Norfolk History at its Best
Oxburgh Hall is a Norfolk jewel in the care of the National Trust. Despite being built during the Wars of the Roses, and despite its stunning crenulated silhouette, it was never intended to be a castle but a family home, but King Edward IV granted a special licence for crenulation to be included in the design. The house was completed in 1482 for Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, who had inherited the estate land from his grandmother. The crenulations, together with the use of brick, a building material not often used by anyone except the King in that era, shows how bold and confident Sir Edmund was. So began a colourful and sometimes charmed history; the fact that the house still stands is an achievement. It survived a dreadful fire during the Civil War, periods of near dereliction and a threat of demolition. However, despite all this, it has enjoyed the continuity of successive generations of the same family living at Oxburgh Hall ever since.
Frances Mary Teresa Greathead (nee Bedingfeld) was born at Oxburgh Hall on 13 June 1919, the last person to be born in the house. After WW2, upon discovering that her brother, having inherited the whole estate, had sold it to an insurance company, which in turn had put it up for auction, she rallied support from two other members of the family, her mother Lady Sybil and Violet Hartcup. On the eve of the auction they made a joint offer on the Hall which was accepted, and so saved it from being dismantled up by timber and salvage merchants. Cheers echoed around the sale room when their bid was announced.
The three ladies all sold their various houses to raise the funds needed to buy the house back and do the necessary repairs, and they all moved back to live at Oxburgh, having managed to also secure some of the furniture that was in the auction, and supplementing it with their own from their various homes.
However, Oxburgh Hall was unaffordable to maintain without the estate to support it and further plans for its survival had to be put in place. In 1952, again thanks to these three determined ladies, an endowment was raised, and the house was given to the National Trust which now owns and manages the property. Frances and her first husband, Frank Playford, lived in the southwest side of the house until his death in 1956, after which she moved to South Africa. Over the years, more and more of the rooms in the house along with the furnishings and family history have been opened to the public.
Frances is very proud of having been instrumental in preventing the house from becoming another demolition story. ‘I never gave up all hope that we could save it,’ she says, ‘because I’m a firm believer in miracles’. It has been a very special place for her own family, with lovely memories of long conversations at the dining room table. Frances is a great storyteller and would regale her children with anecdotes of how life used to be at Oxburgh when she was growing up there. She has always kept an apartment at Oxburgh, furnished in a very homely way which until now she visited every year from Cape Town for the English summer months.
However, Frances has just celebrated her 100th birthday (with a birthday card from the Queen) and sadly is no longer able to travel and stay in her beloved apartment at Oxburgh. So, as an impressive era comes to an end, the apartment has been carefully emptied with the instruction and guidance of her daughter. The National Trust will repair the roof and the space will be re-used differently in the future.
Many of the delightful furnishings, antiques and collectables, will feature in the fine Christmas Sale at TW Gaze Diss Auction Rooms on Friday 6 December from 10.30am. Period furniture, country house pieces, silver, ornaments and historic novelties that have lived for so very long in Oxburgh Hall will be available to view on Thursday 5 December 2 – 8pm and on morning of sale from 8.30am.
Catalogues will be available twgaze.co.uk during last week of November and the auction will be live on saleroom.com.
BY Elizabeth Talbot MRICS