Grand Estates

Grand Estates in Norfolk

All of Grand Houses and Stately Homes in Norfolk are steeped in history and some in politics. They are spread around in West Norfolk, North Norfolk and South Norfolk. The families that occupied them throughout are quite fascinating whether they were politicians, had the ear of the Monarch, great collectors of art, were obsessed with their estates and gardens or were complete scoundrels and spendthrifts.  The families that are now in charge are equally fascinating, determined to save these Grand Estates from ruin. One thing is sure, the Stately Homes and Grand House in Norfolk offer their visitors a day out with a difference. 

Opulent interiors, awe inspiring architecture, ghostly tales and swathes of rhododendrons, the Stately Homes and Grand Houses with their Estates offer visitors a day out with a difference.

Those interested in British heritage can explore the extravagant existence of those who lived and loved in these country retreats. From Boudica to Anne Boleyn and even Albert Einstein, Norfolk’s history is littered with distinguished inhabitants.

Green fingered visitors are in for a seasonal treat as they wander landscaped grounds peppered with topiary bushes, vast floral beds and striking water features.

Even the little ones are catered for with dedicated activities and educational tours designed to feed their imaginations. Alongside the schedule of permanent exhibits an annual itinerary of events serves to showcase these enchanting properties and bring together the local community. Summer fates, Easter egg hunts and carols by candlelight are a favourite amongst families while cooking demonstrations, craft fairs and classical concerts under the stars offer a taste of international culture and country living.

Despite being so fortunate to have access to a large number of heritage properties North Norfolk, like the rest of Britain, has lost many of its grand houses. While once the very lifeblood of rural Britain, the existence of country estates has seen a rapid decline since the social and economic reforms of 20th century Britain.

It was at one time a hobby for the British nobility to demolish, rebuild and extend their vast country estates to house the exquisite treasures collected on their word tours. Armies of servants cared for an unimaginable number of rooms built for every occasion when walled kitchen gardens, manicured parklands and lavish interiors were common place throughout North Norfolk’s countryside. 

 Blickling Hall 

A Jacobean house in Blickling near Aylsham in North Norfolk with a fascinating history it is believed to be the birth place of one of Tudor history’s most notable characters. The original manor house, which lays in ruin below the building we see today, was home to the ill-fated Boylen family whose brush with royalty led to the public execution of youngest daughter Anne.

Whilst there have been a number of residents since, the ghostly figures of the Boylens, including the beheaded Anne, are said to haunt the estate. Throughout the year they appear in the dead of night, still tortured by the events which led to their demise.

Those who visit Blickling Hall are in for an engaging insight into the life and times of this Renaissance property. Since the estate was passed to Boylen relations the Cleres, and then rebuilt by Sir Henry Hobart during the reign of James I little has changed.

While the interior has hosted WWII RAF aircrew and undergone extensive regeneration by private owner and National Trust benefactor Philip Henry Kerr, today it stands as a time capsule offering inquisitive visitors a chance to share in the story.

Truly an interactive experience, visitors to Blickling can hear from the individuals who once worked 'downstairs' and see where the RAF masterminded top secret tactical operations.

While exploring the decedent interiors we recommend that you visit the Long Gallery, a vast library which houses the most historically significant collections of manuscripts and books in England. Over 12,500 books adorn the shelves many of which have yet to be catalogued by John Gandy, the National Trust Librarian on a 10 year mission to record each and every volume.

Those keen to enjoy a sunny afternoon may stretch their legs outside and explore the extensive gardens and woodland, visit the grade II listed buildings within the estate and walk alongside the 18th century yew hedges. The Great Wood is alive with colour during late April when a floral carpet of bluebells erupts amongst the ancient vegetation.

Honey bees can be seen collecting precious nectar from the summer blooms and if you look carefully you can often see barn owls hunting mice and voles on the woodland floor beside the pyramid mausoleum.

Horticulturalists will be inspired by the famed Parterre garden, set around an 18th-century listed stone fountain and modelled into four colourful herbaceous beds it delights the senses year round.

To the north the Wilderness Garden hides a Secret Garden with a summerhouse, scented plants and a central sundial, to which a visit instils childhood intrigue and adventure.

While the house itself offers enough activity to keep you entertained for hours there’s a lot to be said for simply setting up camp aside the lake atop a picnic blanket and watching the world pass by. A leisurely stroll will take you around the edge of the water, a path which is dotted with reminders of those who changed and moulded the grounds over the years.

Before you go, call into the atmospheric Buckinghamshire Arms and sample some locally brewed refreshments, the perfect end to your day at one of North Norfolk’s most historic estates.

Felbrigg Hall

Built before the Norman Conquest Felbrigg Hall, located close to Aylsham and Cromer, is one of North Norfolk’s great treasures.

Named after a family who in turn had taken their name from the ancient Scandinavian word 'Fiolbrygga', meaning plank bridge, it has been inhabited by generations of the Wyndham family since they acquired it from the Felbriggs during the 15th century.

A family affair for many years the Wyndhams’ ownership of Felbrigg saw countless alterations. Over the course of the following 300 years the Wyndhams remodelled and extended the property incorporating fine Jacobean architecture, a Gothic inspired library and plush Georgian interiors.

With many of the Wyndham inheritors taking time out to embark on lavish, yearlong world tours, the estate grew piece by piece as each brought home exquisite new treasures, many of which still take pride of place in the property today.

Bursting with character many of the Windham men found themselves in the merciless climate of Victorian Eton where they were given nicknames for their eccentric behaviours. It was unfortunately this eccentricity which led to the estate being sold to Norwich merchant, John Ketton in 1863.

Sadly the Ketton tenancy made surprisingly little impact on the Felbrigg estate and when the youngest son to whom the estate had been bequeathed died prematurely, he left the property to rot and ruin.

A visit to Felbrigg Hall offers insight into the lives and loves of the Wyndhams who occupied its vast interior for so many years. The patchwork of architecture and varied collections of art, sculpture and extravagant interior design have been returned to their former glory and can be seen in much the same layout as they were over 100 years ago.

A plasterwork ceiling adorned with imagery of feasting game birds, fruit, and flowers reflects the majesty of the grand parties once held in the great parlour.

Visit the Dining Room and see the table set for a menu which was found written in the diary of Rachel Anne Ketton, a member of the family who lived there in the late 1800s.

Visit the Book Room where you can see the current exhibit detailing the lives of the women of Felbrigg, the wives and daughters, whose contributions to the family’s history are often overlooked.

Those with a keen eye for artesian design will be interested to see the wallpaper covering the Chinese bedroom. Ordered through the East India Company and block printed/hand painted in China it would have been a treasure of unimaginable value at the time at which it was hung.

Like so many grand houses the grounds of Felbrigg Hall never fail to delight. Meander along the 3.3km way marked walk through the Great Wood and take in the many sweeping views across the estate.

Laze by the lake with a picnic, breathe in the scent of the camellias growing inside the orangery, or let your green fingers loose on the community allotments within the Walled Garden. Lookout for the resident bantams, peacocks and guinea fowl and watch as the orchard’s beehives buzz with activity.

Whether rain or shine, Felbrigg offers a unique day out to those keen to explore its opulent eccentricity.

Oxburgh Hall

Located just outside the picturesque town of Downham Market in West Norfolk,  a visit to Oxburgh Hall is one of two halves. This imposing yet romantic moated property with its medieval exterior looms large against the rolling countryside, and appears as though perhaps the architect intended it to be a castle rather than a family home.

Nonetheless, a family home it has been since its completion in 1482 amid the dynastic War of the Roses. While the exterior is dramatised by a striking turreted Tudor gatehouse and polygonal towers rising in seven tiers above the roof, the Victorian interior projects a very different vision of life at Oxburgh.

Inhabited by generations of the Bedingfeld family their story is woven deep into the rich textured wallpaper, dark panelling and heraldic symbols of the family hung throughout the house. Further Victorian influence can be seen in later additions to the exterior of the property. Oriel windows, Flemish-style stepped gables and the French parterre, with its colourful configuration of seasonal blooms.

While Oxburgh appears indomitable its fortified exterior masks an often uncertain history of upheaval and political turmoil. A number of previous owners of the land had fallen out of royal favour, been exiled and even executed at nearby Tower Hill, each one leaving the future of Oxenburch, as it was then known, unclear.

Fervent Catholics the Bedingfeld family kept their faith alive through two centuries of government threat, fines and the proscription of their religion. Today visitors to the house can slip themselves into the small confines of the famed priest hole, constructed in the garde-robe (lavatory) leading from the King's Room, and imagine the terror felt by a quivering priest as he hid out of sight during the 16th century.

The Marian Hangings which adorn the walls of Oxburgh are a magnificent sight to behold. The work of Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury, the panels of green velvet with an all-over interlaced pattern worked in couched cord with red silk and silver-gilt thread, offer insight into the life of one of the 16th century’s most notable monarchs.

A masterpiece of late medieval brickwork the gatehouse which once hosted King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth is open to the public, so take the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of royalty and climb the stairs to the King's and Queen's Rooms.

Oxburgh's Victorian era gardens showcase some of the county’s finest horticultural heritage, and the walled orchard and kitchen garden inspire the desire to go green and grow your own at home. The Gatehouse roof offers views of sweeping vistas over the estate and the grounds themselves encompass extensive woodlands and walkways from which visitors can spot snowdrops, aconites, camassias and daffodils.

The perfect heritage family home for a family day out, Oxburgh Hall is fun for all.

Wolterton Park

Held for much of the middle ages by the de Wolterton family the Maner at Wolterton located near Aylsham in North Norfolk has a long and complex history. It began with the purchase of the estate and subsequent remodelling of the property by Horatio Walpole in 1722, brother to the first Prime Minister of England.

Sadly a fire swept through the grounds just two years after the work had begun and work ceased until over a year later when architect Thomas Ripley was commissioned to design a suitable replacement.

Unlike so many grand estates where an updated structure is built from the ashes of its predecessor, Ripley chose a site 60m to the north-west of the old building making the Wolverton estate a rare antiquity amongst its peers.

By 1729 an ornamental garden had been constructed, the final layout included a lake, kitchen garden, sunken bowling green, and southern vista framed by groves.

Very little was added to the estate until almost 100 years later in 1828 when the third Earl commissioned George Stanley Repton to extend the Hall and elaborate further on the already thriving gardens. A new parterre for the south front, new curved drives, woodlands through the park, exotic planting for an arboretum and the inclusion of an island in the middle of the lake brought Wolterton up to date.

The Hall itself is awash with fine examples of Victorian furniture; however the crowning glory is a grand Marble Hall which showcases a set of 4 walnut doors thought to have been the gift of Queen Caroline. Visitors can see Horace Walpole's study designed by the acclaimed Rococo artist Jacopo Amigoni and explore the extensive collection of family portraits from throughout the ages.

This fine example of 18th century opulence also contains the remnants of the once thriving Wolterton village; the cylindrical tower of its church is the most notable feature standing alone amongst the landscaped parklands.

There is now a program of conservation and research into the history of the family, Hall and Park using the extensive and previously neglected archives. A fascinating testament of  Norfolk’s dedication to its heritage, Wolterton has grasped the future with both hands and as such has secured itself a viable existence.

The 18th Century walled garden is now let and run by Barker Organics as a smallholding, whilst artist blacksmith Baron Tremain works from Wolterton Forge. Wolterton Hall is only open on Friday afternoons or by appointment, although the grounds can be accessed every day and are a superb location to blow away the cobwebs and explore the walkways of this beautiful parkland.

Mannington Hall & Gardens

Built in the 1460s by William Lumner Mannington Hall sits proudly amongst the pasture fields and woodland between the villages of Itteringham and Barningham, near Aylsham in North Norfolk a little under 30 minutes north of the city of Norwich.

Known predominantly for its spectacular and varied gardens the Mannington Estate has an unusual link with neighbouring heritage property Wolterton Hall.

In 1736 Lord Walpole of Wolterton purchased Mannington from the Potts family, and set about transforming its grounds into an eye catching display of parkland, manicured gardens and axial walkways.

Thereafter Mannington functioned as a farmhouse until 1864 when Walpole’s heir transformed it into a manor house and made additions to the already thriving gardens.

While the property remains under the watchful eye of the current Lord and Lady Walpole, and therefore available to view by appointment only, Mannington Hall Gardens are open May through September and offer a horticultural heritage escape from our modernised existence.

Highlighting the glorious British rose Mannington has thousands of species dotted throughout its grounds. Of particular interest are the roses of the walled Heritage Rose Garden, which offer an insight into the genealogy of the planet with specimens whose origins date back to as early as the 15th century.

A truly interactive experience the gardens envelop visitors into their floriated world. Near to the hall is a knot garden with scented plants, while the nearby Sensory Garden is bursting with plants selected for touch, sound and taste, as well as smell and colour. The ruin of a medieval church can be found within the gardens. Around the tattered brickwork wildflowers are encouraged to grow, their delicate disorder juxtaposing the heavily tended herbaceous borders which surround them.

A thriving vegetable garden which would make any country chef weak at the knees, and a rather unusual water feature are fantastic additions to this ever evolving horticultural escape.

Follow the path of the woodland walk towards the Stump Garden where evergreen ferns are being encouraged, sit amongst the shade and breathe in the glorious earthy scent. Make your way along the boardwalks of the Wet Flower Meadow and spend some time watching Mother Nature in action as you peer out from the purpose built bird hide. Over 20 miles of way-marked footpaths run around Mannington and Wolterton, many of them linking into the Weavers Way long distance footpath and Holt circular walk. After a day at Mannington you’ll no doubt feel your green fingers itching, so why not call into the quaint gift shop stocked with potted roses and planets ready for you to plant your own Walpole inspired garden.

The perfect day out for anyone looking to explore the heritage of one of North Norfolk’s most notable families, Mannington Hall Gardens are a floral gem just waiting to be discovered.

Holkham Hall

One of the country’s most notable examples of Palladian revival style architecture, Holkham Hall in North Norfolk appears as though a decedent Roman palace has been set amongst the distinctive landscape of North Norfolk’s coastline.

The perfect location for a family day out, Holkham combines heritage and holiday in a uniquely British fashion, for on the other side of the thriving Holkham National Nature Reserve are the sweeping sands of Holkham beach. Known for its vast expanse of soft sand and proximity to neighbouring pinewoods and salt marshes, Holkham Bay provides the perfect escape.

After a dip in the ocean and a walk along the sands head up to the Holkam Estate which offers a wealth of activities to enlighten and entertain.

Purchased in 1609 by Sir Edward Coke it was later in the 18th century that his heir Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, ornamented the estate with the addition of an opulent residence.

During the young heir’s Grand Tour he met both Lord Burlington, the aristocratic architect at the forefront of the Palladian revival movement in England, and William Kent who would design the grand house we still see today. Like many young men of his era, Coke drew influence from the classical Greek and Roman art and architecture he saw during his Grand Tour.

On returning to England Coke desired a suitable residence to house his newly acquired riches and employed Burlington and Kent to design him a Palladian masterpiece. Foolhardy young Coke lived a reckless existence and it would be a further 10 years before he could finance the ambitious plans he had for Holkham.

‘Austere and devoid of ornamentation’. Holkham’s architect Matthew Brettingham described Coke’s demand for "commodiousness" in every aspect of the exterior. Where one window adequately lit a room another was not to be added for the benefit of design alone.

A relatively simplistic structure comprising four symmetrical wings at each corner of the principal block, Holkham is said to reflect the great Palladio's design for the unbuilt Villa Mocenigo. While the first foundations were laid in 1734, building work would continue for another 30 years and sadly Thomas Coke would not see his masterpiece in its entirety before he passed away.

Described as ‘The finest Palladian interior in England’ Holkham is a maze of fluted columns gilded ceilings and luxurious furnishings. During your day at Holkham stroll through the Long Library which runs the full length of the wing and still contains the collection of books acquired by Thomas Coke on his Grand Tour through Italy. Stand at the entrance to the vast Marble Hall with its Pantheon inspired ceiling and splendid colonnade copied from that of the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome, it is simply breathtaking.

A major source of academic research Holkham remains under the supervision of the Coke family and although not open to the public year round, is inhabited continually.

Whether you desire a relaxing retreat to sand, sea and sky, to lose yourself in times past at the Bygones Museum or to marvel at the majesty of this unique residence, Holkham has something for you.

Why not combine your visit with a stay at The Victoria? A luxury property back under ownership of the estate after being leased for many years it offers elegant accommodation mirroring Coke’s desire for comfort and class.

Those on a budget may choose to set up camp at Pinewoods Holiday Park in neighbouring Wells-next-the-Sea and enjoy a more traditional seaside escape. Whatever your budget and itinerary the Holkham estate offers a quintessentially British holiday.

Sandringham House

A private residence for four generations of the British Royal Family the Sandringham Estate in North Norfolkwas purchased by Queen Victoria in 1862. It was to be the home of the future king, Edward VII and his Danish bride Princess Alexandra who likened the surrounding North Norfolk countryside to that of her native Denmark.

Perhaps the most stately home in the county the property is set in 24 hectares of spectacular gardens and is open to the public, at no cost, 365 days each year. While the site has been occupied since the Elizabethan era, it wasn’t until 1771 that architect Cornish Henley cleared the site to build Sandringham Hall.

Despite the already grand scale of the existing residence, the new proprietors found the living quarters cramped and so in 1865 the future King commissioned architect A. J. Humbert to fashion a much larger property to his exact requirements.

The estate regularly plays host to the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and his family, and is very much a part of the current Royal Family history. Princess Diana who so tragically lost her life in 1997 was raised at Park House just next-door to Sandringham and spent time on the estate during her marriage to Charles.

The estate itself comprises a dynamic landscape which includes the tidal mudflats of the Wash, woodland and wetland, arable, livestock and fruit farms, and commercial and residential properties.

Sustainability, both ecological and financial, plays an important role in the management of the estate in the effort to preserve it for future generations of those who visit, and the Royals to whom it is home.

The Sandringham Estate has something for the whole family. 60 acres of glorious gardens offer hours of floral daydreams. Wander through the sweeping glades bordered by plated beds and soak up the sweet scents which fill the air. The ground floor rooms of the grand house are open to the public and offer ‘we mere mortals’ an insight into the daily life of the Royals of recent history. The décor, furniture and furnishings are almost exactly as they were in Edwardian times and are a truly remarkable display of British elegance.

The highly decorated medieval church at Sandringham is also open to the public and well worth a visit. Its 16th-century processional cross and magnificent silver altar are marvellous relics of Royal influence from centuries past.

A family favourite, the museum is a treasure trove of Royal collectables. Admire the 1900 Daimler Phaeton, the first automobile owned by the Royal family, and the Merryweather Fire Engine, once on call for emergencies on the estate. Commemorative china and personal items for a number of prominent Royals are also on display.

Hop on the tractor and trailer tour and take in the estate from atop a straw bale, tramp the nature trails around this striking country park or follow the scenic drive via four wheels.

Escape to Everything Outdoors and treat yourself to some fine country clothing, then settle into the Stables Tearoom and enjoy a sumptuous cream tea before exploring the locally produced delights on offer in the gift shop. Whether staying on site in one of the estate’s luxury holiday cottages or just visiting for the day, Sandringham is a delight to the senses and offers a Royal treat to all those who visit.  

Houghton Hall

Surrounded by 1,000 acres of parkland and adjacent to the Sandringham Estate, Houghton Hall in North Norfolkis a key building in the history of Palladian architecture. The result of a mishmash of creative input from a number of great designers Houghton’s exterior is grand yet reserved, while the interior boasts a much more colourful, exuberant and opulent character.

Built for Britain’s first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole no expense was spared during the initial construction, and fortunately the property has remained largely unimproved despite the Victorian passion for alternations and extension.

Passed to the Cholmondeley family through marriage at the end of the 18th century Houghton has remained in their charge to this day. Despite long periods of neglect and the threat of sale little has changed within the Hall. Many of the original furnishings and much of the estate’s extensive art collection has survived intact.

Houghton’s most notable inhabitant Sir Robert Walpole held a great picture collection within the Hall, and over the years a number of prominent works considered national treasures have been sold or transferred in lieu of tax to fund the upkeep of the estate. Hans Holbein's "Lady With a Squirrel and a Starling" which had hung on the walls of Houghton since 1780 was sadly removed in such a fashion, however the additional funds have ensured the preservation of this truly magnificent grade I listed building.

Like many of the grand estates in Norfolk each room at Houghton tells the story of those who have walked its halls. The overarching vision of one man still encompasses the heritage of the two families to whom Houghton has been home.

From the faintest detail in the hand painted Great Staircase to the grandeur of the red velvet Saloon, every part of the interior begs to be explored and admired. The parklands surrounding Houghton were redesigned in the 18th-century by Charles Bridgeman. A process which saw the village of Houghton demolished and rebuilt just outside the walls of the estate. Home to around 600 white fallow deer and a number of ancient oak and sweet chestnut trees the 18th century parklands are a joy to explore.

The present Lord Cholomonedely has installed a number of works of modern art within the estate’s sculpture park, and pieces by James Turrell, Richard Long, Stephen Cox, Zhan Wang, Anya Gallaccio and Jeppe Hein are a refreshing addition to the opulent atmosphere.

Winner of the Christies and Historic Houses Association ‘Garden of the Year Award’, the stunning 5 acre walled garden incorporates an array of themed areas. A spectacular Italian garden, double-sided herbaceous borders, formal rose parterre (with over 150 varieties of rose), fruit and vegetable garden, glass house, rustic temple, statues, fountains and Jeppe Hein’s ‘Waterflame’ make Houghton’s horticulture inimitable.

The largest private collection of model soldiers in the world, Houghton’s Solider Museum shows many reconstructions of battles such as Waterloo and Omdurman, as well as displaying a selection of paintings and militaria. Open May through September this private residence is not to be missed.

Whether exploring the decedent interiors or losing yourself within the vast landscapes of the estate, Houghton has something special to share.

Heacham Hall

The name Heacham was allegedly taken from 12th-century Norman Lord, Geoffrey de Hecham. Although thanks to the records preserved in the Little Domesday Book, recorded in 1086, there is evidence that Heachem was named long before the Lord presided over the village.

Despite the fact that little remains of the Heacham Estate in North Norfolk it will be forever immortalised in the pages of history thanks to Heacham native John Rolfe and his wife Rebecca. While many are familiar with Disney’s enchanting tale of Pocahontas, the reality of this romantic story lies far from the exaggerated theatre of the silver screen.

Born to Wahunsunacock, the Chief of a federation of more than 30 tribes on the east coast of what is now the US state of Virginia, Pocahontas was taken captive by settlers during her teens. A tactical move by English Captain Argall, he hoped that it would provide him leverage in his dealings with her father the Chief. It was during her time living within the English settlement that she was baptised into the Christian faith as Rebecca, and met and married Norfolk born John Rolfe.

In a letter to the governor of the colony Sir Thomas Dale Rolfe said that Pocahontas was the creature “To whom my hart and best thoughts are and have byn a longe tyme soe intangled & inthralled in soe intricate a Laborinth, that I was even aweried to vnwynde my selfe therout” He sounds very much like a man who was desperately in love.

Just one year later Pocahontas gave birth to a son, a monumental event which served to suppress the lengthy quarrels between the federation and the English settlers. Two years passed and Rolfe was sent back to England to raise funds for the newly formed Virginia Company. Taking with him his wife and son, along with a dozen members of Pocahontas’ Algonquian tribe, they set sail in Argall’s ship, the one in which Pocahontas was first held captive.

After spending some time in London Rolfe brought Pocahontas to visit his family home in Norfolk, known to all as Heacham Hall. A modest property in comparison to those of the noted gentry, the Rolfe family were gentleman farmers and were prosperous but not wealthy which may have been why they found the lure of the new world so appealing.

Today there is no sign of the property which once housed one of Disney’s most famous female characters, only the stump of a mulberry tree said to be a gift from Pocahontas to the Rolfe family during her stay.

For those who wish to follow in the footsteps of the tribal princess there are some fantastic walks compiled as part of the village’s celebration of their link with Virginia and Pocahontas. Visit the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin where Pocahontas worshiped during her visit, take the time to soak in the views of period architecture and read the commemorate text of the Heacham Declaration Plaque which stipulates that local labourers, farmers and the squire receive a fair price for flour.

Regardless of the time of year Heacham will inspire you to peel back the layers of its history and experience life through the heritage of inhabitants long past.

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