With my parents keen to make the most of their National Trust membership, I recently visited the beautiful Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk. Though the Hall itself was closed, the gardens and parkland were open for pre-booked visits. It’s a lovely place, with a fascinating and surprising history.
Much of the Hall is currently covered in scaffolding. In 2016, a dormer window sheared off the side of the building. An investigation revealed that the roof had some structural weaknesses that needed urgent repair. However, every cloud has a silver lining, and the current restoration project has led to some exciting discoveries, which you can read about here.
Despite the scaffolding, Oxburgh Hall is still an impressive sight. Built in 1483, it was intended to be the family seat of the Bedingfelds. The moat, as a result, is just decorative. Curiously, the Hall was constructed out of red brick – a material that was often reserved for the country’s most important buildings.
The history of the Bedingfelds is a wild ride. During the Wars of the Roses, they initially supported the House of York, before later switching allegiance to Henry VII. At one point, Oxburgh Hall hosted a royal visit from the new Tudor king!
In the 16th century, the Bedingfelds found themselves embroiled in politics. Sir Henry Bedingfeld, for example, was captured and nearly killed in his attempt to suppress Kett’s Rebellion. What is most notable about the family, however, is their commitment to the Catholic faith.
Catholicism and Chaos
The Bedingfelds strongly supported Mary I’s claim to the throne. Sir Henry was involved in enforcing the later house arrest of Elizabeth, for which he was promoted to the title of Lieutenant of the Tower.
However, when Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1588, the Bedingfelds’ position became precarious. They lost their appointments at court, and were faced with penalties and fines for their refusal to attend the Church of England.
The family’s circumstances slightly improved under Charles I, as he had a Catholic wife. This didn’t last long, however, as the English Civil Wars took a toll on the Hall. As both royalists and Catholics, the Bedingfelds became a target for the parliamentarians. Their home was looted and set alight.
Whilst Charles II’s return was welcome, he didn’t repay the family for what they had lost. Circumstances worsened after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Taxes were doubled for Catholics, and it became illegal for them to inherit land. The Bedingfelds found themselves in debt.
The Hall Today
In 1952, Oxburgh Hall was given to the National Trust. It’s truly remarkable that the Bedingfelds were able to keep their home for so many centuries and through such turmoil.
Today, it’s a beautiful place to visit, with well-kept gardens and parkland walks. I cannot wait for the day I’m able to explore the Hall’s interior.