, who lived there. After the Buxtons moved out in 1921 it fell out of use and into decay.
Beyond the Hall and behind the cricket field was the village of Dunston which is tiny; just a row of houses along a short stretch of the Roman road to Caistor from Colchester. Having been bypassed by the A140 Norwich to Ipswich Road, which has obliterated much of Roman road, it is perhaps the best preserved section in the county. The Manor House is the largest of these buildings in the short street, and these only stand of the west side. To the east is the common, where we often stopped off to walk our dogs. In 1958 the Common had been bought by a timber firm, and it intended to fell the ancient woodland that had grown up around the common, cut down the oaks and sell the resulting open ground as farmland. The matter was resolved – let us hope for good- by the purchase of the common by the then Rural District Council, Forehoe and Henstead. It is now looked after by South Norfolk District Council.
Going east we come to Dunston church, dedicated to the unusual (but not unique) St Remigius. His is not a well-known name, but the conversion of the entire Frankish nation (starting of course with their king, Clovis I) was a seminal event of European history and was St Remigius’s doing. Admittedly it was over 1500 years ago so it may have faded into the mists of the past and out of most people’s consciousness. Also this happened across the Channel in Gaul, what we now know of as France. The picture of the church shows it before the Victorian rebuilding; as with so many ecclesiastical structures this was substantial. The Tower and the chancel have been completely renewed, and so has the window tracery in the nave; but it remains a small church, and the village too remains extremely small.
Until the 1920s the parish had an independent existence, but since then it has been incorporated into the next village of Stoke Holy Cross. The west of Dunston has two major routes going through it, the main railway line to London and the A140 to Ipswich. Thousands of people travel through the village everyday and few give it a second thought. If it were to for the Hall they would not even know it was there.