Saturday 20 August 2016

Felbrigg Hall

I've been desperate to visit Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk ever since I read the book Dry Rot & Daffodils by Mary Mackie. She actually lived in Felbrigg Hall while her husband was the administrator there (ie the National Trust employee that lives in a property and stops it from falling down or being ransacked). 

Felbrigg Hall

I am the sort of person that hears noises and sees shadows at 10 o'clock in the morning, so living in a stately home would not suit me at all. (The other night I woke up and was completely convinced for half an hour that there was an actual mallard sitting on my bed. This is 100% true.)

But it wasn't the scary noises that put me off in Mary's book. It was the general public:
  • Men wandering into the estate late at night to shoot rabbits
  • People letting their kids kick the antique furniture
  • Families helping themselves to armfuls of flowers from the gardens
  • People banging on the windows in February shouting "WHY AREN'T YOU OPEN? YOU SHOULD BE OPEN." etc. etc. etc.
I wouldn't last five minutes in charge of a National Trust property, not without landing myself a stretch in Holloway Prison anyway. 

BUT! I was in for a big surprise today. Mary's book didn't prepare me AT ALL for what I found at Felbrigg Hall. Several times in the book she mentions how nearby Blicking Hall gets all the attention in the Cromer area, what with its celebrity connections to Anne Boleyn and King Harold of Hastings battle fame. 

But I am going to stick my neck out and say that Felbrigg is one of the best National Trust properties I have ever been to.

Before I tell you why, however, here's some history of Felbrigg:
  • There were originally some actual Felbriggs at Felbrigg, but they sold the estate to John Wymondham (later Wyndham) in 1450
  • Thomas Wyndham may have built some of the bits of Felbrigg Hall that are still extant today before he died in 1522
  • In 1620, another Thomas Windham, began to rebuild Felbrigg - at the same time, Blickling was being built about 8 miles away and so the same workmen and architect were probably used
  • William Windham II spent four years on the Grand Tour, returning in 1742 - he extended Felbrigg to make room for his souvenir paintings and books
  • William Windham III left the estate to his half-nephew, William Lukin, in 1810 but he changed his name to Windham to keep things simple for us
  • His grandson was named 'Mad Windham' by his contemporaries at Eton - he was certainly very eccentric
  • He loved uniforms - as a child he had a servant's uniform and would wait at table; later he had a train guard's uniform and would cause chaos on the platforms of local stations by blowing his whistle at inopportune moments
  • He 'fell into the clutches' of a woman called Agnes Willoughby whom he met at Ascot - his uncle tried to petition that Mad Windham was too mad to enter into a marriage settlement but the court disagreed
  • Agnes and Mad were married but she soon ran off
  • Thanks to Mad's enormous debts, the Felbrigg estate became the property of his bank and was sold to a John Ketton in 1863
  • Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer was the final owner of Felbrigg before he passed it to the National Trust when he died in 1969
The property is presented as Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer had it, so it's a very comfortable stately home. This is the Great Hall;

The Great Hall Felbrigg

So why have I decided that Felbrigg is one of the very best NT properties in Britain? Here are some of the reasons.

1. A Fantastic House with Great History
Felbrigg was way better than I expected. I've had to borrow this picture as I failed to see it for myself while I was there, but below is the South Front (on the right), which was begun in 1620, and the East Front (on the left), which was completed in 1675. Amazingly different.

2. A Free Mini Guidebook
My second mission for this blog was to Ham House. I was given a free mini guide book, with a few highlights of history in it. I thought it was brilliant, although I didn't realise at the time that very few other properties offer them.

Felbrigg had one too and it was great - really well written, with interesting factoids and pictures to help find the items of greatest interest. I wish all NT properties did them:  

Mini Guidebook Felbrigg

3.An Accomplished Pianist
I was admiring the portrait of William Frederick 'Mad' Windham (as they call him in the guidebook) when a room steward opened the piano in the Morning Room for a visitor. I think we've all walked round properties to the sound of somebody forgetting that they can't actually play the piano, silently wishing that the NT had kept its 'DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING AT ALL' policy. But this visitor really could play and shared the most moving music - it was just perfect.

4. A Book about Scandal
I absolutely love it when you find a fantastic book about an NT property - see also the peerless Wedlock from Gibside, Circle of Sisters from Batemans, Mistress of Charlecote from Charlecote, A Kingston Lacy Childhood from Kingston Lacy, and A Lady of Cotton from Quarry Bank Mill

I thought I'd already covered Felbrigg with Mary Mackie's books BUT NO! There was another treat waiting for me in the shop. And with a title like A Scandal at Felbrigg, it's like they knew I was coming. It's about Mad Windham and his marriage to Agnes Willoughby. I've only read 20 pages but I'm loving it - I'll report back when I'm finished.

Scandal at Felbrigg

5. The Felbrigg Scone
I normally snaffle up my scones before I look round an NT house, otherwise I walk around going "what an amazing room...will there definitely be scones left?" 

At Felbrigg, I left the scone til last. Everything else had been pretty much perfect and I was almost dreading the scone letting the side down.

But it didn't let the side down. It was absolutely spectacular - one of the best scones I've ever had on the National Trust Scone Odyssey. Light, fluffy, fresh as anything, but really, really tasty. Fantastic.

Felbrigg scone

The Only Not-Brilliant Thing - The Scone Queue
I'm going to mention this mainly so you don't think I got brainwashed by Felbrigg. The ONLY thing that wasn't brilliant today was the queue for the tea room. And I KNOW - I was there at 2.30pm on an August Saturday - I probably picked the busiest hour of the entire year. But I've known glaciers move faster - it was the slowest I've ever come across.

In mitigation, when I got to the front of the queue there was a man whose bank card kept being declined by the machine. I don't know about you, but my reaction in that situation would be to apologise profusely and use another card or pay cash or offer to wash up. He was blaming the machine. It was unbelievable and yet another reason why me ever working at the NT would result in a prison sentence. I'll stick to visiting.

Felbrigg Hall: 5 out of 5
Scones: 5 out of 5
Volunteer pianist: 5 out of 5


  1. queues are much slower since they introducted 50 types of coffee... tea is much quicker!

  2. It's true but people do love their lattes these days, Pete!

  3. Love your account of your visit... and please stay out of prison.. I'm sure you loved your Mallard visitor ;) ..