Paul and Janet Chaplin and Pat Tate visited Oxburgh Hall on 6 July 2017. This is Pat’s report on their visit.
On our arrival we were welcomed by a team of NT managers - Teresa Squires, General Manager; Alex Lassoued, Property Operations Manager; Helen Gregory, Outdoors Manager; Lynsey Coombs, House Manager; Lisa Smith, Fundraising Manager, East of England; and Holly Kavanagh, Fundraising Co-0rdinator. Lisa Smith and Holly Kavanagh were responsible for contacting Supporter Groups in the area, so it must have been a bit disappointing that there were not more members in attendance. However, all of the team engaged in animated conversation with us and about eight other NT group supporters, before we were addressed by Teresa Squires who explained how the day’s proceedings were to be conducted.
We entered the courtyard through the imposing twin towers of the gatehouse where Alex Lassoued told us how last August one of the many dormer windows fell down off the roof at Oxburgh Hall!! (About 5 tonnes of brick, tile, wood, glass and lead). This obviously created a great deal of alarm and consternation. Since then, several expert conservationists have been to examine the hole where the window once was, and they have discovered that the Victorians also had “Cowboy Builders” as the dormer windows are not properly attached to the roof!!! Investigation of the roof timbers is estimated to be £900,000, and other problems could well be uncovered along the way. Meanwhile a tremendous amount of scaffolding has been erected to support the building. The design was very complicated as it must not damage the walls, so this has involved building a cantilevered structure, with a large number of concrete blocks acting as the counter weight. The scaffolding would have cost £26,000 for 4 months, so it was decided to buy it instead.
Lynsey Coombs firstly showed us how she opens and closes the huge, magnificent gatehouse doors, before taking us to areas not accessible to the public. In the attics, which like ourown, were filled will a motley selection of detritus, we were able to see the original timber beams which were carved, indicating that in the past they would have been visible to visitors to the Hall. It was interesting to be able to look out of one of the dormer windows, (which we assumed was safe), across the courtyard to the dormer windows on the other side. We were then shown into a cellar. It was not possible for them to build below the water line of the moat, so the way they got around that problem was to raise the ceiling by “borrowing” space from the rooms above it.
After spending some time in the West Drawing room, we were shown the beautifully coloured and gilded embossed leather wall coverings in the stairway and the Library. The decorative tile surround of the fireplace features the Yorkist falcon and fetterlock, which on close inspection has an anomaly, one of the falcons is on its side, because being a very religious family, they believed only God could be perfect. The Dining Room has a large and very dark and intricately carved fireplace, with an equally dark carved sideboard which has been made up using pieces of other furniture, including part of a Tudor bed.
The Marian Hangings on display, on loan from the V&A Museum, are remarkable embroideries worked by Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bess of Hardwick, whose husband, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was put in charge of guarding Mary on the orders of Elizabeth I. The heavy brick floor in the King’s Room is supported by the Gatehouse carriageway vault below.
We were then taken to see the view from the top of the tower via the spiral brick staircase. This is an amazing structure, incorporating special handmade bricks that act as a hand rail. Looking down from the roof we could see the complexity of the scaffolding, and also the
wonderful brickwork of the chimneys.
A cream tea refreshment break was enjoyed, before we were taken by Helen Gregory to see The Wilderness. This was created deliberately to be a complete contrast to the formality of the gardens surrounding the house. However, it has become much too wild, and seedlings have grown into trees, and the sunken area, known as the Dell, is overgrown. A photograph exists that shows a child standing on a bridge across the dip, which may be something that will be restored. Archaeological excavations are being carried out to discover where the original path ways were located, and also the original piers for the wooden bridge. There are many ideas of what could be done, and great excitement and enthusiasm from all the NT team members.
A special treat was reserved for the end of our day. Sir Henry and Lady Bedingfeld, who live in a private part of the property, invited us all to see their beautiful sitting and dining rooms. The sitting room has the most wonderful tall stone bay window looking out onto the moat and the gardens, and their dining room has a lovely honey coloured oak table and chairs. Both rooms have the richly colourful and gilded embossed wall coverings, similar to those in other parts of the building. Sir Henry and his wife were very charming and spoke to us all in a very natural way. They have four children and ten grandchildren, so they are kept “up to speed” with technology, and Sir Henry has recently discovered that he has a talent for painting portraits. They also, very kindly, gave us refreshments, which was a most enjoyable end to our visit.
We came away very impressed with all the team members, who were full of enthusiasm for their differing jobs, working for the National Trust. We wish them well in their Fund Raising, as the repairs to the roof will be expensive, but essential. Hand written notes of thanks have been sent to the NT team, and to Sir Henry and Lady Bedingfeld.