Matthew Brettingham the Elder was a builder, craftsman and architect, active, particularly in Norfolk, England, in the 18th century.
He was born in 1699 in Norwich, England the second son of Launcelot Brettingham (born 1664, died 1727), a Norwich mason to whom, along with his elder brother, Robert, he was apprenticed as a bricklayer.
On 3 May 1719, Brettingham was made a freeman of the city of Norwich. In 1734, he was appointed clerk of works for the building of Holkham Hall, Norfolk, a substantial mansion, designed by William Kent in the Palladian style, for Thomas Coke, the earl of Leicester. In addition to the house, Brettingham was also responsible for a number of works in the park. His portrait by Heins (1749), now in the Royal Institute of British Architect's Drawing Collection, shows him holding Kent's plans for the park's triumphal arch.
After his success at Holkham, Brettingham went on to design and repair several other works in the Norfolk area, including Lenwade Bridge, Witchingham (1741), St. Margaret's Church, King's Lynn (1742), Norwich Castle (1747-9) in addition to a number of other area country houses.
By 1747, his work had spread south, and to London where it remained concentrated for much of the 1750s and 1760s. Brettingham's work on country houses during these two decades included alterations to Goodwood, Sussex (1750), Marble Hill, Twickenham (1750–51), Euston Hall, Suffolk (1750–56), Moor Park, Hertfordshire (1751–4), Petworth House, Sussex (1751–63), Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire (1757-8), Wortley Hall, Yorkshire (1757–9), Wakefield Lodge, Northamptonshire (1759), Benacre House, Suffolk (1762–4), Putney Heath, Surrey (1764) and Packington Hall, Warwickshire (1766–9).
Brettingham died at his home, outside St Augustine's Gate at Norwich, on 19 August 1769. He is buried in the east end of the parish church alongside his wife, Martha Bunn (born around 1697, died 1783), near two of their sons, architect, Matthew Brettingham the Younger (born 1725, died 1803) and worsted manufacturer, Robert Brettingham.
Colvin, Howard, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, 3rd edition (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 154-157.
Lucas, Robin, ‘Brettingham, Matthew, the elder (1699–1769)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/3354> [accessed 29 November 2007]