Monthly Archives: September 2014

Being an account of a visit to Oxburgh Hall on September 13th, 2014

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he weather forecast off’ring the prospect of little or no rain and indeed the promise of a modicum of sunshine, my good Wife and I set out for Oxburgh Hall in a spirit of optimism and anticipation.

It seem’d that no more than ten minutes had elaps’d before we passed a sign-post indicating that we had now cross’d the border into NORFOLK. Arriving at DOWNHAM MARKET, we travers’d the GREAT downham market bridgeRIVER OUSE.

The “ugly wooden bridge” to which Mr Daniel Defoe made scathing reference in his work “A TOUR Thro’ the whole ISLAND of GREAT BRITAIN, Divided into Circuits or Journies” (pub. 1724-26) seems to have been pulled down; rather there is now a very moderne structure, a fine bridge well decorated with pretty window-boxes or some such along its entire width, a pleasing addition, the brightly coloured flowers swaying gently in a modest zephyr.

From Downham we bent our course in a Southerly direction, under the proper and well-inform’d guidance of the lady speaking out of the “Sat Nav” device which adher’d to the wind-screen of our motoris’d carriage.

Although it now appear’d but a short journie “as the crowe flies” to reach our destination, our own particular crowe took us on a most winding and devious path! But it was no matter; indeed we obtain’d some reliefe from the monotonie of the busie main carriageway in being led along meand’ring roads through many small hamlets and quaint villages.

Nevertheless, our arrival at the parish of Oxborough was welcome, as I was in need of light refreshment. (I noted immediately that the name of the village is spell’d differently from that of the Hall and its estate). We soon found the entrance to the Hall’s driveway and made our way to the car-park, where we were surpris’d to see that even at this quite early houre there were already some coaches and a goodly number of motoris’d carriages.

The first part of our picnic now commenced, viz. the partaking of a ham Sandwich, a butter’d Scone and some Tea from our plastick flask. Our repast was accompany’d by a commentarie on the subject of the Arsenal versus Manchester City football game, courtesye of a gentleman in the adjoining carriage who possess’d a radio appliance, the proclamations from which enabl’d us to follow the proceedings of the Match.

Upon leaving the car-park, we made our way through the Entrance and into the main grounds of the Estate. What a vista greeted our eyes!

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Oxburgh is a fortified manor house, but its fortifications are not too severe or overpowering. Indeed, the countenance of the Hall is quite charming in many ways, from the warmth engendered by its red brickwork to the skilful carving of the bricks; small quatrefoil windows in the two projecting turrets are a pretty enhancement; and the whole is set neatly and elegantly within the substantial but well-proportioned Moat, which encompasses the handsome building on all four sides.

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But whilst all is tranquil and settled now, it is the case that this remarkable property has seen its fair share of turbulence and turmoil …

Built in about 1482 by the courtier Sir Edmund Bedingfeld (whose descendants are still in residence to this day!), the building was nearly destroy’d by a conflagration during the CIVIL WAR; during which unpleasantness it was also ransack’d by the Parliamentarians. The family were always staunch Catholics, and on occasions they paid a heavy price for their oxburgh4Faith. Sir Henry Bedingfeld (1511-83), then Constable  at the Tower of London, watch’d over Queen Mary‘s Protestant half-sister, the future Elizabeth I, who was incarcerated in the Tower after being implicat’d in the Protestant rebellion. He kept the princess away both from Catholic enemies who might try to murder her and Protestants who would have tried to draw her back into the rebellion. But despite these noble efforts, when Elizabeth later succeeded to the Throne, Sir Henry had all his appointments at court taken away from him. He fac’d heavy fines and was threatened with imprisonment. As the family’s financial position suffer’ed, they were unable to afford to maintain the property to the optimum standard. This was just one of a number of sad times at Oxburgh Hall; but each time, somehow it has risen again, like a Phoenix!

In Truth, there is such a wealth of attractive features at Oxburgh Hall that it is not possible to convey in this short Essay the many delights which await the Visitor. It is a most noble and well-contriv’d property.

But I must especially commend a number of delicacies within this architectural and historical Box of Delights; viz. the various Gothic elevations and enhancements added by the architect J.C. Buckler in the mid-nineteenth century; the neo-Classical Saloon, with its beautifully-carved furniture (including the luxurious Antwerp Cabinet), royal portraits, deep red flock wallpaper and splendid frieze; the ornate and heavily carv’d fireplace in The Library; the elaborate (almost rococo, in the opinions of my good Wife and I) carvings in the Dining Room and on the North Staircase; more historic wall papers in the North bedroom and The Boudoir; and wall-hangings of which we had only seen the superior in our late visit to Houghton Hall (illustration hereunder) but last year to examine The Walpole Masterpieces in the breathtaking HOUGHTON REVISITED exhibition of pictures and artefacts from the collection of Catherine the Great at The Hermitage.

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We were fascinat’d by the Priest’s Hole in the garderobe, imagining the dramatic events which had taken place in relation to that tiny space; the handwritten document from Elizabeth I; and, perhaps above all,  the affecting display of embroideries created some 450 years ago by Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury during their incarceration between 1569 and 1584. These tapestries, displayed in the Marian Hangings Room, are still vibrant with colour and overflowing with symbolism and poignancy.

Our curiosity and inquisitiveness having for the moment been sated by our tour of the Hall itself – and having most especially appreciat’d the information and guidance imparted by the Hall’s knowledgeable and agreeable guides – we repair’d to the car-park. By this time, the gentleman with the radio appliance had departed.  The weather was maintaining a fair aspect and we therefore spared no time in consuming, to the accompaniment of more Tea, the remaining portions of the aforementioned Ham sandwich’s, a boyled egg (of which we had allocated one portion each), a further Scone and one banana, imported from the Colonyes.

On such occasions, I find ’tis always wise to take a moment’s rest to reflect on the sights and experiences that one has enjoy’d thus far. Only in this way can one insure against that tiresome proclivity of the mind to mix together all the adventures of the day – such that they become, in one’s memory, like nothing so much as a soup. gardenThus my Wife and I reviewed the proceedings and offered each other reflections on what we had seen. We then resolv’d to make a few further explorations.

The Kitchen Garden, complete with large wo0oden greenhouse and other adornments, such as bee-hyves, was of generous proportions and production was in full flight. I noted that the gardeners had not been troubled by the dreadful tomato blight which has plagued my own crop this year. It was yet another delight to stroll around the large walled gardens, with their flowers and various fruits, all apparently still at their best at this later part of the Summer season.

Before departure, we saw fit to stroll around the outskirts of the grounds. The delightful Chapel was of interest in particular for its ornate altarpiece, which we made a note to try to examine in more detail on a future visit.

We were interested to read about the great works that have been accomplish’d in restoring and diverting the river which feeds the Moat. Here were splendid, leafy views and an altogether pleasureable, pastoral setting for a late afternoon stroll, to the accompaniment of bird song and the rustle of leaves. This made for a truly delightful ending to our visit to Oxburgh Hall, to which I have no doubt we will return on more than one occasion.

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Picture credits: “Bridge over Great Ouse Cutoff Channel – geograph.org.uk – 525066” by Fractal Angel – From geograph.org.uk. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bridge_over_Great_Ouse_Cutoff_Channel_-_geograph.org.uk_-_525066.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Bridge_over_Great_Ouse_Cutoff_Channel_-_geograph.org.uk_-_525066.jpg

“Oxburgh Hall. – geograph.org.uk – 163570” by Andy Peacock – From geograph.org.uk. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oxburgh_Hall._-_geograph.org.uk_-_163570.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Oxburgh_Hall._-_geograph.org.uk_-_163570.jpg

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Hugo’s Come-uppance: a short story

Rain began to bang against Miss Davenport’s windows, and she jumped as a flash of lightning forked right across the sky. Pulling back a lace curtain in the front room, she looked down the cobbled street in the direction from which her visitors would soon be coming. Eventually, the thunder rolled.

Stormy evenings like this were always much more inspiring – she performed so much better in the right setting. She was, she reflected, an artiste, and as such was unable to really give herself to a role, to become the part, unless moved to do so. But tonight she would give her all.

She made a few last ritual checks. The tape-recorder was switched on, ready for action. The fan was poised, hidden on top of the wardrobe, operated by a switch let into the floor. Finally, she checked the rubber hammer, a child’s toy, perfect for the purpose, connected by a blackened cord to a loop convenient for her left foot. It see-sawed against the underside of the table with ominous thumps. Now everything was ready for her communication with the spirit world.

Miss Davenport watched as two drenched figures scurried towards her through the pelting rain. By the time they reached her front door, the water in the kettle was already bubbling fiercely.

 

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Miss Daisy Mortimer’s face lit up with a broad, told-you-so smile.

“Now then, Minnie, what d’you say to that? True or not? Tell the truth now!”

Minnie Parsons was amazed. She had never been to see Miss Davenport before. She willingly confessed that she was, indeed, going on a long journey – to Australia, in fact.

“Booked the ticket on Saturday, Miss Davenport. How clever of you! Do the leaves tell you anything else?”

Of course, neither customer was aware of Miss Davenport’s acquaintance with a certain Mr. Duffield in the local travel agency – at one time, he’d been one of her most regular clients.

The tea-cup revealed yet further secrets. Minnie’s journey would take her over water, it appeared, and she would be travelling for about three weeks. She was to be most careful with her stomach.

“That reminds me”, broke in Minnie. “Must get some sea-sick pills. No traveller. Never have been, not even when my Hugo was alive. Never could keep anything down”.

When the tea things had been cleared away, Miss Davenport brought out the Tarot pack.

The wind and rain were lashing around the house now, thunder and lightning playing their full part as a majestic scenario to Miss Davenport’s performance.

tarot1The cards told all. Miss Mortimer’s fate was in her own hands, it transpired. She, and only she, could decide whether she was to be successful in her plans. The lady in question pursed her lips, nodding in mute acquiescence. She could not argue with that.

Mrs. Parson’s future was also undecided. She was about to enter a new phase in her life, and she should willingly seize the opportunity. Miss Davenport explained that she could only relate what the cards told her – it was up to the individual to interpret their meaning.

At last, it was time for the séance. Miss Davenport fetched a bottle of elderberry wine from the dresser and poured three glasses. The cards were put away, the lighting was lowered and the ladies arranged themselves almost at random around the table. Miss Davenport decided to call up Miss Mortimer’s mother first.

“I can feel her trying to get through already, Daisy”, she said, her voice quivering with excitement. “Quiet now, while I call on her to speak to us”.

The two visitors watched and waited, in earnest anticipation, the only sounds coming from the storm outside. Miss Davenport’s voice called out stridently:

“IS THERE ANYBODY THERE? Knock once for yes, twice for no”.

It had never occurred to Miss Davenport that the latter alternative might pose a certain contradiction. One loud thump was heard.

“PLEASE COME UP AND SPEAK TO US”.

Miss Davenport had met old Mrs. Mortimer at the W.I., and well remembered her peculiar way of speaking. Her voice became very squeaky.

“I’m getting along very nice. There are nice people here, Daisy. Don’t worry about me – I’m having a nice time”.

Miss Davenport gave herself a mental pat on the back. Daisy was blowing her nose, tears welling up in her eyes.

“Don’t forget me, dear, will you?”

“I won’t, Mother, I won’t”, pledged a sobbing Daisy.

“There’s a nice girl”, squeaked her mother, finally.

The thunder clapped above, as though unable to contain its admiration of Miss Davenport’s performance. Now it was Minnie’s turn …

“Did you bring the photograph with you, Minnie?”, sniffed Daisy.

“Yes, here we are”, said Minnie, handing the framed picture to Miss Davenport.

Mr. Hugo Parsons had been an impressive looking chap, right up to the time of his death, four years previously: silver hair, large bushy moustache and a marvellous singing voice. Some locals had said that the village choir had never been the same after his departure to the other side.

“It helps if I can see the beloved”, Miss Davenport reminded them. She placed the photograph in the centre of the table.

“IS THERE ANYBODY THERE?” Thump.

“PLEASE COME UP AND SPEAK TO US”.

Sheet lightning crackled and danced around the roof-tops outside, thunder bellowing a raucous accompaniment.

Now Miss Davenport was really living the part. She pressed the switch in the floor and a chill, ghostly breeze began to waft around the room. Another deft movement and the disembodied sound of a man’s voice was heard, singing ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’, one of Mr. Parson’s favourites. Daisy took another sip of the elderberry wine.

Miss Davenport’s lips moved in perfect synchronisation with the recording – until, suddenly, there was a huge crash of thunder, directly overhead. The singing wavered eerily, just for a second or two, but the solitary light in the room went out for a full ten seconds.

Minnie Parsons marvelled at the miracle of being able to hear her husband’s voice. If only she could hold some sort of conversation with him, though …

The light came on again – and Daisy and Minnie stared in sudden, utter disbelief. No longer was Miss Davenport mouthing the words of ‘Onward, Christian Soldiers’. She had vanished. Instead it was Mr. Hugo Parsons himself who sat in Miss Davenport’s chair. A number of strange thumps were heard. Mr. Parsons was trying to extricate himself from some black cord which had become entangled around his left leg. He raised his eyes – and Minnie, her mouth agape, was able to meet the gaze of her beloved Hugo for the first time in four years.

Now, in the centre of the table, lay a framed photograph of Miss Davenport. It seemed to portray her at a moment of the most intense, fervent passion.

Daisy Mortimer inspected her glass of elderberry wine, holding it up to the electric light.

Meanwhile, outside, the storm was gradually subsiding …

 


 

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Copyright: Richard Fox 1974
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