Heir today, and heir tomorrow too!
PUBLISHED: 06:29 21 July 2014
Archant © 2014
Oxburgh Hall has passed from father to son, occasionally via a brother, for more than half a millennium.
From when it was first built, for Edmund Bedingfeld in 1482, to Sir Henry Bedingfeld, who lives there now, there have been Bedingfelds at Oxburgh.
The hall, at Oxborough, near Swaffham, has been owned by the National Trust since 1952, but the family still has the south east corner of the house and visits for regular weekends and holidays. Even during the Civil War, when the Royalist Bedingfelds were forced out of Oxburgh, a Bedingfeld presence was maintained.
Sir Henry explains: “In the Civil War, Cromwell and his cronies booted us out, but a parliamentarian Bedingfeld took over and then handed it back at the Restoration of the monarchy!”
In 1950 another Sir Edmund Bedingfeld was very nearly the last of the family at Oxburgh. He auctioned off the hall, its contents and land, and it was bought by a property developer who planned to demolish the ancient house. It was then that Sybil, Lady Bedingfeld, came to the rescue, selling possessions and persuading relatives to do the same, to raise enough money to buy back the house. She was Sir Henry’s grandmother and he says: “She bought it in an act of complete faith, on a wing and a prayer if you like, and then a friend told her about a certain organisation called the National Trust which she hadn’t heard about.”
In 1952 the family gave the house to the National Trust. “We are very fortunate to live here and the fact that the National Trust owns it is certainly a burden lifted from the family,” says Sir Henry.
With such a long and well-documented story, Sir Henry has his own interest in family history and tradition. He trained as a chartered surveyor and, 30 years ago, became one of the Queen’s Heralds. He is now Norroy and Ulster King of Arms and helps create and grant new coats of arms to individuals or corporations anywhere in the world where the Queen is head of state, plus the USA. The post also gives him a role in major royal and state occasions.
There were many periods in the family’s long history at Oxburgh when this would not have been possible because the Bedingfelds never swerved from their Catholic faith.
The priest hole at Oxburgh, where Catholic priests could be hidden from the authorities, is now a favourite visitor attraction but was once a matter of life or death.
“We’re still Catholic I’m glad to say; in fact my eldest son is a Catholic priest.”
And the father to son future for Bedingfelds at Oxburgh is assured too: “I have an heir and a spare, and my spare has an heir and a spare too, so we should last a bit longer at Oxburgh!”
Q&A with Sir Henry Bedingfield
Who was your favourite ancestor?
Sir Edmund who built the place, possibly. Perhaps Sir Henry, Princess Elizabeth’s jailer, for doing a very difficult job well (and for keeping his head on his shoulders!) Or perhaps Sir Henry, the 6th Baronet, for creating what we see now in the early part of the 19th century.
And are there any Bedingfelds you don’t think you would have got on with?
Sir Richard, the 4th Baronet, who pulled down the old hall in 1775. He vandalised the place.
Where are your favourite parts of the house and estate?
Looking from the bay window in our drawing room across the French garden, particularly in the evening sunlight.