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Collection highlights at Oxburgh Estate

View up the stairs in the West Staircase at Oxburgh Hall, with portrait paintings hanging on the walls. The stairs were installed in the 17th century but the rail and newels were altered after 1830 and an embossed background put in
View up the stairs in the West Staircase at Oxburgh Hall. The stairs were installed in the 17th century but the rail and newels were altered after 1830 and an embossed background put in | © National Trust Images/Bill Batten

Oxburgh's contents reveal the collecting habits of the Bedingfeld family, from the medieval period to the 20th century. Explore some of the most significant items within the collection, from early Tudor portraits and rare manuscripts to colourful and lively 19th-century wallpapers.


Oxburgh has a rich collection of portraits. The earliest depicts the powerful Tudor bishop and politician Stephen Gardiner who would have known Sir Edmund Bedingfeld and his son Henry. Sir Henry – who Mary I appointed as gaoler to Princess Elizabeth between 1554 and 1555 – is shown in a portrait dated 1573. There are two portraits by Jacob Huysmans, a Catholic painter favoured by the court of Charles II, and a likeness by Angelica Kauffman, one of two female founding members of the Royal Academy (1768).

Jacob Christoff Le Blon Mezzotint

Following analysis by National Trust experts, a work of art seen by thousands of people every year here at Oxburgh has recently been identified as an exceptionally rare survival of a work by the 18th Century inventor of colour printing, Jacob Christoff Le Blon.

The portrait of the Three Eldest Children of King Charles I at Oxburgh is a copy of a well-known work by Sir Anthony van Dyck in the Royal Collection (1635-6). It had always been assumed to be oil on paper until removed and sent to the Trust’s Royal Oak Conservation Studio at Knole in Kent for analysis and assessment for conservation treatment.

It is not known for certain how and when the print came to Oxburgh Hall, the home of the Bedingfeld family. Royalists and devout Catholics, it is possible that the print arrived at Oxburgh soon after it was created in 1721/22, in the time of the 3rd Baronet, Sir Henry Arundell-Bedingfeld (1689-1760).

The print will be on show at Oxburgh alongside some astonishing 16th century textile fragments, preserved beneath the floorboards of the Hall and conserved after being found during the recent building works to restore the roof.

The conservation of the Le Blon mezzotint and the textiles will both feature in the new series of Hidden Treasures of the National Trust which will be broadcast on Friday 10 May on BBC Two at 9pm. Oxburgh Hall features in the sixth episode, which will be available on iPlayer from 10 May.

A show of faith

The family’s Catholicism is expressed strongly in the collection. The family’s faith in divine protection is represented in a 17th-century votive picture of the Madonna della Misericordia protecting Sir Henry Bedingfeld, 1st Bt, and his family, following his safe escape from the Battle of Marston Moor. There are portraits of Bedingfeld daughters who became nuns in Lierre, Belgium in the 17th-century, and a 16th-century Antwerp altarpiece purchased by the family in the 1860s for their new chapel, built in 1835 after the relaxation of laws against Catholicism.

Oxburgh's historic wallpaper

Oxburgh’s wallpapers reveal the family’s decorative tastes and the functions and hierarchies of spaces. Many rooms retain vibrant 19th-century wallpapers inspired by patterns from the medieval past by leading designers Cowtan, Crace and Willement. In places 18th-century papers survive beneath these, and there are important remnants of less flamboyant papers in the attics. A significant archive of samples includes designs from the 18th to 20th centuries. The walls of the north and west staircases and the north corridor are hung with striking embossed hand-painted leather made in the Low Countries c.1710-30 in the Spanish style.

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Oxburgh's historic wallpaper inspires new collection

Head behind the scenes in this short film and discover more about the historic wallpaper collection at Oxburgh that inspired a new contemporary collection by Little Greene, that you can enjoy in your own home.

Oxburgh's furniture collection

In the 19th century Oxburgh was remodelled in a revival style evoking its medieval origins. Much of the dark oak furniture came from Belgium, such as the richly carved pieces supplied by cabinetmaker Jean Francois Malfait. Many items are composed from original medieval or Renaissance elements, including the extraordinary composite Dining Room sideboard and the flying tester bed in the North Bedroom. Few other furniture collections of this style and quality survive. Several items sold from Oxburgh in 1951 have been repatriated, including a 17th-century Breton oak and chestnut armoire (acquired in August 2020).

Medieval and Tudor manuscripts

Rare and important manuscripts can be seen at Oxburgh, most of which are on loan from the Bedingfeld family. They include: a 1482 licence to crenellate, giving permission for the building of Oxburgh; a letter from Mary I to Sir Henry Bedingfeld concerning his forthcoming appointment to the Lieutenantship 'of our Tower of London'; a letter from Elizabeth I dated 1559; correspondence between Sir Henry and the Privy Council concerning matters of religion; and an inventory of Oxburgh’s contents dated 1585.

Close view of part of the Marian hangings at Oxburgh Estate, Norfolk
Close view of part of the Marian hangings at Oxburgh Estate, Norfolk | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

The Oxburgh Hangings

Mary, Queen of Scots was considered a threat to the Tudor throne and on the orders of Elizabeth I was kept captive, under the watchful eye of Bess of Hardwick’s husband, Sir George Talbot. Mary and Bess worked on a series of embroideries – many of them highly symbolic – which are now at Oxburgh (on loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum).

Although the Marian Hangings were not created at Oxburgh, they were worked on by Mary at the same point in history as Sir Henry Bedingfeld was himself subject to considerable penalties and placed in jeopardy by Elizabeth I. Instead, their arrival came in 1761, after they had been mounted onto three green velvet hangings to make two bed curtains and a valance.

Passed down through descendants, it was the marriage of Mary Browne, of Cowdray Park, to Sir Richard Bedingfeld that would result in these historical treasures making their way to Norfolk. This probably saved the hangings, as shortly after Cowdray Park was largely destroyed by fire.

The Antwerp cabinet

An Antwerp cabinet was the ultimate luxury item in the 17th century and was used to display curiosities and to impress guests. Sir Henry Paston-Bedingfeld, the 6th Baronet, may have acquired this on one of many shopping expeditions to the Continent, but it is equally possible that it has been at Oxburgh since its creation as new furniture was purchased after part of the house was burnt down in the Civil War.

Attic archaeology

During the project to repair the roof at Oxburgh which began in 2020, numerous historic artefacts were retrieved from beneath the attic floors. These included a book of psalms dated 1569, a page from a 15th-century illuminated manuscript, and hundreds of fragments of late 16th- and early 17th-century textiles.

Medieval Christmas token

A medieval Christmas token was found at Oxburgh during an archaeological survey of the West Park area.

In the medieval and early Tudor eras, on the Feast Day of St Nicholas (6th December), a choirboy in cathedrals and churches across the country was chosen to act as ‘Boy Bishop’, a parody of the Bishop over the Christmas period. It was a tradition that was also practiced in other countries including Germany, Spain and France. They would lead certain religious services, as well as processions, and would collect money for the church and their local parish. 

Boy Bishops, mostly in Suffolk, also doled out tokens to the poor typically during a procession through the town, which could be spent at the Abbey in Bury St Edmunds or in the locality on food during the period of 6 December (St Nicholas Day) to 28 December (Holy Innocents Day).

Most likely from Bury St Edmunds Abbey nearly 30 miles away in Suffolk, the token found at Oxburgh dates from between c 1470-1560 and gives us an indication of the distance people may have travelled for these festive celebrations.

The token is on display in the South Corridor inside the hall.

A member of the National Trust conservation team is holding up a medieval Boy Bishop token. Its the size of a 2 pence piece and has indentations on the surface.
Boy Bishop token found on the Oxburgh Estate | © James Dobson
View up the stairs in the West Staircase at Oxburgh Hall, with portrait paintings hanging on the walls. The stairs were installed in the 17th century but the rail and newels were altered after 1830 and an embossed background put in

Oxburgh Estate's collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Oxburgh Estate on the National Trust Collections website.

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