Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk is a magnificent brick-built, moated house of great charm. It has been home to the Bedingfield family since the 15th century. The family’s Catholic and Royalist status left them relatively impecunious — a fate which may have inadvertently preserved Oxburgh’s charm from excessive restoration. If you like brick-work, you will revel in Oxburgh. That the property rises out of a moat is testament to the ingenuity of the place’s original builders.
Oxburgh Hall has recently been the subject of a very substantial repair programme under the auspices of the National Trust.
There is a fine display of medieval documents and licences, photographs of which I have included, accompanied by their readable text.
The containers visible in the moat in some of these photographs were tests to help establish the best methods of supporting the scaffolding that was going to be needed during the upcoming restoration. The moat surrounding Oxburgh is clay-lined, and standing scaffolding directly on that lining would have risked cracking it, emptying the moat and damaging its ecology. As a result of these tests, it was established that the scaffolding could stand on large marine bags filled with sand.
Scaffold under a forest of chimneys and the parterre to the east of Oxburgh Hall, viewed from the Gatehouse tower
Late medieval, brick spiral staircase inside Oxburgh’s Gatehouse tower. Note the brick handrail inset into the mass of the wall.
(These photographs were taken in June 2019 before Oxburgh’s roof repairs had fully started.)
Oxburgh Hall’s precious documents
Oxburgh has an exquisite display of archival documents dating back at least to 1249, laid out under glass — easy to photograph — accompanied with typed translations. Some of these have their original, heavy wax seals still attached. These so startlingly help us peer back into the distant past that I feel it worth showing six of them here, along with their readable English translations. What seemed remarkable is how preserved these documents are. The parchments are unsurprisingly slightly foxed, but their detail is still legible. The last one displayed here is a letter from Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Henry Bedingfeld, requesting his assistance to put down rebellion in the north, dated 1559. Recall that the Bedingfeld family (then as now) were Catholics and that the rebellion of which the Queen speaks would have been a Catholic one. This letter would have been a test of loyalty to the throne for the occupants of Oxburgh.
Grant of Right to Hold a Fair by Henry III, 28th February 1249
“Henry (III) King of England, etc. grants to Ralph de Worcester and his heirs in perpetuity the right to hold a weekly market on Tuesday at his manor of Oxburgh, as well as an annual fair of two days there on the day preceding and on the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Mary (7th & 8th September) with all customary dues and liberties belonging thereto provided neither market nor fair be to the damage of neighbouring markets and fairs.”
Witnesses: William Raleigh, Bishop of Winchester 1244-1250, previously Bishop of Norwich 1239-1244; William de Valence, (Earl of Pembroke, d.1296, half brother of King Henry III); John Mansell, Prior of Beverley, (and others).
Given at Winchester, 28th February, 1248/9.
Letter from King Edward I Granting Right to Hold Additional Fairs, 1285
“Edward by the grace of God King of England etc., grants to Nicholas de Waylond and his heirs for ever a weekly market on Fridays and an annual fair of eight days at the feast of the translation of St. Edward (13th October) in his manor of Shipdham, Norfolk, and two annual fairs of two and eight days at the feasts of the Assumption and Annunciation of the Blessed Mary respectively (15th August and 25th March) at his manor of Oxburgh with free warren in his manors of Charsfield and Westerfield, Suffolk provided that the hunting rights of the king are observed, penalty a fine of £10. Dated at Westminster 12th May 1285.”
Grant of Right to Fortify Oxburgh Castle — July 1482
“Edward IV grants to Edmund Bedingfeld Esquire the right to surround his manor of Oxburgh with walls and towers of stone, chalk and gravel and to embattle, crenellate and machicolate the said walls and towers, and moreover pardons him for having already done so. He also licenses him to hold a market every Friday at Oxburgh with a pie powder (i.e. summary) court to be held by his steward, the said market, its court and its profits from tolls etc. to be secured to Edmund Bedingfeld and his heirs forever; provided only that the market does not injure neighbouring markets. All previous grants to Edmund Bedingfeld are confirmed, other statutes and ordinances notwithstanding.”
King Henry VIII letter to Lady Bedingfeld about the Burial of his Wife Catherine of Arragon, 1536
“To our right trusty and well beloved the Lady Bedingfeld, right dear and well beloved we grete you well and for as much as it has pleased Almighty God to call unto his mercy out of this transitory life the right excellent Princess Our dear Sister the Lady Catherine relict Widow and Dowager of the right excellent Prince our dear and Natural Brother Prince Arthur of famous memory deceased and that we intend to have her Body interred according to her honor and Estate, at the Interment whereof and for other Ceremonies to be done at her funerall and in the Conveyance of the Corps from Kimbolton where it now remaineth to Peterborough where the same shall be buried, it is required to have the presence of a good number of Ladies of Honor You shall understand that we have appointed you to be there one of the Principal Mourners and therefore desire and pray you to put yourself in a rediness to be in anywise at Kimbolton aforesaid the 25 day of this Month and so to attend upon the said Corps tyll the same shall be buried and the Ceremonies to be thereat done be finished. Letting you further wot that for the Morning Apparell of Your own Person we send you by this bearer — yards of black cloth for 2 gentlewomen to wait upon you. — yards for 2 Gentlemen — yards for 8 Yeomen — yards. all which Apparell ye must cause in the meantime to be made as shall appertain, and as concerning the Habiliment of Linen for your hed and face, we shall before the Day before limited send the same unto you accordingly given under our Signet, at our Manor of Greenwich the 10th day of January.” [what follows is in a different hand]
“And forasmuch as since the writing hereof it was thought ye should be enforced to send to London for making of the said Apparell for the more expedition we thought convenient to desire you immediately upon the receipt hereof to send your Servant to our Trusty and right well beloved Councellor Sir William Poulet Knt. Comptroller of our Household living at the Friars Augustines in London aforesaid, to whom bringing this letter with him for a certain token that he cometh from you, the said Cloth and certain Linen for your hed shall be delivered accordingly.”
Letter from Queen Mary I appointing Sir Henry Bedingfeld Lieutenant of the Tower of London, 1555
“Truly and right well beloved we grete you well and Whereas humble suit has been made unto us on the behalf of our trusty and well beloved Thomas Bridge Esq. late Lieutenant of our Tower of London, for the delivering up into our hands of the said Lieutenantship in consideration of his long and painfull service already sustained in the same. Lyke as we are pleased to grant his humble petition in his parte and having appointed you for the speciall trust, we have consydered of your fidelitie and willingness to serve us, to take the charge of our said Tower upon you for a tyme, we let you wit we are pleased that ye shall on Thursday next receive at the hands of the said Thomas Bridge the Lieutenantship and charge of the sayd Tower of London with all things thereunto appertayning and the Prisoners remayning in the same, to be kept to our use and ordered as shall be by us prescribed unto you. And these our letters shall be your sufficient Warrant and discharge in that behalf.”
“Given under our signet at our house of St. James’ the twenty eighth day of October the second and third year of our rayne.”
“To our trustie and right welbeloved Counsellour Sir Henry Bedingfeld Knight.”
Letter from Queen Elizabeth I to Sir Henry Bedingfeld, requesting his Assistance to Put down Rebellion in the North, 1559
“Trustie and welbeloved we grete You well like as we doubt not but by the comen reporte of the World it appereth what great demonstrations of hostilitie the Frenche make towards this Realme by transporting great powers into Scotland upon the pretense onlie of theyr doinge about the conqueste of the same, so have we thought mete upon more certientie known to Us of their purpose to have good regarde thereto in tyme. And beinge eerie jalous of our towne of Barwick the principal keye of all our Realme, we have determined, to sende with spede succours bothe thitherwarde to our frontier, as well horsemen as fotemen. And do also send our right trustie and entirelie beloved, cosen, the Duke of Norfolk to be our Lieutenant General of all the North from Trent forward, for whiche purpose we have addressed our letters to sundrie of our Nobilitie and Gentlemen in lyke manner as we do this unto You, willing and requiring You, as you tender and respect and honour of Us and suretie of your countrye to put in readyness with all spede possible one Nobleman furnyshed with a good strong horse or gelding and armed with a corslet and the same to sende to Newcastle by such day and with such further order for the furniture as shall be appointed to you by our trustie and welbeloved Sir Edwarde Wyndham knt. and another Sir Chris. Heydon Kt. Whom we have advertysed of our further pleasure in that behalfe. And at the arriving of the said horseman at Newcastell he shall not onlie receyve monie for his rote and conduite but also beside his Wage shall be by the discretion as our said Cosen of Norfolk so used and entreated as ye shall not nede to doubt of the safe returne of the same, if the casualitie of death it be not empeached. And herein we make cuch sure accompte of your forwardness as we thereupon have sygnefied amonge others to our sayd Cosen this, our appointment and commandment. So shall we make accompte of You in that behalf, wherof we praye you faile not.”
“Given under our Signet at our palace of Westminster the 22nd day of December in the second yere of our Reyne”
“To our trustie and welbeloved Sir Henry Bedyngfeld Knight.”
- The National Trust has an excellent presentation about the restoration of Oxburgh Hall, including a timeline of the restoration and a series of videos, including one of the development of special roof tiles that are adapted to the building’s resident bat colony! One of their videos proudly proclaims that the scaffolding used for the restoration contains over 30 miles of scaffold tubes and over 20 miles of scaffold boards!
- A page about how the National Trust is recreating woodland at Oxburgh using RAF photographs.
- There’s a fascinating page about the scaffolding used during the recent restoration of Oxburgh by the specialist scaffolding company George Roberts. It includes a nice sets of statistics, including: 17,000 roof tiles, 27 chimneys, 14 dormer windows, and 82 tonnes of scaffolding. The photographs of the scaffolding are impressive!