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Biographies


Sir Robert de Bures:

Robert died in 1331, probably early in September, and his second wife Hilary did not long survive him, dying on December 13th of the same year.  They had no children but Robert had a large family by his first wife.  He was succeeded by his eldest son Andrew. The brass is accepted not only one of the earliest but also as the finest military brass - as is shown by the following:-
"This is perhaps the finest and most beautiful figure of the cross-legged period" - Suffolk Monumental Brasses
"The most famous military brass in England" -East Anglia
"The finest military brass in existence" - Victoria and Albert Museum.


Dame Alice de Bryene:

Alice de Bryene was Sir Robert's great granddaughter.
She belonged to a very rich and privileged section of society, and was probably frequently present in the royal court of London, but it was not a life of peace and order. The year of her birth 1361 saw the second outbreak of the Plague, or Black Death, in England.  In 1381 the Peasant's Revolt was crushed by the military power of the King of North Walsham.
The brass of Dame Alice is of interest and perhaps what is more interesting is Day Book (or Household Account Book) of the expenses of Dame Alice's household during the year ending 28th September 1413.  This is now amongst the Chancery Miscellanea at the Public Records Office in Bury St Edmunds.
The accounts show the whole management of the household of a great Suffolk lady in the time of Agincourt.  It gives details of the numbers fed at her table and what they ate, down to the last pigeon or herring.


Henry de Bures:

The last in the line of the de Bures to hold the Manor of Acton. He had no
male heirs.


The Daniels:

The Daniels were staunchly Roman Catholic during times when it was not really safe to be Roman Catholic. The family, as proclaimed recusants, suffered accordingly.

(Note: A recusant was one who refused to attend Church of England Services. Such a person was subjected to considerable indignities, such as being unable to go more than five miles from his home.)

During the Civil War these indignities became more extreme. There exists in the journal of the House of Commons, an Order (which was carried out) to search Acton Place for arms, as it was obvious that the Daniels' sympathy lay entirely with King Charles I and the Cavaliers.

In 1642/43 Arthur Daniels, at the age of 24, left Acton and trained as a priest in Spain. On his return he was apprehended as a spy and on 11th December he hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn.

In 1708 John Daniels sold the entire property to Robert Jennens for £12,700

The Daniels family have links back to King Henry III and Louis VIII of France.


The Jennens (or Jennings) Family:

On 29th December 1708, Acton Place was purchased from the Daniels family in trust for Robert Jennens, the father of William Jennens, the Acton miser.

Robert Jennens began to build a noble mansion at Acton Place, which he was on the point of completing when he died in 1725. It is said to have been a magnificent country seat, which for the grandeur of its hall, and massive elegance of its marble chimney pieces, as well as the beauty and extent if it stables and other offices was "totally unrivalled in that part of the country". It was superbly furnished, the walls were hung with tapestries, the ceilings were decorated.  The whole of one room was hung with needlework in able and white with bed covers and chairs to match.  The adjoining room, known as the "Silk Room", was furnished with elegantly painted silk. The staircase and one entire wing of the house, which was to have been a superb ballroom, were left toally incomplete at Robert Jennens' death in 1725.

His son William never added to the unfinished structure, in fact he let the house fall into disrepair, as he hated spending any money.

After William's death in 1825 the house was almost totally demolished and the furnishing and building materials were sold.  All that remained was the brew house and the bakehouse until fairly recently.

Nothing remains now except a broken gravestone of Robert Jennens' dog, and four plaster busts, which are now in the Vestry.

It has been suggested that Acton Place was destroyed in order to remove every trace which might have led to the discovery of the parentage of William Jennens.

William Jennens (or Jennings) was a bachelor and a miser. He was born in 1701 and was a Godson of William III. As a youth he was a page of King George I.

He was excessively rich but spent little of money. Although the family apartments at Acton Place were furnished before his father's death, William lived in three poorly furnished rooms in the basement.

He frequented gaming houses in London, but not as a gambler. He would lend money to the unlucky for the evening. It is said the for every £1,000 he advanced at night he received 1,000 guineas (£1,050) in the morning. To enable him to pursue this profitable business he purchased a house in Grosvenor Square, London where he occasionally lived up until his death.

On leaving either his town or country house, he personally drew up a list of articles left behind, including the tiniest ornament, and noting the exact position of each item in the house.  On his return he would carefully check the list to see that everything was still there and nothing had been moved.

One thing in his favour was that he never oppressed his tenants.  Although he would never assist them in any way, he never once increased their rents from the time he inherited the estate from his father, nor did he press them for payment if they were not punctual.

In fact, he took little interest in the estate or his fortune at all.  For the last 20 years of his life he was losing up to £2,000 a year by the large sums of money he kept employed at his bankers.

At her death in 1761, his mother, Anne,  left a large chest containing her family plate and other valuables.  William never even opened it.

After his death, a search of the house revealed a chest containing £19,000 in bank notes and several thousand new guineas.  He is reported to have always kept £50,000 at his bank for emergencies.

William Jennens died on 19th June 1798, aged 97, without leaving a will.  At his death he was said to be the "richest commoner" in the UK and it was estimated that his estate amounted to almost £2 million.

Because of his immense wealth, many members of his family immediately put forward claims to his estate.  Up to 1879, 80 years after his death, there had been seventeen claims put before the Courts and other claimants are still coming forward!

The Jennens Family and Charles Dickens:

Nowadays, any local history, it seems, must have a mention of Charles Dickens. Acton can claim a link which is far more convincing than most, in that 'Bleak House' was inspired by the famous Jennens case:-

"The case of Jarndyce and Jarndyce was suggested by the celebrated proceedings arising from the intestacy of one William Jennings, who died in 1798" Oxford Companion to English Literature.

Criminal Connections:

Charles Drew:

A murderer buried in consecrated ground!

On the night of Thursday 31st January 1740, Charles went to Upper House, Long Melford, occupied by Charles John Drew, a wealthy attorney and his own father, and shot him six times!!

His father had kept him on a small allowance because if the company he kept. Charles was mixing with smugglers and poachers.  They taunted him into taking a dreadful revenge.  He hid the gun in a hollow tree by the roadside at Liston.

Charles ran to London to prove his father's Will but on his return he found a search a was being made for him.  He returned to London but was later caught in Leicester Fields and was committed to Newgate.  From there he brought to Bury St Edmunds, convicted at the Assizes on 27th March, and hanged.

That same evening, his body was surreptitiously interred under the Chancel of Acton Church by the Vicar, the Revd. Charles Umfreville, having married Mary Drew, the murderer's eldest sister.

Catherine Foster:

Arsenic dumplings!

In 1846, Catherine Foster of High Street, Acton murdered her husband of 3 weeks, who she married in Acton Church, by giving him dumplings poisoned with arsenic.

Dr Jones of Long Melford assumed the death to be 'English Cholera' but at the inquest a post-mortem was ordered.  Tests on the fluid taken from the stomach soon revealed arsenic, and the body which had been buried was exhumed on 27th November 1846 and examined in the Churchyard.

At the trial the murdered man's 8 year old brother remembered having seen Catherine put a black powder in the dumpling mixture.  

Catherine had given the remains of the meal to their hens, who had also died, they also had a strong trace of arsenic in their bodies.

Catherine was tried at Bury St Edmunds and after retiring for only 15 minutes, the Jury brought in a guilty verdict.  She was hanged at Bury before 10,000 onlookers - the first criminal to be buried at the Gaol and the last woman to be hanged at Bury St Edmunds.

The motive, if such it can be called or even discerned, was almost touching in its childish inadequacy.  She had no real affection for her husband although he was kind to her; she had married to please her mother but found that she had been happier in service and would have liked to return - so she got rid of her husband.  She was aged just 17.

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