The estate at Oxburgh Hall
Oxburgh Hall is nestled on the edge of the Norfolk Brecks, where the land meets the wide open Fenlands. As you wander beyond the garden, you’ll soon be out into the wider parkland and woods, where you can enjoy views back towards the hall.
There was never a grand entrance to Oxburgh Hall or an elaborate design for the landscape; instead what you see today is the work of informed amateurs, the Bedingfelds’ and their advisors. The relative scarcity of family funds may also have influenced the simple design of the park, as funds were diverted to the Hall and pleasure grounds in the 19th century.
When the Bedingfeld family were forced to put Oxburgh Hall up for sale in 1951, due to overdue rents and mounting taxes, it was a substantial estate. According to the sale catalogue, there were eight farms, 26 cottages, a former school house, a free house, shop, presbytery, estate and timber yards, gamekeepers’ cottages, allotments and large areas of woodland used for game shooting.
Although, the house was saved at the final hour, most of the park was lost and converted to arable farmland. Today, the National Trust cares for 215 of the original 2,500 acre estate, which is still a substantial amount for those looking to explore.
The Oak Yard
One of the areas that the family did manage to save was the Oak Yard, close to the Chapel. There are some mighty veteran trees standing tall here, including oak, lime and sweet chestnut. As well as providing ideal bird nesting sites and bat roosts, the importance of these old trees is reflected in the discovery of a number of rare and scarce beetles in recent years. The grassland also makes it the perfect hunting ground for barn owls.
Another area to explore is the Washpit, a meadow which is opened in the summer months when the marshy grassland (a remnant of historic fen), has dried out. This is an ideal time to see wildflowers, such as marsh orchids, meadow rue, meadow sweet and water avens, as well as the butterflies that they attract. Look out for the three species of wildflower local to Norfolk, the Blunt-flowered Rush, Sharp-flowered Rush and Spiked Sedge.
One of the key views from the Hall looks out over South Park and although the land was sold in 1951, it’s thanks to the support of our neighbour and current landowner that there’s now a circular walk that takes you through the landscape here. It’s a great walk for those wanting to enjoy glimpses of the Hall in the landscape.
The River Gadder is one of England’s rare chalk rivers, which gets its crystal-clear water from underground chalk springs, making it an ideal habitat in which wildlife can thrive. The river supports brown trout and bullhead, and there have been sightings of water vole, otter and water shrew along the river bank. The national scarce gigantic grass-veneer moth, which has a stronghold in East Anglia, has also been recorded here.
Just beyond the Wilderness Garden is Home Covert. Originally used by the Bedingfeld family for raising and shooting game, today you can enjoy wandering around this area of woodland, which is still dotted with old oak trees - evidence of an earlier ancient woodland.
We managed to acquire this part of the estate back in 1989, and since then we’ve planted a further 3,500 trees here, as we plant the veteran trees of the future. Did you know it takes 300 years for an oak tree to grow, 300 years to stand still and 300 years to die back? All of which are vital stages to support the wildlife that call a woodland like this home.
As you go further into Home Covert, you’ll find the site of old brickworks that includes the remains of brick kilns. Initial excavations have revealed that the kilns are extremely well preserved and of an unusual design, with turret like reinforcements in each corner. They don’t date back early enough to have been used in the construction of the hall, but the colour and fabric of the bricks does match those in the garden walls and cottages around the estate.
Our newly acquired historic parkland
Thanks to your support, we have been able to make another exciting development in our plans to restore this historic parkland. In 2017, we acquired a further 126 acres of land, which once formed part of the original estate. Historical research, old maps and aerial photographs clearly show that several of these now arable fields, contained numerous trees before the sale in 1951.
Our plan is to restore this arable land back to parkland, by planting trees and re-introducing areas of scrub, lowland meadow and ponds. This will not only bring back the feel of what it would have looked like in the 18th century, but it will help create new habitats for wildlife. We’ve got a long way to go and it will take time, but in the coming years we hope to be able to open this area of historic parkland, with a new walk for you to enjoy.