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 RIVER 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!
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.
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 Faith. 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.
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. Thus 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.
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