Oxburgh’s story of survival

A view of Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

Through religious persecution, Civil War, near dereliction and threatened demolition, it’s remarkable that Oxburgh Hall remains intact. After more than 500 years of turbulent history, its fortunes, and ultimately its survival, are inextricably linked to those of the Bedingfeld family, who have lived at Oxburgh almost continuously since 1482.

A tale of endurance

Powerful figures in the Tudor court, the Bedingfelds retained their Catholic faith throughout and beyond the Reformation. They were fervent royalists but also recusants, and for that subjected to heavy penalties and civil disabilities.  

The survival of Oxburgh was never guaranteed. Overdue rents, mounting taxes and rising maintenance costs forced the Bedingfelds to sell in 1951. It was saved from demolition at the final hour by Lady Sybil Bedingfeld and two other relatives and given to the National Trust in 1952. Today the family still live at Oxburgh. 

The transformation of Oxburgh

Much of what you see today was the work of the 6th and 7th Baronets. 

When Sir Henry Bedingfeld, the 6th Baronet (1800-62), inherited in 1829 Oxburgh was in a state of disrepair. With his wife Margaret’s sizable dowry – to which were added the profits of the sale of her inherited estate – the couple employed the Catholic architect JC Buckler to ‘re-edify’ Oxburgh.

Buckler, had been second in the running to rebuild the Houses of Parliament. He transformed Oxburgh in the Gothic Revival style, the works continued by the 7th Baronet (1830-1902) and his wife Augusta using the interior designer John D Crace, whose work was inspired by the designs of Augustus Pugin

The National Trust is currently researching links between our places and slavery and colonialism. Initial research has shown that Felix Bedingfeld, brother of the 6th Baronet, was awarded £1,024 4s. 2d for a group of enslaved people on the island of Montserrat. Under the Abolition Act (1834), the equivalent of £17 billion was paid out to owners of ‘slave property’ as compensation for their ‘losses’. No such remuneration was awarded to enslaved people. 

Gothic Oxburgh restored

With the exception of the medieval Gatehouse, Oxburgh’s interiors do not retain any of the original 15th century fabric, but are instead Gothic-inspired. The rooms were decorated by Buckler and his successors in the antiquarian style, with joinery, plasterwork, wallpaper, tapestries and medieval artefacts (wood carvings and stained glass) evocative of the period. 

The 7th Baronet continued to collect medieval woodwork and period and revival furniture for the family home, including a magnificent 16th-century Antwerp altarpiece for the Chapel. His imports were so numerous that dock workers at King’s Lynn exclaimed ‘more relics for Sir Henry!’ upon receiving consignments. By his death, the family lived in a house more gothic than ever before; its medieval history emphatically reclaimed.