It’s been a hectic few weeks and it’s nearly the end of January and Christmas has faded into a hazy memory!! Finally, in a quiet moment I eventually uploaded photos from our visit to the beach on Christmas Day which is now a family tradition. This year we ignored the weather forecast of heavy grey skies with the odd shower and drove over to Waxham.
Naturally, as is often the way, the coast has its own weather and although it was very, very windy it was sunny skies and racing white clouds. It was delightfully refreshing. However, there was a downside and that was the occasional slap in the face from sand whipping along the shore. And, boy did it sting!
It seems each time I visit there are additions to and deletions from the sea wall graffiti. These new, free form ‘faces’?? may yet be filled with colour before the images are either painted over by the authorities or worn away by the winter waves.
One poor little seal pup had missed the receding tide and was stranded on its own between the rocks at the top of the beach. I used a telephoto lens for this photo. The pup didn’t look too happy and I didn’t want to disturb it further by getting closer. We hoped all the dog walkers would keep their pets away too.
Immediately the other side of the sea defences, on this part of Norfolk’s east coast, farmland runs along the dunes. It looks a little odd to see sheep grazing on muddy earth, but they are actually grazing the brassica crop, which looks like it’s turnips.
Time to leave. Interestingly, and I’m not sure why but there were far fewer walkers this year than in previous years. Maybe the WRONG weather forecast had put people off!
Just over three weeks ago, when we had our mini heatwave, I was on a train crossing the Fens. It’s an agricultural and market garden region famous for being flat.
Up to the 17th century it was wet, low-lying marshland, until drainage schemes transformed the landscape. The Earl of Bedford brought the Dutch drainage engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden, to the region and, with royal support from Charles 1, draining began around 1630. The King received 12,000 of the 95,000 acres of the reclaimed Fen land for the Crown .
The process of draining was not entirely supported by the local population but gradually over the course of the 17th century the marshland became arable, workable farmland. Eventually, over 300 years the marshes evolved into the Fenland landscape we see today.
The sepia picture was taken from the train. The original capture looked less interesting.
I had more luck when the train pulled into Ely and was stopped for a few minutes. One day I’ll get off and go and make a long overdue visit to the magnificent Norman cathedral known as ‘The Ship of the Fens’.
It’s always interesting to go visiting and have the opportunity to climb up a medieval spiral staircase and take in the views from the roof. The original gatehouse of Oxburgh Hall has just such a staircase. Apparently, it used to be possible on a clear day to see across to Ely Cathedral some 20 miles distant before trees obscured the view.
The climb to the roof top begins by taking the North Staircase lined with some amazing and unusual embossed and painted leather wall-coverings.
On the first floor of the gatehouse is the King’s Room. It’s called the King’s Room as some time during the late 15th century King Henry VII slept at Oxburgh Hall, but not actually in this room. Just off this chamber is the King’s Room Closet with a small garderobe (medieval loo). In the corner of this small space there is a brick-topped trap door concealing the entrance to a tiny priest hole hidden beneath.
Now it’s up the spiral staircase to directly above the King’s Room where we find the Queen’s Room . The Queen in question was Henry VII’s wife, Queen Elizabeth of York. The spiral staircase along with the external appearance of the gatehouse is the one part of the Hall that survives from the 15th century without being substantially remodelled and gives us an indication of the superior quality of the original building.
When you reach the top the spiral staircase opens onto the roof. More 15th-century details are visible such as the machicolations in the turret walls and a trio of gothic window arches. Machicolations are openings in a wall or floor through which missiles could be thrown down in the event of an attack on the house.
And here are the views looking out into the Norfolk countryside. The photograph on the right is the view to the south-west in the direction of Ely Cathedral. Looking at the near line of trees and the more distant wooded land I think it’s been many decades since anyone glimpsed Ely Cathedral in the distance.
Perusing the National Trust’s guidebook to Oxburgh Hall the recurring theme, we are told, is loyalty. That is, over the centuries, the Bedingfeld family’s loyalty to their Roman Catholic faith and their loyalty to royalty. Obviously, these ‘two loyalties’ have not always been compatible hence the priest hole. I’m not sure what the NT think of their paying visitors, but the tone of their guidebook towards this house and family is bordering on reverential.
Sometimes I think the NT finds it difficult to fully accommodate some of the properties they have been donated and these days with modern marketing they have to have a story to sell, sorry, tell. I don’t envy them this tricky task when promoting Oxburgh Hall. Essentially, Oxburgh Hall is presented as Tudor with its original gatehouse and moat, but in reality, thanks to extensive 19th-century remodelling it is mostly Mock Tudor, sorry that is Gothic Revival. I appreciate that any building existing on the same site for over 500 years has evolved, however I personally feel that authenticity matters when selling ‘heritage’. This house’s story is definitely about survival though how we find it today is probably more about wealthy Victorians and their rose-tinted view of the past.
Oxburgh Hall is a moated manor house in the depths of rural Norfolk. It has been ‘owned’ by the National Trust since it was donated by the Bedingfeld family in 1952. The donation of this interesting building to the National Trust has allowed it to be saved and maintained for the nation. In that quaint, slightly snobbish English way, the terms of the donation also allows for two generations of the Bedingfeld family to reside in half of the property. Apparently, maintaining the continuity of the family’s presence is . . . . . no, not sure what it is, but that’s the deal.
The well-maintained manor house we see today is mostly a Victorian interpretation of medieval Gothic. The only substantially originally medieval part is the magnificent gatehouse that comprises both the King’s Room and the Queen’s Room, and a noteworthy Priest’s Hole.
Detail of late-15th century gatehouse at Oxburgh Hall
Superb late medieval/Tudor brickwork. Oxburgh Hall gatehouse
Imposing brick gatehouse at Oxburgh Hall.
In 1482, with royal permission for crenellations (originally a licence to construct a fortified property), Sir Edmund Bedingfeld oversaw the building of a brick manor house including a crenellated gatehouse. This combination of gatehouse and moat gives Oxburgh Hall an overall impression of a fortified building, but during the late-fifteenth century moats and gatehouses were more about the conspicuous display of wealth and status than defending the family against bombardments.
As with any site that has been occupied by a substantial building for over 500 years there have been many changes, additions and improvements as different architectural ideas, together with the family’s fortunes, waxed and waned over the centuries. As was traditionally the custom for any notable medieval house, Oxburgh Hall once had a Great Hall, but, unfortunately that was pulled down by the 4th Baronet, Sir Richard Bedingfeld, in 1775.
It is difficult to make more than a cursory summary of the broader, social circumstances of the many different lives lived over the centuries at Oxburgh Hall without making a detailed, in depth study of the historical record. As usual we only get the faintest hint of the many hands that built, maintained, worked and served at Oxburgh Hall. Of the Bedingfeld family we learn more. They remained a Catholic family after the English Reformation and as such fell from royal favour, but 100 years later found themselves back enjoying comfortable times with the Restoration and the arrival of King Charles II to the English throne.
Oxburgh Hall south-east tower remodelled Victorian Gothic.
Remodelled in 1860 family accommodation at Oxburgh Hall.
A private bay within a National Trust manor house. Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk
Oddly, the National Trust’s guide to Oxburgh Hall has a somewhat one-sided, almost hagiographic approach when discussing the role of the family as though by simply being born a Bedingfeld one had achieved something of note. Their medieval beginnings featuring the acquisition of land and status is a familiar story of fighting, scheming and beneficial marriage alliances. And, apart from being Royalists during the Civil War, the Bedingfeld’s main claim to fame is that they have remained resolutely Roman Catholic. From the heritage point of view, rather disappointingly, we don’t find any of them were renowned patrons of the arts or great collectors or even sponsors of some of Norfolk’s distinguished artists such as John Crome or John Sell Cotman.
Furthermore the only truly exceptional art works of national interest at Oxburgh Hall – the Oxburgh Hangings – were brought to the hall by Mary Browne of Cowdray Park on her marriage to Sir Richard Bedingfeld in 1761. These captivating Elizabethan needlework pieces consist of many embroidered panels sewn by Mary, Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick (full post on the Oxburgh Hangings).
Detail of Tudor-style chimneys
Romantic moat? Also used to receive foul water from the latrines!
However, if you are interested in experiencing the cool, lofty space of The King’s Room within the gatehouse, or undergoing confinement in a priest’s hole, or simply the pleasure of wandering through a ‘time capsule’ Victorian library, then Oxburgh Hall is worth a visit.
Sometimes you just need to get away from everything for a couple hours and let the wind blow away all the cobwebs in your head. The exposed east coast of Norfolk often has a ‘brisk’ breeze and I usually come back from a walk at Waxham feeling as though I’ve been somewhat sandblasted.
Most of the dogs at the beach seemed to thoroughly enjoy running around off the lead.
However, not all of them appreciated a soaking by an unexpectedly, energetic wave catching them off guard.
For me, I’m re-energized and feel ready to carry on with the wall hanging and now have a clearer idea how to achieve the finished piece – eventually!
Garden visiting is a popular pastime and the beauty of garden visiting is gardens are an ever changing canvas. Traditionally, in the autumn people go to admire autumnal tree colour, but in a thoughtfully designed garden there are still plenty of colourful shrubs and flowers to see.
At the beginning of October my own garden was looking rather dull and when my sister came to visit it was the perfect opportunity to get out and soak up some inspiration from a nationally renowned garden, The Old Vicarage, East Ruston in Norfolk. It was a very bright, sunny afternoon, really too bright for exciting photos, but I think you’ll get some idea of what a special and unusual garden this is.
Happisburgh lighthouse glimpsed through Monterey pine from an avenue of Quercus ilex unusually paired with Trachycarpus Fortunei
View of Happisburgh Church from the Apple Walk. Old fashioned, traditional apple varieties underplanted with Nepeta mussinii Six Hills Giant.
I’ve been before, but this was my first visit so late in the season and there was plenty to admire, not least all the super-sized containers planted with large tender specimens,
and gravel areas brimming with striking succulents such as these rich Aeonium arboreum Schwarzkopf.
The Old Vicarage, East Ruston is only about a mile and a half from Happisburgh (pronounced haze..bra, of course) on the coast and as such, together with plenty of shelter/windbreak planting, has a microclimate with very little frost. The result of this means a greater, diverse range of plants can survive and the owners have developed a less traditional, innovative set of garden plantings and garden rooms such as the captivating Tree Fern Garden.
There’s also one of my favourite design combinations informally, romantically planted beds restrained and ordered by neat formal box hedging accented with geometric topiary.
The sun was bright, but low enough in the sky to create some drama looking across the King’s Walk catching the yew topiary in all its disciplined stature.
Yew topiary lining the King’s Walk.
Across the King’s Walk.
And, at this time of year it’s sunflowers, dahlias, heleniums in formal beds and, of course, in the cutting garden.
Outside wall long border of the walled Diamond Jubilee Garden.
Plenty of colour in the walled Diamond Jubilee Garden.
Even at this late time of the gardening year there was still plenty to see and I’ve only shown you a glimpse. There is more information and photos at The Old Vicarage, East Ruston
And, finally, I’m not usually a fan of contemporary art in gardens, but I thought this discrete, nervous-looking but welcoming family of deer just on the wooded boundary between the car park and the garden entrance didn’t look out of place.
As Hilary Mantel’s historical fiction novels ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring up the Bodies’ receive the much lauded BBC period drama conversion to a television series, a new portrayal of Thomas Howard, the third Duke of Norfolk (1473-1554) will appear on our screens. This time the Duke is played by Bernard Hill and as in Mantel’s books he is loud, angry and ferociously ambitious. During the reign of King Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk was one of England’s most powerful nobles whose first wife, Anne, was sister to Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York.
Heraldic shields held by lions at each corner of the chest-tomb of the third Duke of Norfolk.
Tudor chimney at Framlingham Castle. One of the residences of Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk.
Despite the Duke of Norfolk being one of the most prominent courtiers, he remained a Catholic throughout the violence and upheavals of the Reformation during the latter part of Henry’s reign and the reign of Henry’s son, Edward VI. However, towards the end of the Henry’s reign both Norfolk and his son, Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey, ended up in the Tower of London. The pair had been found guilty of treason and in January 1547 Henry Howard was beheaded at the Tower. His father’s execution date was set for 29 January 1547 but King Henry died the day before. Following the death of Henry VIII the old Duke of Norfolk was not executed, but instead spent the next six years in the Tower. As a Catholic he was finally released on the accession to the throne of Queen Mary. He died a year later aged 80 years old at his Kenninghall residence, but before his death he had commissioned England’s finest early Renaissance tomb.
The chest-tomb is exquisitely carved from alabaster depicting the twelve Apostles plus St Paul and Aaron carved round the four sides with effigies of the Duke and his first wife, Anne, lying along the top.
The representation of the twelve Apostles was a traditional Catholic theme that was found in churches across the country often painted on the rood screen. However, the interpretation of this popular medieval choice is created here in an early Renaissance European idiom, possibly carved sometime in the mid-sixteenth century. The sculptor is unnamed, but the work is regarded as Italianate in style, but also displaying French influences.
The individual saints stand in shell-headed narrow niches, four along the north and south sides, and three at the east and west ends of the tomb. The design of the tomb suggests it was intended to be viewed from all four sides, but this is no longer possible.
The tomb is just to the south of the high altar under the East Window.
Detail of the tomb which can be seen close to the east wall.
Instead, the tomb-chest is positioned up close to the east wall of the chancel. The Duke of Norfolk had been overseeing the partial rebuilding of St Michael’s Church when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The rebuilt and enlarged chancel was to provide space to accommodate the tombs that were removed from Thetford Priory with the dissolution of the monasteries. Of course, this tomb may originally have been destined for Thetford Priory where traditionally the Norfolks had been interred.
According to a visiting Venetian ambassador, the Duke of Norfolk was described as ‘small and spare in person’ and here he is displayed as stern, thin and angular. The effigy wears full armour, it has a long, pointed beard and around the collar the inscription reads ‘Gracia Dei sum quod sum’ – ‘By the Grace of God I am what I am’.
It is unwise to make sweeping statements and generalisations, but speaking from this little patch of the planet it would appear that negotiating change is frequently challenging. Of course, in any one situation there are multiple factors to be considered, but we must remind ourselves that constant flux is the nature of our existence.
Norfolk is an English county that has no motorways running through it. For a long time the main route from London to Norwich once over the county boundary from Suffolk had multiple stretches of single carriageway. The very last section to be made into a dual carriageway, at a cost of £102 million, is almost completed and is due to be fully open next month. The work has involved widening an old road and cutting through farmland, heath and woodland.
It all looks bleak and churned up at the moment and in its newness it is quite a striking form carving through the countryside. There was a familiar landscape, but now we’ve changed it. There used to be a sweep of pine forest and now part of it is a major road. But this stretch of trees (part of Thetford forest) was only planted in the 1920s and 1930s.
The Scots Pine was extensively used as it could tolerate the poor soil and dry climate of this region. Before that the land had been used for centuries for arable farming and grazing animals. And, 4500 years ago this area was primeval woodland consisting of lime, elm, hazel and oak. The first deforestation of this area occurred during the Bronze Age when humans extensively mined the area for flint using deer antler mattocks. Humans and the environment – plus ça change!