The Hall at Oxburgh

The Library at Oxburgh Hall.

Begin to peel back the layers of Oxburgh's rich and turbulent history. Discover the secrets of the Hall, such as the seven secret doors, the Priest's Hole and needlework by Mary, Queen of Scots.

The South Corridor

The single-storey South Corridor was built by the 7th Baronet in 1863, and is today the main entrance to Oxburgh Hall. The vaulted, covered passageway links the Bedingfelds’ private apartments to the east with the public rooms to the west. It fills the space left by the demolition of the Great Hall. The architect  J.C. Buckler had drawn up grand plans for a replacement Great Hall for the 6th Baronet in the 1830s, but it was never built. 

 

The Saloon

The Saloon is on the site of Oxburgh’s old kitchen, which was demolished at the same time as the Great Hall. It was built for the 4th Baronet in 1775 by the architect John Tasker as a picture gallery. Its Neo-classical appearance, particularly the ornamental frieze and chimneypiece, is a contrast to the rest of Oxburgh’s interiors. The chimneypiece was bought from the London stone carver William Tyler for £55 13s.

The Saloon
The Saloon at Oxburgh Hall

In the 1860s the room was altered and redecorated by the 7th Baronet in an attempt to ‘Gothicise’ and unify it with adjacent rooms. He removed the 4th Baronet’s sash-windows and fitted neo-Gothic windows. He also put up a deep red flock wallpaper designed by A.W.N. Pugin and made by the designer J.D. Crace (a replica is on the walls today), commissioned the silk curtains and neo-Gothic curtain boxes, and repainted all the joinery and decorative plasterwork. The Saloon’s primary function has been as a picture gallery and dining room, although for a short time it was a billiard room.

 

The West Drawing Room

The West Drawing Room is contemporary with the Saloon and formed a suite with it. It was created by sweeping away a housekeeper’s room, store room and servants’ hall. Clues to the room’s Neo-classical character survive, such as the doorcases, dado rail and fireplace. A more feminine room than the Saloon, the walls were originally decorated with floral chintz wallpaper. 

The West Drawing Room is contemporary with the Saloon and formed a suite with it. It was created by sweeping away a housekeeper’s room, store room and servants’ hall. Clues to the room’s Neo-classical character survive, such as the doorcases, dado rail and fireplace. A more feminine room than the Saloon, the walls were originally decorated with floral chintz wallpaper. 

 

The West Drawing Room
The West Drawing Room at Oxburgh Hall

The West Staircase

A staircase has existed in this location since at least the late 17th century, but the space was enlarged in the 1830s by J.C. Buckler. Much of the woodwork in this area is pine, stained to look like oak. Beneath the leather hangings is evidence that the whole wall surface was painted to imitate wood grain. The early 18th-century leather hangings were made in the Low Countries but were not installed until about 1840. The 6th Baronet’s daughter Matilda retouched the decoration with paint, which is still visible in places. 

 

The Library

The Library was created by J.C. Buckler for the 6th Baronet in 1831–2, but not before much deliberating by his clients about the layout of rooms in this area of the house. The space occupied by the Library was formerly a bedroom and breakfast room. The Bedingfelds discussed partitioning it into a dining room and library (the two different materials used for the pairs of windows may relate to this plan), then a large dining room, before settling finally on a library. 

Uncover the stories of the eclectic objects in the Library at Oxburgh
A carved wooden table in the Library at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk

The interior remains substantially unaltered, and its mixture of ancient woodcarvings and Gothic-style furniture is typical of a ‘romantic interior’. The joinery is heavily carved with crests and ornaments derived from medieval and Tudor art and architecture, the carpet features fleurs-de-lis from the Paston arms of the 6th Baronet’s wife, and the elaborate fireplace incorporates heraldic emblems. The wallpaper dates to 1832, and its embossed metallic ‘waffle’ background is suggestive of the hand of Thomas Willement, arguably the leading wallpaper designer of the period. The pair of library tables is thought to have been made for the 6th Baronet by the Belgian cabinetmaker Malfait. 

" They promise to finish all the carpenters work in the library in another fortnight."
- Margaret Paston-Bedingfeld, November 1832

The Dining Room

This room was Oxburgh’s library in the 18th century, but was altered by J.C. Buckler for the 6th Baronet. The Bedingfelds considered several different options for this room, including using it as a kitchen serving a new dining room they had proposed for the room next door. Construction of the kitchen was relatively far advanced when the plan was abandoned in favour of a dining room. This decision made the house rather impractical, as hot food from the Kitchen (now the National Trust tea-room) had to be carried outside or, later, negotiated along a corridor around three sides of the house.

The heavily carved panelling is part of the 1830s work, although it incorporates elements dated 1635 and 1731. The carved scenes are appropriate for a dining room, and include vines, fruits, hunting scenes and images of water nymphs, while the cornice includes the Yorkist falcon and fetterlock emblem. The sideboard is typical for Oxburgh, being made up of various pieces of different dates including part of a Tudor bed. 

" The present Kitchen will therefore become a Dining Room, the two adjoining at a Library, according to a former plan."
- Margaret Paston-Bedingfeld, August 1831

The North Bedroom

The bed, with a ‘flying tester’ (so called because of the lack of supporting posts at the foot end), was put together in the 19th century from much older carved woodwork. The Paston arms are displayed at the foot, below the Christian symbol of the pelican in her piety. The falcon and fetterlock badge is at the head.

The late 17th-century fireplace was probably repositioned within the room in the 1830s. The carved panel above the fireplace is a composite piece, part of which was formerly located in a room known as the Fetterlock Room (not open to the public). The falcon and fetterlock badge is again displayed.

Pink flock and gilt wallpaper by Townsend, Parker & Co. Red faded to pink.
Pink flock and gilt wallpaper

The Boudoir

This room belonged originally to an apartment located on the west side of the house. The 1830s remodelling gave the room a new ceiling, a doorway from the Lobby, and windows including an attractive stone oriel. The Boudoir was used as a small drawing room by the occupant of the North Bedroom. The Boudoir now contains Oxburgh's outstanding collection of historic wallpapers dating from between 1750 and 1950. The collection includes designs by Pugin, Crace and Willement, and papers which would have been used in the highest status rooms as well as servants’ bedrooms. 

Get a close up view of the needlework by Mary Queen of Scots and Bess of Hardwick
A close view of the Marian Hangings at Oxburgh Hall

The Marian Hangings Room

These remarkable embroideries were worked by Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury (‘Bess of Hardwick’) between 1569 and 1584. It is a common misconception that Mary, Queen of Scots was imprisoned at Oxburgh Hall, but this was never the case. In 1568 she fled Scotland and sought mercy from her cousin, Elizabeth I. Elizabeth considered Mary a threat to the throne and kept her captive, under the watchful eye of Bess of Hardwick’s fourth husband, George, Earl of Shrewsbury. 

The embroidered panels were made by stitching coloured silk onto linen canvas, using cross-stitch and tent-stitch. These techniques give the embroideries life and texture, and the colours are still vibrant after 450 years. The panels were mounted onto three green velvet hangings in the 17th century, perhaps by Bess of Hardwick’s granddaughter Alethea Talbot. Further pieces were stitched onto a valance.  

The hangings are said to have arrived at Oxburgh in 1761 on the marriage of Mary Browne, of Cowdray Park, to Sir Richard Bedingfeld. They were used as bed-hangings in the King’s Room and remained there until 1973.

Explore the King's Room
View of the King's Room at Oxburgh Hall

The King's Room

The atmospheric King’s Room is the place in which Oxburgh’s extraordinary past is perhaps most redolent. The themes that we associate with the house all come together here: Catholicism, royal connections, survival and continuity. Its name records the occasion in the late 15th century, when King Henry VII slept at Oxburgh Hall (although not in this room). 

Old photographs and a watercolour by Matilda Bedingfeld (c.1850) show how the Victorian Bedingfelds celebrated the history of the room by decorating it in the ‘romantic’style. A series of elaborate early 16th-century Flemish tapestries were hung above mock-Tudor panelling installed in 1863. Flags with heraldic emblems were hung at the windows and the Marian Hangings were used as bed curtains. Matilda’s watercolour may even record a series of wall-paintings on the east and north walls. These tapestries are now being digitally recreated on linen, to restore the Kin's Room to its former 'romantic' appearance. 

" A fustian [wool or cotton fabric] covering or red and green sarsnet [silk] unicorns and scallop shells."
- Description of the bed in the King's Room in the will of Edmund Bedingfeld, 1533

Priest hole

During the late 16th century the Bedingfelds’ fortunes declined. Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1558, a Protestant determined to further her father’s reformation of the Church in England. The Bedingfelds, in upholding their Catholic faith, suffered sanctions and were increasingly ostracised. At about this time, the family may have constructed the unlit, cramped priest hole concealed beneath a brick-topped trap door in the garderobe. This tiny space would be a place of refuge for a Catholic priest in the event of Oxburgh being searched for evidence of the household’s continued practice of Catholic rites. 

" I apprehend this hiding place to have been formed during the persecution of Catholic priests, as many such places of concealment are to be found in old Catholic mansions."
- Lady Bedingfeld, quoted in John Britton's Architectural Antiquities, 1809

The Queen’s Room

The name of this room commemorates Henry VII’s Queen, Elizabeth of York. Photographs in Country Life from 1929 show that it had been decorated in the 19th century with an elaborate painted scheme imitating brickwork. There are still traces of Tudor imitation brickwork at Oxburgh, the best example being on the ceiling of the staircase leading to this room. The ceiling timbers are a c.1830 copy of an earlier arrangement.  

The adjacent unheated octagonal chamber, with a decorative vaulted ceiling, was possibly the house’s muniment room (where important documents were kept). Inside is displayed a portion of a 17th-century altarpiece which was removed from the Chapel in about 1860. One of Matilda Bedingfeld’s watercolours shows it when it was still in the Chapel. It was sold at auction in 1951 and bought back by the National Trust in 2004. 

 

Take in the detail of the replica Tudor costumes in the Queen's Room
The Queen's Room at Oxburgh Hall

The Roof

The roof gives excellent views of Oxburgh Hall and its surroundings; years ago you could see as far as Ely Cathedral, but mature trees make this impossible now. The roof was a place of recreation and a useful look-out. On the north side is series of slots – ‘machicolations’ – down which missiles could be thrown if the house was attacked. The east turret was once a dovecote, although the nesting boxes were blocked up in the 19th century. The south-west turret once contained a bell which was rung from the courtyard below. The modern weathervanes feature the Bedingfeld and Paston heraldic symbols and a National Trust oak leaf. 

 

Take in the stunning view of the gardens from the Gatehouse roof
The view from the Gatehouse roof

The Chapel of the  Immaculate Conception and St Margaret

The building of Catholic chapels was forbidden until the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1791, athough there is good evidence that the Bedingfelds had a chapel in the house prior to this. After 1891 they made the attics to the east of the gatehouse into a chapel. Later, Catholics in the village congregated in a makeshift chapel attached to a cottage. The death of Sir Richard Bedingfeld, 5th Baronet, in 1829 occurred in the same year as the Catholic Emancipation Act, and he made provision in his will for the chapel buildings to be placed in trust and left funds to engage a new chaplain.  

The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception and St Margaret
The Chapel of the  Immaculate Conception and St Margaret at Oxburgh Hall

The 6th Baronet improved upon his father’s wishes by building a new chapel in the grounds at Oxburgh. It has long been thought that the architect was A.W.N. Pugin, but the recent discovery of drawings by J.C. Buckler for a chapel with striking similarities suggests that he was its creator. Construction began in August 1835, and the chapel was opened in July 1836. It is still owned by the Bedingfeld family and is used regularly for Mass.