Lucy and The Chap head to Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk to immerse themselves ina little local history
I’m going to start this blog by saying that our trip to Oxburgh Hall was almost a disaster. It’s not the Hall’s fault, but the hour-long trip to the village of Oxborough in Norfolk was almost a waste of time.
Because Oxburgh Hall is shut over winter.
Yep. That’s right, we failed to read the National Trust website properly and when we arrived we discovered that it was closed. Duh. Let our mistake be a lesson for you!
There are, however, tours of the house throughout winter but it’s best to book online in advance. Spaces are limited to about 20 people per session, so you might not get in on luck alone.
However, thanks to a lovely National Trust volunteer called Sarah we managed to get onto a tour at 12.30, so disaster was averted. Phew!
Exploring Oxburgh’s gardens
We had around half-an-hour to kill while waiting for the tour to begin, so we ambled through the formal gardens and around the outside of Oxburgh Hall.
One of the main things you’ll notice is that it’s a hodge-podge of architectural styles. With gothic windows (which all appear to be different), Elizabethan-style chimney stacks, crenellations and a red-brick facade, it’s pretty confusing. The Chap and I spent most of our time trying to guess the age of the property and ended up none the wiser.
We only explored a tiny part of the 70-acre grounds, so we are making plans to return to look at the snowdrops later in the season.
Oxburgh House Tour
At 12.30 we dutifully crossed the drawbridge and met the rest of our small tour group.
At the moment, much of the house is covered with scaffold. There’s a big restoration project underway this year, after some masonry fell off the Hall in 2017. As such, you can’t see much of the architecture from within the courtyard. It’s inside that things really start to come to life.
During a winter tour, you’re going behind the scenes. Most of the furniture is covered to protect it from the ravages of time, while the rest of the house is still and silent. The only people wandering around are your tour group and it feels really special.
A little history
Oxburgh Hall was built in 1482 by Sir Edmund Bedingfeld and since then it’s been subject to remodelling and restoration projects.
Much of the house, as it is now, is the result of work in the 19th century, when it was remodelled. The mock-gothic elements that so confused me and The Chap were added in this period.
Our guide was fascinating and explained that the house fell into disrepair during the 20th century. After the Second World War, all of the possessions were gradually sold off and at one point it even became a finishing school!
The house ended up being owned by Eagle Star Insurance, who planned to sell it to a local developer, whose intention was to knock it down to build houses.
Thankfully a descendant stepped in to save the house with two of her friends. Sybil, Lady Bedingfeld, paid just £5,000 to save the Hall and gifted it to The National Trust in 1952.
Since then, The Trust has been returning Oxburgh Hall to its previous glory. This includes buying back its former possessions and replicas. The chandelier in the Saloon, for instance, was gifted in 1985 by The Hutton Foundation and seems totally in keeping. Made from reclaimed crystals, it fits the room perfectly, even though it wasn’t originally designed for the space.
I was totally fascinated by the leather wallpaper throughout the house. Bought from another stately home, it’s made of goat hide and has been hand-painted. It seems such an odd choice, but seems to be quite a common fashion in houses of this age. If you ever get a chance to visit Highclere House (a.k.a Downton Abbey), you’ll find that they have the same thing.
The Oxburgh Hangings
One of my favourite parts of the tour was seeing The Oxburgh Hangings, also known as The Marian Hangings.
Stitched by Mary, Queen of Scots between 1570 and 1585 these tapestries are intricately detailed. Depicting religious scenes and animals, the trip to Oxburgh is worth it for these embroideries alone.
They are on permanent loan to the hall from the V&A and I’m definitely going to return to see them in more detail.
Oxburgh Hall tea room
It’s important to mention that, like all good National Trust properties, Oxburgh Hall has a tea room.
It’s teeny tiny, but is open during the winter, so you can have a nice cup of tea and get warm. The menu is limited, but there were jacket potatoes and soups on offer, as well as sandwiches and lots of cake.