Oxburgh’s story of survival
Through oppression, Civil War devastation, near dereliction and threatened demolition, it’s a remarkable story that Oxburgh Hall still stands, virtually intact, after more than 500 years of turbulent history. Its fortunes, and ultimately its survival, have been inextricably linked to those of the Bedingfeld family, its owners almost continuously throughout.
Given its turbulent history and the suffering witnessed by generations of the Bedingfeld family who were persecuted for their faith, the survival of Oxburgh Hall was never guaranteed. In fact, overdue rents, mounting taxes and an estate in need of investment, meant the family were forced to sell the house in 1951, a fate from which it was saved at the final hour. Today, they still live at Oxburgh, which still stands - a symbol of the family’s endurance and longevity in the face of unlikely odds.
Much of what you see today at Oxburgh was the work of the 6th and 7th Baronets. Along with their wives and architects, they made the most profound changes to Oxburgh’s appearance and character since its construction.
When Sir Henry Bedingfeld, the 6th Baronet, inherited Oxburgh in 1829, it was in a state of disrepair. However, Henry and his wife Margaret, swiftly began work to breathe life back into Oxburgh Hall and so began a period of transformation.
Margaret was the last in the line of an ancient Norfolk Catholic family and brought with her a dowry of £50,000, to which were added the profits from the sale of her inherited estate in Appleton. Despite this, money was still an issue. In a letter to his brother, Henry complained that although he had succeeded in ‘stopping up’ 53 windows, the taxman still came and charged him for 103!
The couple employed JC Buckler, a Catholic architect who had come to their attention through his work on nearby Costessey Hall. In 1836 his proposals for the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament came second only to Charles Barry’s. Buckler set about extensively remodelling Oxburgh in what would become a Gothic Revival, work that the 7th Baronet, also named Henry, and his wife, Augusta, would continue.
Depleted and faded now, but still evocative of a Tudor golden age, Oxburgh sums up all the feelings we have for a nostalgic and romanticised past. It was also a time in the Bedingfeld’s history, when the family were not persecuted for their faith.
However, with the exception of the Gatehouse, Oxburgh’s Gothic interiors were not composed of genuine 15th century fabric, but were Gothic-inspired. The house was decorated with joinery, plasterwork, bold wallpaper designs and collected artefacts (carved wood and coloured glass), all of which hinted at this period, but may not always have originated from it.
The 7th Baronet continued to collect carved medieval woodwork and furniture for the family home, including the magnificent gilded altarpiece in the Chapel. His imports were so numerous that dock workers at King’s Lynn were reported to have commented, ‘More relics for Sir Henry’. By his death, the family owned a house more gothic than ever before; its medieval history reclaimed.