Plans to revive Cedric Morris’ Suffolk Home

The Garden Museum and the Pinchbeck Charitable Trust will revive and restore the former Suffolk house and garden of artist-gardener Sir Cedric Morris (1889-1982) as a new centre of gardening, art and creativity. The Pinchbeck Charitable Trust acquired Benton End and has now transferred ownership of the house, a private home since Morris’ death in 1982 to the Garden Museum.

It was in 1940 that Cedric Morris and his partner, the artist Arthur Lett Haines, bought Benton End, a 16th century manor house outside Hadleigh in Suffolk. Here, Morris made a garden, as influential in its day as Sissinghurst for the irises he bred there, making it one of the first modern gardens of naturalistic design. Here too they established the East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing, a sanctuary for a diverse range of influential artists, writers, musicians and botanists of the 20th century including Lucian Freud, Maggi Hambling and John Nash.

The revival of Benton End will aim to support and inspire artists and gardeners of all ages and to encourage freedom of invention, enthusiasm and enjoyment, following in spirit the original ethos of Morris and Haines.

Garden Museum Director Christopher Woodward comments that he has been involved in museums for more than 25 years and has never come across a gift of such generosity: “It’s from the heart. And we are pleased that Bridget will be involved in the creative development of the project.
 
This would not be a rural outpost of the Garden Museum. The Trust will be a hybrid of the Garden Museum and the heritage of Benton End and its neighbourhood. It will not be a museum, but once again a house where things happen,” he said.

Philip Mould, Art Expert and Director, Philip Mould & Co., points out that Benton End was an artist’s residence, a school, and a plantsman’s paradise that succeeded in supplying a generation of artists with instruction and inspiration: “Moreover, it encapsulated a culture and a value system of artistic integrity, individualism and freedom that emanated from a remarkable man and his partner, not to mention the raft of admirers who were drawn to them. It finds appropriate comparison with Charleston in Sussex for its human and creative richness prospering within an emotive English regional location,” he said.

Work to begin 2022

The Garden Museum plans to begin work renewing Morris’ garden in 2022, redeveloping the house will be a longer-term project, aiming to restore Benton End’s post war bohemian glamour and atmosphere.

This generous gift from the Pinchbeck Charitable Trust has transferred ownership of Benton End to the Garden Museum with the only request that a consideration of £350,000 towards its value to the Charitable Trust be made in 2024 so that the Trust may replenish its support for other charitable causes, including medical education, mental health and well-being.

Bridget Pinchbeck explains that the robust and exciting partnership between the Pinchbeck Charitable Trust and the Garden Museum will underpin the future development of Benton End, ensuring that the enchanting story of the house and the characters who inhabited it will not be lost: “The aim is for Benton End to be a place of inclusivity and enthusiasm,” she said.

Creating a dynamic learning programme

A Project Director from a museum arts or heritage background will now be recruited and a varied and dynamic learning programme created, inspired by the interests of Morris and Haines and their circle. Unique in being an art school in a garden, Benton End was exceptional in the varied areas of interests of its students and visitors, as well as having an important role in LGBTQ+ diversity. Visitors and friends often found at Benton End included artist John Nash, florist Constance Spry, gardener Vita Sackville-West and cookery writer Elizabeth David. One of the first pupils was 17 years old Lucian Freud, whose portraits of plants and gardens will be the subject of an exhibition at the Garden Museum in 2022.

We wish the Garden Museum well in this exciting project and look forward to charting the progress of this historic and important revival in the future.

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