Knowle Hall was built around 1830 for a young man called Benjamin Cuff Greenhill who had been born in Puriton Manor in 1807. He married Henrietta Macdonald, a granddaughter of the renowned Flora Macdonald who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from England in 1746 – after the Rebellion of 1745 and decided they required a larger house, surrounded by parkland. He chose a site on the sheltered south side of the Poldens on land recently acquired by his mother. The house was constructed at great expense and furnished in the style of Louis XIV. Ample cellars were built for the storage of wine and an Ice House was built in a small wood on the western side of the Hall. Benjamin kept his personal pack of hounds in the kennels. “Mr. Greenhill’s Hounds” were well-respected in the area.
The driveway was initially one mile long, with an entrance at the Gardener’s Lodge off what is now the Lay-By, up to the Hall and continuing across the parkland through Knowle Hill Wood to the gate by the Knowle Inn. The main “causeway” drive from Crandon Bridge and the Coachman’s Lodge was built later and the elegant entrance gates which were bought at a Paris exhibition were sadly confiscated to be melted down for the Second World War Effort. Coverts for shooting were planted on the hill and an aviary was built at Keeper’s Cottage situated near the top of Puriton Hill.
Benjamin and Henrietta moved into the Hall in 1831 and three daughters were born. The marriage failed and Henrietta took the children to live in France with her mother. By 1838 Benjamin had also moved to France and let the Hall to John Venables Vernon of Clontarf Castle, Ireland. The heir to the Castle was born in the Hall. During the 1840s Benjamin became involved with the cement industry starting up in Puriton and Dunball; most of the land used was leased from him and when he returned on business he stayed with his mother in Puriton Manor. The Dakin family from Lancashire rented the hall in the 1850s, Henrietta Greenhill died in 1853 and Benjamin married the young daughter of a French count, Pelagie Du Bruille. By 1856 Benjamin had returned to the Hall again. Four sons were born and the Hall was the scene for many family celebrations and a few tragedies. The family played a leading role in the life of Bawdrip, Puriton, Woolavington and Bridgwater. When the eldest son Benjamin married, he was given Puriton Manor for his home but died young without children so the third son, Christophe, inherited the Manor. Benjamin Cuff died in the Hall in 1881 and his second son Pelham inherited the Knowle Estate. Pelham preferred to live in London and Bristol and, later, Brighton so the Hall was leased again. The Dakin family returned and Mr. Dakin sold his distinguished library of 1800 volumes whilst he was living there. Richard Berridge, a partner in the London Brewery of Meux & Co. who was the greatest landowner in Ireland in Victorian times, owning 170,000 acres in Galway was said to be “of Knowle Hall, Bridgwater” on documents of 1883 and in 1887 but it was probable that he had granted Pelham a mortgage on the property and sublet to first, the Waud family of London followed by the Gowan family.
Benjamin Cavill Shepherd, a draper and mercer of Cotham, Bristol, lived there with his family for a number of years until his death in 1913, when Major Lord Henry Fitzgerald, son of the fourth Duke of Leinster, took a 21 year lease. However, in 1917 Lord Henry sublet to a distinguished naval officer, Rear-Admiral Sir Charles Ottley, KCMG, CB, MVO.
Pelham Greenhill died in May 1916, a month before his son, Benjamin drowned when HMS Hampshire was sunk, taking Lord Kitchener for talks with the Russian Generals. Benjamin left a widow and three young children, including the next heir, also Benjamin, aged 2. The Trustees decided that a large part of the Knowle Estate would have to be sold to maintain the family and there was little prospect of the Greenhills returning to the Hall in the short term. A farmer, Walter Duckett, rented the Hall in 1919 and was still there in 1931.
After a short period as a Country Club the Hall was leased by the Rev. Otto (Paul) Calaminus and his wife for St. Andrew’s boarding and day school. The cost of maintaining the building became unsustainable for Benjamin Greenhill and he sold the Hall and 14 acres to the school in 1959.
When the school moved out, the Eccles Caravan family bought the Hall but once they were refused planning permission for a caravan site in the park they sold on to the British Institute for Achieving Human Potential which later became the British Institute for Brain Injured Children.
In 2014 the Hall was bought by the Yew Wah International Education Foundation from China and have renovated the premises.
Copyright: Carol Hudson, with acknowledgements to the British Newspaper Archives.