Blennerhassett Family Tree
Genealogy one-name study      by Bill Jehan
   Introduction      Property      Frenze Hall, Norfolk
Frenze Hall - the Manor of Frenze
near Diss, Co.Norfolk
Seat of the Norfolk Blennerhassetts until rebuilt and sold c1632-36,
this recently restored house is adjacent to the small Church of St.Andrew the Apostle,
containing monumental brasses of the Blennerhassett family from the 15th & 16th century.

The village of Frenze (in earlier times Frense, Frens or Frence, locally pronounced fi-renze) near Diss is a picturesque corner of Norfolk on the banks of the river Frenze, a fast flowing tributary of the river Waveney.

Frenze came to the Blennerhassett family in 1423 on the marriage of Ralph de Blenerhayset esquire to Joan de Lowdham, a 14 year old heiress. Joan inherited from her father John de Lowdham the manors of Frenze in Norfolk, Loudham in Suffolk and Kelvedon in Essex.  At the time of their marriage Joan was already a widow, her first husband Thomas de Heveningham having died soon after their marriage in 1422.

The head of the Blennerhassett family was lord of the manor and patron of the church of St Andrew. Frenze was seat of Sir Thomas Blenerhayset, Knight (died 1531) who served as Minister (senechal, steward or principal household officer) to the 2nd & 3rd Duke of Norfolk. His descendants held Frenze until Samuel Blennerhassett rebuilt the Hall then sold the estate out of the family c1636, Frenze passing in succession to the Nixon, Kemp, Smith, Betts, Gaze and Alston families.
Frenze Hall is grade II listed (as a building of special architectural or historic interest).
Much of the early 17th century oak-framed structure remains but is hidden, encased in a brick façade installed during the 1880s by owner William Betts, a brick manufacturer.
The demesne and lands of the Frenze Hall Estate, formerly 420 acres, has been dispersed, much of it now Frenze Hall Farm. The Hall retains 3.5 acres. Frenze Hall Cottages are traditionally occupied by retired farmers.

  photo: courtesy of Jackson-Stops & Staff 2008
Frenze Hall
 photo: courtesy of Jackson-Stops & Staff 2008
 Frenze Hall and the 14th century church of St Andrew the Apostle,
containing 15th and 16th century monumental brasses of the Blennerhassett family.
 photo: B.J.
The Demesne or Park, viewed here from the Hall, is part of Frenze Hall Farm.


 Frenze Hall after the Blennerhassetts
A deed of 1632 records "Samuel Blennerhassett to Peter Prettyman, to perform covenants in a bargain & sale of the site of the manor of Frenze, alias Frenze Hall" [SRO Ms. MC 92/17, 1632].
A deed of sale in 1636 records how Samuel Blennerhassett Jr (b.c1602), his brother Edward Blennerhassett (b.1604 d.1641), Sir Henry Wood & Peter Prettiman (sic) jointly sold to Richard Nixon Sr (b.c1589 d.24.11.1666 bur. Frenze), "the manor of Frenze (including Frenze Hall) and lands in Frenze, Osmondeston, Diss and Thelveton" [NRO MC 92/18, 536X8, 1636].  This is the same Sir Henry Wood to whom Samuel Blennerhassett Jr had sold Loudham Hall, Suffolk, in 1627.
A deed of 1638 records the "admission of Richard Nixon on the surrender of Samuel Blennerhassett to several pieces of land in Osmondeston & Frenze" [reference?].  Another deed of 1639/40 relates to Samuel Blennerhassett, Suffolk [NA Ms. WARD 7/983/43, 1639/40], and a deed of 1640 records "Exemplification of a fine from Samuel & Edward Blennerhassett and Henry Wood to Richard Nixon" [SRO Ms. MC 92/19, 1640].
The otherwise excellent Church guide booklet of 1996 by Anthony Barnes tells us in error that "...the hall was pulled down at the end of the 19th century...". This is not so, old Frenze Hall was encased in late Victorian brick but underneath that brick shell the old house remains.
When in recent years the Hall was offered for sale it was advertised as "...understood to date from the 1630s...".  A significant word in the 1632 deed is "site", indicating that by 1632 the house had either been demolished or was in a dilapidated or ruinous condition.  Talfryn Llewellyn [TL] of Frenze Hall spent considerable time and effort investigating the structure of the building.
He suggests it may be an early example of joint venture property development, the Hall rebuilt c1632-36 with finance provided by Peter Prettyman and Sir Henry Wood, the manor, including the rebuilt Hall, then sold in 1636 to Richard Nixon Sr to the financial benefit of the four partners.
While this is partly conjecture, it is plausible. Talfryn reported a large quantity of reused timber incorporated in the structure of the house, including mullions from a number of different periods and some good quality moulded timbers used in hidden parts of the roof.  Professional opinion is that the reused timbers are no earlier than the 17th century, "...the only part of the house that may be older is the north "crow-stepped" chimney stack which during the 19th century had an octagonal brick top.  The brickwork and style look older and I was told by an architectural historian that it was not uncommon to keep the stack, if possible, after a fire or demolition because bricks were so costly..." [TL].
Richard Nixon Sr (b.c1589 or c1594? d.24-Nov-1666) waspatron of Frenze church in 1642.
He married Susan <???> , they having sons Richard Nixon Jr (b.c1656, d.28-Aug-1678) and Diamond Nixon (such a good name) who sold Frenze Hall estate to Sir Robert Kemp, Bart.
photo: B.J.

photo: B.J.

arms of Nixon
"5 roundels,
on a chief Argent a battle-axe fessewise"
 arms of <???>
"a chevron between three lions rampant"
large black marble ledger slab in centre aisle

arms of Nixon
 "5 roundels, on a chief a battle-axe fessewise"

Here Lieth the body of Richard the
Son of Richard Nixon Esq[uir]e and
Susan his wife who departed this
life the 28th day of August 1678
in the 22th year of his age
large black marble ledger slab in centre aisle
NOTE: [BLOMEFIELD 2nd ed. v.1 p.145] 
          in error transcribes as age 77 instead of 72;
          he also gives 3 roundels instead of 5
photo: B.J.


"A fess embattled Or
between 3 pheons (2 pheons in chief)"
"5 roundels, on a chief a battle-axe fessewise"
Here Lyeth the
Body of William
Cooper Gent[leman] who
Dyed the 30th day
of March 1693
aged 54 years
large black marble ledger slab in centre aisle

William Cooper married <???>, dau. of Richard Nixon


Diamond Nixon sold Frenze to Sir Robert Kemp, Bart. (patron of St Andrew's church, Frenze from 1725), succeeded by his son Sir Robert Kemp, Bart. Jr (patron from 1734).

William Smith (I) and Elizabeth Sheldrake had three children, one of whom William Smith (II)
(b.c1745 d.27-Mar-1795, buried in Frenze church) acquired the Frenze Hall estate and married Elizabeth Etheridge (b.c1754 d.30-Jun-1787). Elizabeth died 1787 in childbirth of their son William Smith (III) (b.c1787, d.1787 an infant), mother and son also buried in Frenze church.
William Smith (II), heartbroken following the death of wife and son, did not remarry.  At the time of his death in 1795 an 11 year old niece Sarah Smith (b.1784 d.1855) was residing with him at Frenze and to her he bequeathed half his property. The other half, including the Frenze Hall estate, he left to Sarah's father, his brother Hammond Smith - smaller legacies to other family members.
Hammond Smith (b.c1753/4 d.31-Dec-1816 at Frenze) and his wife Sarah Green (b.1759 d.1832) had (including Sarah) 13 children, one of whom was Sheldrake Smith Esquire (bapt. 8-Mar-1796, d.27-Apr-1877, bur. at Frenze 3-May-1877) who inherited Frenze from his father c1824 and resided at the Hall for the greater part of his life. He was patron of Frenze church from 1824.
Sheldrake Smith, who by 1861 had become blind and could no longer properly manage his property, sold the property to his nephew William Betts. Sheldrake remained at the Hall as tenant until his death in 1877, his daughter Lauretta Smith residing there unmarried at her death in 1869.
Sheldrake Smith's sister Emily Smith had married 22-July-1830 at Frenze to William Lines and as a widow was tenant of Frenze Hall (perhaps from 1877) until her death in 1884.
Sheldrake Smith is buried in Frenze churchyard, his headstone behind the chancel. Interred with him are sisters Lauretta Smith (b.c1798 d.14-Sep-1869) & Emily Lines (b.c1799 d.4-May-1884).

click on image to enlarge

"Frenze Church, Nr. Diss, Norfolk - The Sheldrake Smith family - c1860"
(outside the churchyard of St Andrew, Frenze - camera placed in front of Frenze Hall)

From a photograph by Cleer S. Alger (1819-1883) "The Pioneer Photographer of East Anglia".
Postcard reproduction, from the original in their collection,
copyright © The Cleer S. Alger Photographic Collection at Bressingham Steam Museum, Diss, Norfolk.

In Memory of
late of Frenze Hall
who died March 27th 1795
Aged 50 Years
Also of ELIZABETH his Wife
who died June 30th 1787
Aged 33 Years
And of WILLIAM their Son
who died an infant

large black marble ledger slab in the centre aisle

APRIL 27TH 1877
[................................iu tears.
[.....................ed by his friend

Sarah Smith (b.1784 d.1855) married at Frenze on 28-October-1806 to John Thomas Betts (b.1783 d.1847).  They had eight children including William Betts (b.1810 d.1885), a local businessman and brick manufacturer who married 30-March-1843 at All Saints, Colchester to Julia Wildman Sparling (b.1820, d.1869 at Erskine House on Hampstead Heath).
NOTE: William's sister Esther Betts (b.1819-1873) married 3-December-1893 at St Mary's, Islington, London to Julia's brother(?) William Sparling (b.1814 d.1893).
William Betts purchased the Frenze Hall Estate from his uncle Sheldrake Smith c1861 but did noit live there. In 1863 he purchased The Court at Diss from William Ellis, that house becoming his home.  The Court, which stood between Vinces Lane and the railway line, has been demolished.
In 1883 William Betts was Lord of the Manor of Frenze and patron of St Andrew, he and a Mr Browning being then the chief landowners at Frenze.
He developed the farm at Frenze into a market garden and on his land built "Frenze Farm Railway", connecting the farm to the main London railway line so he could ship his produce to market and bring back manure for the land.  As a showcase for his product William Betts in the 1880s encased the timber-framed Frenze Hall with a facade of decorative red brick, resulting in the present late Victorian external appearance but keeping much of the 17th century oak-frame structure more-or-less intact inside.
William Betts (1810-1889) had married <???>, they having children Edward Rigby Betts (d.1831), William Hammond Betts (d.1884) and Julia Sarah Campbell, nee Betts (1844-1929). William's grandson(?) Archibald Samuel Betts (1861-1900) & his wife Ruth Ellen Betts (1865-1913) had a daughter Ivy Betts (1861-1900).
William Betts "...owned the property until his death [in 1885] but left no surviving male heir, the estate being put under management by Court of Chancery while his affairs were sorted out.  The manager was Thomas Gaze who became the local land agent and tenant of the estate from 1888..." [TL].
Thomas William Gaze was a local estate agent and auctioneer, who "...not only took over Frenze Hall on the death of William Betts but also ran the auction of his estate, everything from his cutlery to his horses and railway locomotives...".  From 1888 the Frenze railway line was no more.
Thomas had sons Cubitt William Gaze (1865-1939) a Freeman of the City of London, John Gaze (1866-1932), Frank Arthur Gaze (1868-1942) and Clement Gaze (1870-1957).
In 2007 Gage's celebrated their 150th anniversary as local estate agents and auctioneers with an exhibition at Diss museum.
"...The estate was eventually sold in 1898, purchased by the neighbouring Thelveton Estate.  It was let to tenant farmers by the name of Alston who remained at the farm for three generations. The Thelveton Estate sold the freehold of Frenze in the 1960s, following which it passed through a number of corporate hands, including the British Steel Pension Fund, as an investment, before being put up for sale in 2002 by an investment company known as the Land Improvement Agency.  At that time the house was vacant but the land still tenanted..." [TL].
Frenze Hall estate was farmed by John Alston (1905-1972) & his wife Jean Blair Paterson Alston (1909-1998), followed by their sons Gavin Alston & John Sinclair Alston (1936-2001).

Talfryn Llewellyn [TL] of Frenze Hall expended considerable time and effort investigating the structure of the Hall and restoring the building, as far as was possible without removing the Victorian brick facade, to its former glory. He did a fine job of work. The house was recently sold.

Other Families connected with Frenze
Alice Elmy, of the Elmy family residing at  the village of St James, South Elham, Norfolk, was born at Frenze Hall c1574.  Alice Elmy married John Gibbs (b.c1565, d.1608).  Their daughter Meribah Gibbs (b.1595 Norwich, d.1635) married at Norwich January 1617 to John Folger (b.c1590/95, Norwich d.1660, his 2nd marriage), the couple emigrating to Massachusetts.
From this couple (both interred at Tower Hill, Great Harbor, Martha's Vinyard, Massachusetts) descended the celebrated 18th century American statesman Benjamin Franklin (b.1706 Boston, d.1790 Philadelphia), one of the founding fathers of the United States of America.
At Norfolk Record Office, Norwich, among "Deeds and papers relating to the Kemp family estate in Frenze, Osmondiston alias Scole, and Diss" is a letter of 1823 from Samuel Goldspink of Pulham St Mary, Co.Norfolk to Sir W. Kemp "Claiming to be related to the Bloise family at Frenze Hall and seeking advice concerning the prospects of his gaining any property" [MC 92/49, 536 x 9].
The author of this letter, Samuel Goldspink (b.29-Jul-1783 Pulham d.?-Mar-1869 Pulham), married 9-Jan-1806 at Pulham to Maria Clarke (b.1782 d.24-Apr-1833 Pulham) and had a son Thomas Goldspink.
Samuel is described as being from a poor family, the youngest of nine children of William Goldspink (b.24-Oct-1734 d.12-Feb-1815 Pulham) who married 13-Dec-1757 at Pulham to Sarah Blois (b.1737 d.25-Aug-1811 Pulham).  The nine children of William Goldspink and Sarah Blois were William b.1758, Elizabeth b.1761, John b.1764, Mary b.1770, Benjamin b.1773, Henry b.1775, Thomas & Jonathan (twins) b.1778 and Samuel b.1783.
Further information on the BLOIS connection with Frenze is requested.

During WWII Frenze Hall was an RAF Bomber Command Splasher Six Beacon site, transmitting to guide bomber command aircraft missions.  The radio equipment was installed inside a collection of single deck busses and huts in a field near the hall.  Their transmissions frequently interfered with local reception of BBC radio, causing some complaint from the populace…
During World War II bombs fell at Frenze but The Hall and St Andrew were undamaged.

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