Gorgeous Gardens and Magnificent Mansions of Norfolk, England


By Glynn Burrows, Norfolk Tours UK


Glynn Burrows, family historian and owner of Norfolk Tours, talks about two magnificent mansion with gorgeous gardens in the countryside of Norfolk, England – Oxburgh and Holkham on Big Blend Radio.

One of the things all of my guests comment on, is the greenery everywhere. England is a green and pleasant land and one of the reasons for that, is that we have such changeable weather. Many people think that it always rains in England. and we do have rain, but we also have sunshine and light breezes, all three of these add up to the ideal climate for gardeners. Add to those, the soil in East Anglia is excellent too and what you have is also the ideal area for farming.

This area of England was one of the richest areas of the country and that is why we have so many large estates and amazing stately houses. There have been important houses in Norfolk and Suffolk since Roman times, with several large villas and lots of settlements but, sadly, none of those are left standing. What we do have, are Norman Castles, Moated Tudor Houses, Jacobean Halls, Georgian Mansions and Victorian Stately Homes.  


To give you an idea of what is to be found dotted around our countryside, I’ll look at just two: Oxburgh and Holkham.

  • Oxburgh, Norfolk Tours
    Oxburgh, Norfolk Tours

Oxburgh is the archetypal Moated Manor House and, although the present house is a complete mixture of periods, the licence to build a fortified house on the site, was granted by King Edward IV to Sir Edmund Bedingfield. It is generally accepted that the early house was built about 1482 and, unusually, it was built of brick. Brick was a very expensive building material at this time and building such a massive house with them was an extra statement to all, that the owner was a very rich person.


Royalty visited the House and The King’s Room and Queen’s Room are named as they are to commemorate the fact. The family were also in regular contact with the rulers of this country and held important positions in the Court.


During the C16th, when England was separating from the Catholic Church, Oxburgh’s owner was accused of harbouring Papists and, if you visit the house today, you can see a great example of a Priest Hole. Another subject, another day! 


The gardens at Oxburgh include a walled kitchen garden and a very attractive Victorian Parterre.


The walled gardens have been here since at least 1725 but what we see today was created in the 1830’s. Most large houses had gardens to supply the house with fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers. These gardens often grew soft fruit and vines too, in heated greenhouses and in areas protected from frost by the walls. Today, the gardens at Oxburgh supply the tea room with salad, vegetables, and etc. Bees were extremely important to gardeners (and they still are one of the most important species on the planet), so the house had its own apiary, not only for pollination but for the honey too!  


The house also has some lovely wild woodland, with C18th features, such as a Grotto and parts of a canal which was put in as part of the managed water system.


If you want to see a moated manor house, this is a great example.


Holkham is on a very different scale. It is a real mansion. Built between 1734 and 1764, Holkham Hall is one of the most spectacular Palladian houses in England and to try to give you a taste of it in a few paragraphs is an impossible task but I will try.


Approaching the Hall across the Park is quite amazing. Deer grazing the hundreds of acres within the walls of the private park are beautiful to see and, as the Hall pops into view, it is difficult to think that what we see first, is the back of the house and the stables. Getting closer, the lake appears and then, the main house.


The car is parked a little way from the house and approaching by foot gives visitors a better opportunity to appreciate the scale of the house. Walking around to the front, following the bottom of the walled terraced gardens, the Park lays ahead, yet more hundreds of acres of grazing for the deer. The road out towards the other side of the house was the way visitors would have approached in their carriages and that road goes through the Park and woodland for several miles.


To the right of the Hall we see a very strange little building. It is thatched and appears to be half buried in a hillock. This is a building, the likes of which will be seen in many of the more affluent homes during the C18th and they are often to be found very close to the lake. Inside, is a short corridor and, at the end, a small room with a very deep, brick-lined  pit dug in the floor. For those of you with no clue, the answer is that this is an ice house. In the days before refrigerators, this was the only way to keep things cold during the Summer. Ice was taken out of the lake in the Winter and kept in the straw-lined pit. The insulation of the ground, straw and the thatched roof, kept the ice frozen.


A little further along the roadway, the walled garden is amazing. Acres of gardens and glass-houses and all built to a very high standard. Not only is the Hall an architectural gem, the whole estate is, even the working buildings. Spending money on buildings which were used by servants is only usually seen on the estates of the extremely rich. The family here looked after their staff and for that, I am extremely grateful because many of my ancestors worked for them!         


Going back to the house itself, if you want to see marble staircases, state rooms, statuary, paintings and architecture, this is the place to visit.  

Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England where he provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. If you are thinking about taking a vacation to England, visit www.Norfolk-Tours.co.uk.

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About the Author:

Glynn Burrows is the owner of Norfolk Tours in England where he provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. If you are thinking about taking a vacation to England, visit www.Norfolk-Tours.co.uk.

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