The Builders

The south front of Felbrigg Hall on a bright day © Rupert Truman

The south front of Felbrigg Hall on a bright day

Sir John Wyndham

The south front, built by Sir John Wyndham and his son Thomas, was formed out of the carcass of an early tudor building. The Norfolk Windhams had been here since the estate passed out of the hands of the Felbrigg family in the mid-15th century, but when their line died out in 1599 the Somerset branch of the Wyndham family took over, reasserting the family presence with the construction of the new front in 1621-4 and adopting the Norfolk spelling of Windham.

William Windham I

Portrait of Katherine Ashe wife of William Windham I

Portrait of Katherine Ashe wife of William Windham I

The son of Thomas Windham and his second wife Elizabeth Mede, William Windham I was fortunate to marry an heiress, Katherine Ashe, and fall in love with her. With William Samwell he built the west wing in the 1680s and some of the rooms at Felbrigg still have this original plasterwork. The drawing room ceiling contains the date 1687 and the initial WW.

Ashe Windham

Felbrigg Orangery

Born in 1673, Ashe was the son of William Windham I and he built the Orangery in 1707. The drawings for the Orangery are unsigned, but Ashe may have been its architect. He was engaged to the love of his life, Hester Buckworth who sadly died in 1708 before they could marry and her portrait  hangs in the stair hall. On the rebound he married Elizabeth Dobyns in 1709 and their only child William was born in 1717, but they separated three years later.

William Windham II

  • William's Grand Tour lasted from 1738 - 1742
  • They went first to Geneva and then spent some months in Rome
  • In 1740 he was betrothed to Elisabeth de Chapeaurouge, daughter of the First Syndie of Geneva
  • Not until 1751, and at considerable expense, did he finally extricate himself from this commitment.
  • On his return he employed James Paine to make improvements to Felbrigg
  • The current staircase was built, and the dining room created in the old staircase space
  • He created his Cabinet where many of the pictures bought on the tour still hang as he directed
  • In 1750 he married Sarah Lukin, a widow with three children. At the time of their marriage they had been living together for several years and she was pregnant with his child

William Windham III

Johnson’s famous dictionary located in the library at Felbrigg Hall

Johnson’s famous dictionary located in the library at Felbrigg Hall

Known as 'fighting Windham' he was sent home from Eton in 1766 for his prominent part in the school rebellion against an unpopular new headmaster Dr. Foster. He married Cecilia Forrest as late as 1798 when they were both in their late forties so there was no prospect of a young family.

A statesman, he had a particular horror of the French Revolution;  when France declared war in 1793 he was a powerful advocate of a sustained and effective response and in 1794 he began a seven year term as Secretary at War. As a friend of Samuel Johnson, he inherited some of his books and bought others at the auction following Johnson's death.

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