New book on Norfolk’s des res stately homes

More than a million locally-made bricks were used at Blickling Hall
More than a million locally-made bricks were used at Blickling Hall
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Norfolk Country Houses From The Air: by Mike Page and Pauline Young

Review by Gareth Calway

Easy on the eye, not too hard on the brain and packed with sumptuous colour photographs and gen, this glossy paperback takes you on an A to W flight above the stately piles of Norfolk.

Some – Blickling, Holkham, Houghton – are palaces by any standards; others are ruins, grotesques or still in progress (Caister, Costessey, Hickling, Gissing, Hainford, Boyland) .

Most are des res in beautiful settings, some moated and towered from days of yore, some (like Oxburgh and Breckles) with priest holes from anti-Catholic days, a few modern and ecological, many more ‘restored’ than they appear.

A few (like Turnip Townshend’s Raynham) are homes still occupied by old landed families rather than tourist attractions, wildlife parks, Christian holiday and activity, convalescent or study centres.

All ‘do different’ if only because Norfolk lacks an enduring native building material apart from flint (Elsing Hall’s flint is the exception as far as stately homes go) and only the rich could afford imported white Yorkshire stone (Houghton) or to manufacture the bricks (over a million locally made rosy bricks for Blickling; white ones for Holkham after the Earl of Leicester’s South Sea bubble burst).

They embody the history of Norfolk. Hunstanton Hall belongs to the LeStrange family in name only – the Stylemans took on both name and Hall in the 17the century. The Pastons’ Oxnead Hall (now just the service wing) finally broke its family’s fortunes when extended for a visit by Charles II.

Halls like those at Kimberley (built 1712) mushroomed as landowners’ rents rocketed during the Agrarian Revolution; WW2 army occupation damaged it and its Catholic family left Norfolk after 700 years in 1958, inspiring Brideshead Revisited perhaps just as Cromer Hall inspired Conan-Doyles’s Hound of the Baskervilles. The perfect Christmas gift.

Norfolk Country Houses From The Air; Poppyland Publishing ISBN 978 1 909796 17 1, £11.95