Carew Manor Great Hall is the only Grade I listed building (which means it is of national importance) within the present London Borough of Sutton.
Carew Manor is a modern name for a building that has in the past been known as Beddington Place or Beddington Park House, and was once a moated manor house. The present name was given to commemorate the Carew family who owned the building and much of the surrounding land for several centuries. The first Carew who lived at Beddington was, like most of his successors, called Nicholas. His family were based in Pembrokeshire in Wales, but he had a successful career in Royal service, and, as a result, was able to purchase a considerable, though scattered, estate. The centre of this was at Beddington, where he acquired two of the three manors by a mixture of marriage and purchase. After his death in 1390, his son, who was also called Nicholas, consolidated the estate from the profits of royal service and acquired the remaining Beddington manor of Bandon.
The second Nicholas died in 1432. His immediate successors added less to the property and in the latter part of the century there was a long minority, as an heir could not inherit until the age of 21. The fourth Nicholas died shortly after coming of age, and after a dispute about the succession, the property was secured by James Carew, the younger son of the third Nicholas. James laid the foundations of the family fortunes in the Tudor period by his marriage to Eleanor, who was related through her mother to the Wells family, who were staunch Lancastrians and early supporters of Henry VII. James's son Richard inherited in 1492, the year that Columbus discovered America. Richard never reached a very prominent position at court, but he was able to find the money for a substantial building programme. He is known to have enlarged the deer park, and is a possible builder of the magnificent hammer beam roof over the Great Hall. His ambitions for his son, another Nicholas, may have provided some justification for the structure, as he had managed to have him brought up at court with the young Henry and could reasonably expect that he would profit enormously from the connection in later life. Richard's hopes in this direction were for a long time justified. Apart from a few incidents Nicholas remained in royal favour as a close companion of Henry VIII until his final fall from grace. He received a succession of grants and offices. He became Master of the Horse in 1522, and in 1536 he was admitted to the Order of the Garter. In 1539, however, he ended up on the losing side of the faction fighting at court, and was executed for treason. Henry may have been particularly keen to execute Nicholas, as his property was forfeit to the Crown, and the Carews’ large estates could be added to the hunting lands around Henry's new palace of Nonsuch.
In Edward's reign, the house was granted to Thomas, Lord Darcy of Chiche. Nicholas had been a supporter of Mary, and shortly after she came to the throne, Mary restored the Beddington and much other property to Nicholas's son Francis. Francis seems to have avoided open involvement in politics and appears to have had no difficulty in remaining in favour in Elizabeth's reign. His main interest appears to have been his garden, which must have been among the finest in Elizabethan England. It is best described by Baron Waldstein, a German traveller who visited it in the summer of 1600:
We made a four mile detour via Beddington in order to see a most lovely garden belonging to a nobleman called Francis Carew. A little river runs through the middle of this garden, so crystal clear that you see the water plants beneath the surface. A thing of interest is the oval fish pond enclosed by trim hedges. The garden contains a beautiful square shaped rock, sheltered on all sides and very cleverly contrived: the stream flows right through it and washes all around. In the stream one can see a number of different representations: the best of these is Polyphome playing on his pipe, surrounded by all kinds of animals. There is also a Hydra out of whose many heads the water gushes
The garden also contained orange trees that were covered by a removable wooden shed, or sheds, each autumn and heated with stoves over the winter to keep the frost at bay. Orangeries later became very fashionable, but Francis's was probably the earliest in England and it was obviously thought to be remarkable as many writers mentioned it in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The garden fountains were supplied by a pump driven by the River Wandle, which was also novel. Many earlier houses had gravity fed supplies, but we do not know of a country house that had an earlier pumped supply.
Francis did not marry, and died childless in 1611. The house passed to his nephew Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, who changed his name to Carew. He died in 1644, and was succeeded by his son Francis, who appears to have lost much of the family fortune by gambling, and by supporting the losing side in the Civil War. In the second half of the seventeenth century there were two long minorities, and the house and gardens were neglected and in poor condition when the ninth Nicholas (later first Baronet) took possession in 1707. He modernised the house to produce the classical facade shown in engravings in Vitruvius Britannicus by Colen Campbell. He also made extensive alterations to the garden and constructed the surviving Orangery Wall. Nicholas died in 1727 and was followed by his son, the tenth and last Nicholas. He, the second baronet, was financially inept, and there are references to unpaid debts and to the sale of some of his silver. After his death in 1762 the property passed to his daughter Catherine who died unmarried in 1769. The estate then passed to the Gee family who were distantly related to the main Carew line, and then, in 1828, to the Hallowell Carews, who adopted the Carew name, but had no blood relation with the original line.
In 1859 Charles Hallowell Hallowell Carew went bankrupt, the estate was sold, and the house passed to the Lambeth Female Orphanage, which later became the Royal Female Orphan Asylum. The orphanage was evacuated at the beginning of the Second World War and did not return. In 1954 the house became a school run by Surrey County Council. This was taken over by the London Borough of Sutton in 1965, and continues to occupy the building.
The Great Hall
The most striking feature of the Great Hall is its arch braced hammer beam roof. The hammer beams are the horizontal timbers that project inwards from the top of the wall. The timbers that rise vertically from the ends of them are called hammer posts, while the arch braces are the long curved members that run from the wall, through the hammer post and hammer beam, to meet the collar in the centre of the hall.
Hammer beam roofs were quite widely used in the late medieval and Tudor periods. Examples can be seen in many East Anglian churches, at some Oxford colleges, in the halls of the Royal palaces at Westminster, Eltham and Hampton Court; and in less prestigious houses. There is a good deal of variety in both structure and decoration. The roof at Beddington appears to be very similar to that at Eltham, which was erected in the late 1470s as part of Edward IV's remodelling of the palace. The resemblance is, however, superficial, as the structure of the Beddington roof is very unusual. Careful study of the roof has found that it is made of carved pieces of wood applied to an underlying timber frame. The hammer post is made of two pieces of timber, and the curving arch brace passes between them. Normally the brace would continue downwards until it meets the wall post, but, at Beddington, it bends to one side and joins the underside of the rafter. The original line of the brace is continued with a separate piece of wood. From within the hall all this is hidden, as the main timbers are covered with mouldings that give a false impression of thickness, and the timbers that bend aside to meet the rafters are hidden behind plaster panels. This arrangement is highly eccentric, and is, so far as we know, unique. The reason for it is a mystery, although it would allow the use of smaller and therefore cheaper timber.
The existing windows in the Hall are Victorian, from the time of the Orphanage. At the north and south ends are two elaborately painted plaster moulded panels dating from the eighteenth century, one of which is the Achievement of arms of the first Baronet, Sir Nicholas Carew, before 1717.
The tour also visits Carew Manor’s cellars, which are, apart from the hall, the most important remains of the early house. Like the rest of the building these have been much altered, and include fragments of many different dates. There is eighteenth century brick vaulting next to the foundations of earlier walls, and at the far southern end of the kitchen cellars you can see the rough wall that once lined the inner side of the moat island. A moat surrounded the house until about 1710. The perimeter wall is thought to have been made for the first Nicholas Carew of Beddington in the second half of the 14th century.