Saturday 16 February 2019

Oxburgh Hall

My friend's little boy has come up with a completely ingenious way of telling you when he doesn't like a birthday or Christmas present. He just says, very earnestly, "IT'S NOT MY FAVOURITE". He isn't being rude; you know where you stand...everyone's a winner, if you ask me.

And so I have decided to adopt his phrase to describe how I feel about National Trust properties that are inhabited by tenant families. They are not my favourite. Oxburgh Hall in Norfolk today reminded me why.

BUT! There are LOADS of reasons why you should LOVE Oxburgh and I am going to focus on those first. 

Oxburgh Hall

1. It has a moat!
Who doesn't love a moat? Certainly not my long-suffering sister - when I asked her if she would mind driving me around East Anglia for four hours on a Saturday she thought for a moment and said "I do like a moat," and off we went. 

2. It has a gatehouse!
The gatehouse is a 'tour de force of late medieval brickwork' according to the guidebook. It was first part of the house that was built by Sir Edmund Bedingfeld in 1482.

Oxburgh gatehouse

3. It has a family that have been there forever!
The Bedingfeld clan have lived at Oxburgh for over 500 years and are still there today. I am not sure if they are related to Daniel Bedingfield of 'Gotta Get Thru This' dance tune fame but it played in my head for several hours today anyway.

4. It has a priest hole!
The Bedingfelds were (and are) Catholic. This meant that their fortunes declined very rapidly in the late 16th century - anyone continuing the Catholic faith in Elizabethan times was sanctioned, but Sir Henry Bedingfeld was in a worse position than most; he had been a strong supporter of Queen Mary and had kept the young Elizabeth I under house arrest for a time, so he probably wasn't her favourite person. The priest hole at Oxburgh is still visible in the impressive King's Room, where visiting members of the clergy could be bundled out of sight should the place get raided. Some say it was built by our friend Nicholas Owen of Baddesley Clinton fame. 

5. It has The Marian Hanging!
The managers of National Trust properties must dream of pulling up a floorboard one day and finding a lost work by Michaelangelo. Oxburgh has The Marian Hanging. It's a series of embroideries made between 1569 and 1585 by Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth Talbot of Hardwick Hall (wife of the man who was keeping Mary prisoner for Elizabeth I). It's an amazing artefact as it is believed to contain messages and thoughts that Mary was not able to otherwise articulate during her captivity.

It wasn't found under a floorboard but it did end up at Oxburgh purely by fortunate circumstance; it was given to Ann Dacre, Countess of Arundel, before being passed down through her Arundel descendants at Cowdray Park before one of them married into the Bedingfeld clan and brought the hanging to Oxburgh Hall in 1761 (and lucky they did too, as Cowdray Park suffered a terrible fire in 1767). The hanging is amazing and very well displayed. 

Marian Hanging Oxburgh

Marian Hanging Dolphin

6. It has a roof!
You can venture out onto the roof from the Queen's Room and admire the gatehouse towers up close.
Oxburgh roof view
Up on the rooooof
7. It has Oxburgh scones!
And not only does it have scones, it has table service in the tearoom! You don't get that in many properties, more's the pity. Table service has one giant downside though; you can't pick your scone. When the waitress put the plate in front of me today, I was very, very disappointed because the scone looked very, very small while the receipt was clearly showing me that it wasn't very, very cheap (£5.50 in fact). 

However. It turned out to be one of those Tardis scones and was a lot bigger than it looked - in fact, it was probably the perfect size. It was also very fresh and very tasty. I won't lie though - that first impression of a weeny scone after a two hour drive rankled and I had to really persuade myself to give it a deserved 5 out of 5.

Oxburgh scone

But, lovely as Oxburgh is, the fact remains that tenant-inhabited properties are just not my thing. A sign from the NT saying "please avoid wearing high heels in the house to protect the floors" is fine by me; a note from the 10th baronet with his rules and requests reminding me it's his family home is a bit irritating if I'm honest. If you want to protect your family home, don't let 75,000 people traipse through it every year.

But! We try not to be grumpy on the National Trust scone blog and it was a five-star visit: a beautiful property and a tasty scone!

Oxburgh Hall: 5 out of 5
Scone: 5 out of 5
The Marian Hanging: 5 out of 5