How many of Norfolk's lost historic houses do you know?
- Credit: Archant
Some are in ruins, some are lost to time, others are guarded by ghosts: Norfolk once boasted dozens of county houses and halls, many of which fell to the wrecking ball.
Weird Norfolk has chosen 10 favourites that remain only as ruins, photographs or distant memories, including former sanitoriums and asylums, scenes of dreadful murders and homes of ghosts destined to walk the invisible corridors eternally.
There are believed to be around 200 lost villages in Norfolk and Boyland – close to Morningthorpe – is one of their number. Lost to time, only echoes of its past remain. Boyland Hall was a large Elizabethan house to the north of the village which was rebuilt in the 19th century in the Gothic Revival style but fell into disrepair after the death of its owner in 1930 and was demolished in 1947. Once a small medieval village, Boyland has been swallowed by the parishes which were once on its border, but there have been settlements here for many centuries. Secret tunnels are said to snake under Boyland Hall towards the Norman castle at New Buckenham, Kenninghall Palace in Breckland and the priory of Old Buckenham Castle. This corner of the world hides its secrets well. The ghost of Oliver Cromwell was said to haunt the stairs of the Hall.
Costessey Hall is one of Norfolk’s great Gothic losses. With a silhouette like a fairytale castle, filled with turrets crying out for Rapunzel, towering chimneys and crinkly crenellations, the Hall was a victim of war: destroyed not by bombs, but by the British, whose use of it for training during World War One left it uninhabitable and too expensive to repair.
Today just one ivy-clad ruin remains, watching balefully over the 18th fairway on Costessey Park Golf Course, inhabited, legend has it, by the ghost of The Green Lady. William the Conqueror awarded land in Costessey to French nobleman Alan Rufus, the Earl of Richmond, after the Battle of Hastings in 1066. By 1555, Queen Mary Tudor had gifted the manor to Sir Henry Jerningham for his support in helping her to the throne two years previously. Despite removing Sir Henry from his executor duties after Mary’s death in 1558 on grounds of his Catholicism, successor Queen Elizabeth remained on good terms with the Jerningham family, calling in at the Tudor mansion when she visited Norwich in 1578: on August 20 of that year, she spent the night in Old Costessey. Little did Queen Elizabeth know that above the bed where she slept there was a secret: a hidden chapel where Catholics could worship away from prying eyes. Sir Henry’s Tudor palace remained largely unchanged until the 1830s when it was rebuilt. But despite its new fairytale cloak, the hall was rarely a happy place after its transformation. By 1913 the family had auctioned of the contents of the Hall and it was taken over by the War Office, who commandeered the building for the training of infantry, cavalry and artillery troops to serve in World War One. Trashed during training, by the time the war ended, Costessey Hall was in a perilous state and much of it was demolished by 1922. By the 1950s, the largest tower had fallen, by the 1960s, precious little of the building remained.
The hall where Egyptologist Howard Carter is said to have worked as a boy and developed the fascination that would lead him to Tutankhamun’s tomb was demolished in 1950. Didlington is widely regarded as one of the most serious losses in Norfolk: the lostheritage.org.uk site notes: “If house and collection had remained intact it would today be probably regarded as one of the treasure houses of England.” Originally owned by the Wilson family from the mid-1600s, the estate was sold to Lord William Powlett in 1846 and then William George Tyssen Amherst in the early 1850s. His son, also William, inherited the hall and became a noted collector of rare books, tapestries, antiques, art and Egyptian artefacts. He became Carter’s patron and provided him with the contacts that led him to Egypt. The grounds of the 80-bedroom hall in Breckland were vast and contained a vinery, peach and pineapple houses, boathouses, lakes, a racecourse, a dairy farm, walled gardens, a deer park, a swimming pool and two museums.
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The estate was 7,000 acres, had 160 cottages, supported four local schools, restored four local churches and employed 300 workers. Visited by Royalty, the hall was a gem. Sadly, William left his family’s wealth in the hands of an unscrupulous land agent who embezzled to feed his ambling habit and then committed suicide. The estate was sold in 1909 but was requisitioned by the army during World War One and damaged beyond repair. The Amherst Egyptian collection, catalogued by Howard Carter, was sold at auction at Sothebys in 1921, the third largest private collection in England.
Godwick Old Hall
A lost hall in a lost village, Godwick Old Hall once stood three-storeys tall and was built in 1586 by the Drury family. Bought by Sir Edward Coke in 1590, it was once the Coke’s main Norfolk home before the family moved to Holkham. In its heyday, Godwick was a busy community with a pretty church, reliance on farming and a fine Elizabethan manor house. Fast forward to today and the lost village of Godwick - south of Fakenham between Tittleshall and Whissonsett – lies completely deserted. Low walls mark the outline of the old hall and its walled gardens and earthworks, the Great Barn and the ruins of the hall and All Saints Church are all that remain. Godwick - an Historic England scheduled monument - was populated until the 1600s, but poor harvests and wet weather in previous centuries had triggered a gradual demise. Many villagers stayed put for as long as was feasible, but the last finally moved on when working the heavy soils finally proved too much for them. However, unlike a great many of the county's forgotten settlements, the landscape was not extensively ploughed for cultivation. Intrigued visitors and fascinated historians can, as a result, walk comfortably along the meandering streets where villagers once trod.
It’s a stately home lost to time, a curly-gabled mansion with Tudor chimney stacks in Spixworth where the ghosts visited in strict order, as if in a Dickens novel. In the Eastern Daily Press of February 5, 1964, in the popular Jonathan Mardle column (written by Eric Fowler) is told the curious case of the spectres of Spixworth. Mardle wrote: “Spixworth Hall, which was Elizabethan, had all the properties a ghost could desire – panelled rooms, a long gallery, family portraits, and a park where owls might hunt and screech at night.” Drawing from a booklet written by Arthur Longe, whose family had lived at the hall for generations since 1693, the story was recounted of a visit Arthur had made to the house as a child. He was woken several times by shrieking in his room but no one was there to account for the noise. On recounting his tale, he discovered others had seen the ghosts and, indeed, a further phantom – a hearse which used to drive up to the hall’s door at midnight. There were also stories of pianos played in the night by ghostly fingers. Other strange tales are linked to Spixworth Hall, which was demolished in 1952. The Longe family, who bought the estate in 1685, kept a large monkey in the stable block and a bear who split his time between the butler’s cottage and the wine cellar. Original owner Sir William Peck had his “soul” bricked up in an alcove above the gallery “to save his soul from adversaries”.
Two ghosts are said to have haunted the since-demolished Rollesby Hall, a building which dated back to the mid 16th century and which finally fell to the wrecking ball in the 1950s, leaving only a garden wall and some outbuildings. 'Old Red Face' and his wife are – or were – seen, it was said, on the second Monday of each month at midnight, a day believed to have been linked with a tragedy at the hall. Walter Rye wrote about Old Red Face of Rollesby in The Recreations of a Norfolk Antiquary, 1843 to 1929. His story was in turn taken from fellow antiquary Antony Norris (1711 – 1786), who lived in Barton Turf in Norfolk. Rye wrote that the ghosts “…are variously said to be those of one of the Danish invaders, usually called Red Danes, who slew the Saxon lord of the manor in one of numerous descents on our Norfolk coast, and of the victim’s wife, who is said to follow him about, wringing her hands…By others, they are said to be of a Cavalier who – being justifiably irritated by his wife having habitually exceeded the allowance he had made her with which to buy clothing and gewgaws, killed her by cutting off her head with a handsaw, her blood so spurting as to redden his face and so give him the title of Old Red Faced.” As an aside, the late Bernard Davies, of The Sherlock Holmes Society of London, suggested in the 1980s that Rollesby Hall had inspired Arthur Conan Doyle when he wrote about Donnithorpe Hall in The Gloria Scott. Davies worked out the location by examining the Victorian Norfolk railway network and ‘clues’ left in the book, such as the alignment of the sunset and the speed of a horse and trap.
Heigham Hall once stood on the corner of Heigham Street and Old Palace Road, the latter named for Bishop Holl, who moved there after the Puritans had ransacked the Cathedral and turned him out of the Bishop’s Palace. Heigham Hall was owned by farmers who also owned the land around it. In the early 19th century it was bought by Norwich butcher John Lowden, who rebuilt it – locally it was known as ‘Marrowbone House’. It was a private residence for a short time and, after Lowden’s death, it was sold and reopened as a “Private Lunatic Asylum” for the treatment of patients with mental health issues. In 1854, there was a great scandal as to its supposed mismanagement when it was mentioned at the Norwich Quarter Sessions that a Dr Hull had alleged that a clergyman acting as a chaplain had been admitted as a patient to save him from prosecution for rape. The Asylum was owned by a succession of individuals before it was sold and demolished to be replaced by the Dolphin Grove housing estate built by the Corporation of Norwich. Interestingly, the crossroads which is now at the junction of Heigham Road, Dereham Road and Old Palace Road was where those who took their own lives were once buried: Heigham Road itself was once called Hangman’s Lane.
Beaupré Hall Manor in Outwell took its name from the fine meadows that surrounded it and had been established as far back as 1066. The Hall was once an imposing 16th century house built by the Beauprés and enlarged by their successors the Bells. It survived for centuries until trouble began to befall the building in the 20th century: a gale in 1915 severely damaged the hall and a chapel had its roof torn off. By 1923, architectural writer Christopher Hussey had grave concerns for the hall and its requisition by the RAF in the Second World War was the final straw. Despite being listed in 1947, it was too late to save the hall and following a fire in 1953, a last ditch attempt was made to save Beaupré by offering it to the National Trust…the attempt failed and the hall became a ruin. In the History of Wisbech and Neighborhood, During the Last Fifty Years - 1848-1898 by Frederic John Gardiner, there is a vivid description of an unusual guest at Beaupré Hall. One “… of these panelled rooms has the reputation of being haunted, and tradition says that the bed in this room for many years was made every day, but although the room was supposed to be unoccupied, every morning the bed was found to have been slept in by someone... It was also a superstition that any one passing the gates after midnight would see a row of carriages drawn up, with headless coachmen!” Other tales claimed that stone eagles from the hall would bathe in the river on New Year’s Eve if there was a full moon and that ‘blood stains’ on the paving stones of the house could never be washed away. A white lady ghost was also seen on the battlements. By 1963, a new housing estate was built in the grounds of the house.
Horstead boasts Horstead House and Heggatt Hall but no longer Horstead Hall, which was built in the 17th century and stood until 1835 when it was rebuilt by Edward Harbord, the Third Baron Suffield for his eldest son Edward Vernon Harbord. Father and son had shared a difficult relationship: Norfolk Record Office has a letter written from the Baron to 16-year-old Edward about his “scandalous and dishonourable behaviour” in regard to an “artful” girl. The Baron concludes that if Edward did not stop courting the girl, it would not leave him with many choices but to deprive him of inheriting Horstead Hall and Gunton Park. “It is in my power to undo the entailed property a source of little or no profit and certainly prevent you from living at this place,” he wrote. Later, he added: “you have abused my confidence, you have forfeited your claim to it.” It appears that young Edward paid heed, but it made no difference: Baron Suffield died on Edward’s wedding day and the Hall went to his widow. During World War II the building was requisitioned by the War Office and used by a cipher unit. The estate was sold in 1947 and most of the house came down soon after. Today part of the estate is used for quarrying.
Built in 1607 by Thomas Richardson, the Lord Chief Justice, Honingham Hall had a colourful history and was owned by a succession of Norfolk names, from President of St John’s College in Oxford Richard Baylie to William Townsend, MP for Great Yarmouth, to Ailwyn Fellowes the First Baron Ailwyn to Sir Eric Teichman, a well-known diplomat who retired there in 1935. The hall would, quite literally, prove to be the death of him. During World War II, Teichman turned part of the hall into a Barnardo’s Home to care for evacuated boys. In December 1944, Sir Eric was killed when he was shot in the head by Private George E Smith, an American soldier stationed at a nearby airbase who had been poaching on the estate with a fellow soldier, Private Leonard S Wijpacha. Smith had been court-martialled eight times before the incident and was found to have “a constitutional psychopathic condition, emotional instability and an explosive, primitive, sadistic aggressiveness.” Private George was hanged at Shepton Mallet Prison on May 8 1945, VE Day, despite requests for clemency, including one from Lady Teichman. In 1964, Honingham Hall was sold and in 1967, the hall was demolished.