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November 2012 Meeting Report

Victoria Bennett on East Anglia Properties of the National Trust

Veronica, a member of the National Trust’s East of England Talks Service, showed us a superb collection of slide views of the numerous and varied NT properties we are fortunate to have in our area including splendid stately homes, forests and nature reserves.

Rayleigh Mount: The site of a Norman motte and bailey castle.

Blakes Wood: Especially noted for its display of bluebells in spring.

Northey Island: This is an important site for birds.

Hatfield Forest: This comprises over 1000 acres and was once part of a larger Royal hunting forest. It is now a very attractive mixture of woodland and meadow pasture land, which in spring are yellow with buttercups. An artificial lake, created by the Houblon family is a very popular with families who can picnic around it. Another attractive feature is the shell house which includes a grotto and rooms decorated with ornate shell designs. This was believed to be mainly the creation of the 17 year old Laetitia Houblon in the late 18th century.

Paycockes: This is a fine half timbered house featuring some stunning woodcarving and elaborate panelling. It was built around 1500 by a rich wool merchant, John Paycocke, as a wedding gift for his son. This is in the attractive town of Coggeshall.

Flatford Mill: Stand where John Constable (but try not to fall in the water!) painted his famous “Haywain” and compare and contrast! The NT also owns several historic houses in the area.

Ickworth House and Park, near Bury St Edmunds: A fascinating house built by the eccentric Frederick Hervey, 4th Duke of Bristol. The house is in 20,000 acres of beautiful wooded parkland with a beautiful lake. There are numerous wood and lakeside walks.

Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds: This was opened in 1819 and is only one of three surviving Georgian theatres. After a steady decline (blame Hollywood!) it was closed in 1925 but reopened in 1965 in response to public demand. The NT are now restoring the theatre to what they believe it would have been like in 1819.

Melford Hall, near Sudbury: This is an unspoilt Tudor building and hosted Queen Elizabeth I during one of her East Anglian tours. It has been the home of the Hyde Parkers and was also visited by Beatrix Potter, a family cousin. Notable features include a fine library, the Blue Drawing Room, Hall, grand stairway and an early 17th century pavilion.

Orford Ness: This comprises an unusual long shingle spit and lighthouse off the Suffolk coast. It is the home of a variety of seabirds, waders and wildfowl. Somewhat more sinister is the deserted presence of WW2 and Cold War explosive testing laboratories, including explosives used to detonate atom bombs. Radar was also developed here in the 1930s, having a crucial effect on the outcome of the battle of Britain.

Sutton Hoo, near Woodbridge: This is the site of the spectacular Saxon boat burial discovered in 1939. One of the artefacts, a buckle, is deemed to be the finest example of Saxon art work ever found and is now in the British Museum. There is a new visitor centre which has copies of some of the spectacular grave goods.

Wimpole Hall: Getting nearer to home, Victoria spoke about Wimpole with its associations with Rudyard Kipling through his daughter, its gardens, lake and iconic folly. With the neighbouring Home Farm and the unlimited acreage of grassy parkland it is an ideal place to take the kids or grandkids.

Anglesey Abbey: Another favourite with its unique collection of clocks, paintings and a variety of objets d’art. Owned by the Fairhaven family but leased to the NT. One of the most spectacular garden features, in the summer/early autumn is a quite stunning display of dahlias. There is also a magnificent winter walk culminating in a stand of white silver birch. Anglesey also boasts the largest collection of garden statuary in the NT.

Wicken Fen: This has expanded enormously since the NT first bought 2 acres of fen in 1899. It now comprises several long walks along the fens, including some hides were you are able to see many species of rare birds. There are numerous wind pumps which pump water from the fen to maintain the water level. The NT is fortunate in having enlisted a number of Koniks and Highland cattle to graze the sensitive habitat.

Peckover House, Wisbech: This is a less well known NT gem, built in 1722 by a Quaker banker and philanthropist, Jonathan Peckover (Question: can you name a living banking philanthropist?). This has several rooms furnished in the Georgian style. The library had an exceptional collection of books but on the death of Lord Peckover in 1879 they were dispersed, never to be seen again. The books presently on the shelves are only there to give the appearance of the original library. Also noteworthy is the orangery which grows real oranges and rose garden with a large collection of roses.

Oxburgh Hall: This was built in 1482 by Sir Edmund Bedingfield and has a castle-like structure within a moat, as was fashionable in the late 15th century. One of the highlights is being able to climb up the windy stairs to the roof with superb views across Breckland. The house was once visited by Henry VII, sleeping in what is now the King’s room. There is a parterre garden modelled on the one in the famous Tuileries Palace gardens.

Felbrigg Hall: Yet another superb property, built by Sir John Wyndham in the 1620s, it has much to see both inside and out. It has a rococo style Dining Room created in 1752 and a large collection of Italian paintings brought back from a Grand Tour, still hanging in their original positions after nearly 200 years. Outside there is a walled herb garden with allotment plots available to nearby residents. The rolling landscaped park has over 500 acres of waymarked trails and a lake.

Sheringham Park: Although the house is not open to Joe Public, there are extensive parkland walks with a fine rhododendron display in the summer, and beautiful views of the sea.

Blickling Hall: And finally, the jewel in East Anglia’s crown (unless you work at Wimpole, Anglesey, Felbrigg, etc) - Blickling Hall has arguably one of the most imposing aspects and was built in the early 17th century by Sir Henry Hobart, incorporating some of the original mansion belonging to the Boleyn family (the one Anne belonged to). It has a magnificent staircase and one of the longest long galleries (123 feet long) with the finest library in the NT. The South Drawing Room has a fine Jacobean ceiling and fireplace. The 18th century State bedroom has a bed behind a column screen. There are superb gardens and a large park and lake. There are of course numerous possibilities for exploring this beautiful parkland by both foot and bike.

Veronica concluded by not unnaturally giving a plug for joining the NT and pointing out that more information can now easily be obtained by looking at the extensive NT Handbook or Googling the relevant name.

Bruce Milner

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