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Who’s Who – Lady Henniker

This month it was a great pleasure to write about a leading figure in the villages served by The Messenger. Julia, Lady Henniker, has been in Thornham Magna since 1976 and, as well as making Suffolk her home, she has made substantial contributions in so many ways to local communities.

Coming originally from London & Kent, arriving in this quiet corner of Suffolk nearly 40 years ago was like stepping back in time. She moved here with her new husband, John 8th Lord Henniker, who had not lived in Suffolk since his childhood although the family had owned the Thornham Estate since 1756. They returned to a farm that was run-down and with many out-buildings in a sad state of repair. In fact it was recommended by their agent that most of the Victorian sheds and stables should be demolished entirely. Not only the buildings were in disrepair, ponds were also full of junk. Undaunted by the scale of work ahead of them, John and Julia found the prospect exciting. Both John and Julia were determined to retain as much as possible the character and history of their farm and with time and much effort they achieved that, returning most of the buildings to a state that they could be used, not perhaps to their original function but to meet the needs of the 21st Century. There is now a gallery, a cafe, workshops and offices, providing not only attractive space but local employment.

After a highly successful career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, including posts as head of personnel and latterly as Ambassador to Jordan and Denmark, it might be thought that John might settle into a quiet retirement. Far from it. As well a working on their own farm and buildings he and Julia set about making the countryside more accessible to the public. They established Thornham Walks which have become a lasting legacy to Julia and her husband. Somewhat ahead of their time, there was no blueprint for such a project and they had to learn as they went along. Unsurprisingly, funding has always been an issue. Initially the Walks were supported by the Countryside Commission and then by MSDC but now it is possible that all funding will be withdrawn and the only source of income is the car parking fees (Ed Note: Please remember to pay.)

Both Julia and John were educated in schools were service to the community was an important ethos and they have both lived by that principle. As well as John working for the FCO and Julia sitting as a magistrate in Ipswich, they have striven to return the Walled Garden to some of its former glory and it is now used by the Beyond the Wall Project for people with disabilities who can learn many skills to NVQ standards. They have also been involved with many local charities including, importantly, Street Forge Workshops and Kerrison School in Thorndon. Additionally, Julia has kindly rented out some of her land for allotments, serves as a churchwarden in Thornham Magna and is President of the Gislingham Summer Fair Committee.

Julia Lady Henniker acknowledges that she has less energy than she had in the past but her commitment to “service to the community” continues unabated and we benefit enormously from her generosity of spirit and the investment that she and John 8th Lord Henniker have made in our villages.

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