With the lifting of lockdown restrictions, and my parents keen to make the most of their National Trust membership, I recently visited the beautiful Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk. Though the building itself was closed to visitors (and currently undergoing a much-needed roof conservation project), the gardens and parkland were open for pre-booked visits. It is a fascinating place, with a history that I am keen to learn more about.
I was quite shocked at hearing the reason behind Oxburgh Hall’s current project. In 2016, a dormer window (yes, an entire window) sheared off the side of the building. Upon investigation, it was discovered that the roof had some structural weaknesses that needed repair. It’s a huge undertaking by the look of it, but I am thrilled that such care goes into these properties.
Although covered in scaffolding, Oxburgh Hall is still an impressive sight. Built in 1483 by Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, the house was never intended to be anything but a family home, despite its fortified appearance. Curiously, the Hall was constructed out of red brick – a material that was typically reserved for the country’s most important buildings.
As the house itself was closed, I spent much of the time enjoying the serenity of the gardens and reading up on the Bedingfeld family. It’s certainly a wild ride, and a history that I think is ultimately one of perseverance. The Bedingfelds initially supported the House of York during the Wars of the Roses, before later switching allegiance to Henry VII (and hosting him for a royal visit!). In the 16th century, a new lord, Sir Henry Bedingfeld, was captured and nearly killed whilst attempting to suppress Kett’s Rebellion. These are fascinating elements, but what I find most notable about the Bedingfelds is their commitment to the Catholic faith.
They strongly supported Mary I’s claim to the throne against that of Lady Jane Grey, and Sir Henry also was promoted to the title of Lieutenant of the Tower for his role in enforcing Elizabeth’s house arrest. However, when Elizabeth ascended to the throne in 1588, the Bedingfelds’ position became precarious. Their appointments at court were lost, and they were faced with penalties and fines for their refusal to sign the Act of Uniformity. This Act required that everyone attend the Church of England once a week, something the Bedingfelds would not do.
Though things slightly improved under Charles I (who had a Catholic wife), the Civil Wars took a toll on Oxburgh Hall. As royalists and Catholics, the Bedingfelds became a target for the parliamentarians. The second Sir Henry was imprisoned in the Tower of London for two years. Oxburgh Hall was looted and set alight. Whilst Charles II’s return was welcome, he did not repay the Bedingfelds for what they had lost. 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.
In 1952, Oxburgh Hall was given to the National Trust. It is remarkable, truly, that the Bedingfelds were able to keep their home for so many centuries and through such turmoil (though research does suggest they had colonial links and compensation). Today, it is a stunning place to visit, with well-kept gardens and lovely parkland. It is well worth a trip, and I look forward to when the house opens. I also recommend visiting the parish church, which resembles monastic ruins due to the unfortunate collapse of the spire during the 20th century.