Portrait returns after its history is traced to Oxburgh Hall

National Trust curators are always looking for objects that have ‘escaped’ from the historic houses in their care. These objects sometimes turn up at auctions and sometimes those tracing their provenance get in touch. This week we were delighted to see the return of one such item to Oxburgh Hall


Anna Forrest is Oxburgh Hall’s curator and reveals the story behind the return of a rather special portrait to the collection…

Oxburgh Hall was built and has been lived in by the Bedingfeld family since 1482. But in the years following the Second World War, Sir Edmund Paston-Bedingfeld, the 9th Baronet, was faced with rising repair bills and his father’s death duties. He was forced to sell Oxburgh. In total, 65 lots went up for auction including land, farms, cottages and the hall itself. Although much of the contents was sold, Sir Edmund’s mother, Sybil, Lady Bedingfeld, and two other relatives managed to save the house from demolition at the ‘eleventh hour’ and donated it to the National Trust.

This newly returned portrait was one of the items sold in the 1951 sale. Its location only recently came to light following the death of its previous owner, whose estate traced its provenance back to Oxburgh Hall. They got in touch with Sir Henry Bedingfeld, who still resides in his ancestral home here at Oxburgh, who brought it to our attention.

We have managed to re-acquire a number of the lost items from the 1951 sale over the years, as and when they have become available. We know this particular portrait would have originally hung at Oxburgh thanks to it being catalogued by Prince Duleep Singh at the start of the 20th century. But what makes this item all that more significant, is that it depicts one of Sir Henry’s ancestors.

IMG_1923An old transcription dates the portrait to 1659, in the sitter’s 23rd year. The painting is of Dorothy Plumpton of Plompton, Yorkshire, wife of Clement Paston of Barningham, Norfolk, and distant ancestor of Henry Bedingfeld of Oxbrugh Hall.

For many years the portrait was listed as being by Van Dyck. However, this is not the case. In the process of negotiating the purchase we asked an independent expert to look at the portrait and he has attributed it to the British (English) School. The prominent Paston family were associated with the known portrait artists of the period – John Hayls, Theodore Roussel, Henry Stone and Gerard Soest. However, although we can’t say with 100% certainty, a more likely candidate for its authorship on the basis of chromatic and stylistic assessment is Adraien Hanneman (circa 1603-1671), another known Van Dyck follower of the period.

The image can be compared with that of the slightly older Princess Mary, eldest daughter of Charles I and the Princess of Orange, painted in the very same year of 1659 by Hanneman, which today resides in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

So do look out for the return of the portrait of Dorothy Plumpton at Oxburgh Hall this autumn, you’ll be able to enjoy a closer look as we display the painting on an easel, before it’s re-hung this winter.

Accolades galore for regional producers at Fine Farm Produce Awards

Sixty-two products were bestowed with one of the food and farming industry’s highest honours, a National Trust Fine Farm Produce Award, at a ceremony in London last night. We’re delighted to say that some of our regional produce was among this year’s winners.

IMG_1544 It was the first time – and fitting for the 10th anniversary – that so many products met or exceeded the strict judging criteria of the conservation charity’s food and farming awards.

The annual awards this year held at Vintage Salt on Selfridges rooftop as part of its yearly ‘Meet the Makers’ campaign, celebrate the very best produce from the National Trust’s 1,500 tenant farmers and estates across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Products not only have to excel in the obligatory taste test, but entrants also have to pass a checklist of environmental standards to guarantee the quality and origin of ingredients alongside high standards of production. The winners were decided by a judging panel consisting of 10 food and drink experts, including representatives from Selfridges’ food team.

This year 37 producers in total were recognised for 62 outstanding food, drink and countryside products. In our region, those that were awarded for their efforts were Henry Bexley at Hatfield Forest for their Fallow Venison. Richard Morris at Wimpole Home Farm for their Organic Plain White Flour, Organic Free Range Eggs and Traditional Pork Sausages and Philip Whaites also at Wimpole for his Burpees Golden Beetroot, Kestrel Potatoes and Apple Juice.

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We caught up with Countryside Manager, Henry Bexley, from Hatfield Forest about his award…

“We’re delighted to have won a Fine Farm Produce Award for Hatfield Forest’s Fallow Venison, which is the result of over a decade of hard work; first as a venison wholesaler selling direct to game dealers and food businesses, as well as the odd member of the public who can deal with a whole animal.

“But also since generous funding from the Wild Venison Project, we now have a venison processing unit on site at Hatfield Forest and can butcher individual cuts to sell direct from the National Trust shop and Estate Office. The demand for our premium quality wild venison has never been higher, which goes hand in hand with our fully sustainable, responsible and ethical deer management plan here at the Forest.”

Rob Macklin, Head of Food and Farming at the National Trust, and chair of the judges said:

“This is a landmark year for the awards and we are thrilled to be able to award more tenants and food producers than ever before. It really is the best way to mark the dedication and work our tenants put in to their businesses.”

Old treasures seen in a new light

This summer you can discover the story of an eccentric 18th century English gentleman and his mission to collect some of Europe’s finest artwork at Ickworth House.

smoking roomPhotographs courtesy of Rob Court

Sue Borges, from Ickworth reveals more about the ‘Earl Bishop’…

‘In all of Europe I have not seen a style of building with which I am enamored as with my own.’

These somewhat immodest words were spoken by the eccentric and to some, infamous 4th Earl of Bristol and Bishop of Cloyne and Derry known as the ‘Earl Bishop’, Frederick Augustus Hervey – a true character of the eighteenth century and creator of Ickworth House.

This year as part of a new National Trust exhibition called Ickworth Treasures, you can discover more about the Earl Bishop as he takes you on a journey of his great collection of artworks at Ickworth. He was a controversial character admired and loathed in equal measure and who provided an endless source of society gossip and comment during the eighteenth century.

‘He is the strangest being ever made, and with all the vices and follies of youth, a drunkard and an atheist, though a Bishop… and at the same time very clever, and with infinite wit; in short a true Hervey.’

He had a great interest in antiquities, travel, politics and geology. It was said he climbed the volcano, Mount Vesuvius every day during a stay in Naples and was hit by molten lava. He also helped to put the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland on the tourist map and you can now see some of the distinctive hexagonal basalt stones from the Causeway in the Stumpery at Ickworth – a gift to the Hervey family.

titian labels

Hear his unique story in his own words and those of his many admirers and detractors. He designed the iconic Rotunda and East and West Wings as a magnificent Italianate palace in Suffolk that would serve as both a family home and most importantly as an impressive art gallery to showcase his great collection.

‘So that young geniuses who cannot afford to travel into Italy may come into my house and there copy the best masters.’

He called himself the ‘Vagabond Star’ as he wandered through Europe spending his aristocratic fortune as he wished. His lifelong grand passion was Italy, spending much of his life in Rome and Naples collecting sculptures and paintings and meeting the great artists, intellectuals, and society names of the age such as John Flaxman, James Boswell, Goethe and Lady Hamilton.

PRINCE BALTHASAR CARLOS (1629-1646) AS A HUNTER by Don Diego de Silva Velazquez (1599-1660) from Ickworth. Photographed in April 1995 post-restoration.

PRINCE BALTHASAR CARLOS (1629-1646) AS A HUNTER by Don Diego de Silva Velazquez (1599-1660) from Ickworth. Photographed in April 1995 post-restoration.

A key part of this year’s exhibition includes the impressive Smoking Room at Ickworth. This year it has been rehung with some of Ickworth’s greatest works of art to bring to life the Earl Bishop’s vision of celebrating great artists whom he met on his travels, patronised or admired for their artistry. The paintings have been especially lit by new LED lighting which cuts through the aged varnishes. Take time to admire these paintings by famous artists such as Titian, Velázquez, Gainsborough and Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun to name but a few.

This year we are also focussing on the unique Pompeian room with its classical frescoes based on original frescoes from the ancient Villa Negroni in Rome which the Earl Bishop visited in 1777 when it was first being excavated.  The design and style of the Villa Negroni was very influential in the design of eighteenth century buildings when architects harked back to classical designs. Here the tale of how the original frescoes were lost and how the 3rd Marquess designed the Pompeian Room as a tribute to the Earl Bishop.

Ickworth Treasures celebrates an extraordinary building and the extraordinary Earl Bishop; called a reprobate, blasphemer, genius, visionary and a notorious character – inspired by Italy, his colourful life provides the backdrop to showcase his treasured collection of art and that of his family. Discover the story behind Ickworth this season.

The exhibition runs every day the house is open until November 2015.


Milling resumes at Lode Mill

An age-old tradition has resumed at Anglesey Abbey’s historic Lode Mill thanks to a major conservation project to replace the worn out millstones.

Replacing Lode Mill millstones

This week we caught up with Mill Steward, Matt Pirie, to find out what’s been going on…

Lode Mill at Anglesey Abbey has been in operation for a couple of centuries, but there has likely been a mill on this site for around a thousand years. Most of the mills current working parts are about 150 years old, so it came as no surprise that the old millstones had gradually worn down from years of grinding and reached the stage where we needed to replace them.

With the stones no longer in working order, it meant we couldn’t carry on the tradition of milling here at Anglesey Abbey – it was like having a car without an engine. Thankfully, with the support of our visitors and the Hertfordshire & Essex National Trust Association we’ve managed to raise enough funds to replace them.

Sam Ale Inscription

When it came to removing the stones, we were excited to discover an inscription on one of the wooden beams that read ‘Sam Ale – this stone was laid April 18 1902’. So, when it came to installing the new ones, I carried on the tradition and added my own inscription.

IMG_1953It was a major logistical exercise to remove the old stones and hoist in the replacements. Not only do the stones weigh a ton each, they have to fit through a tiny door into the mill.

Dorothea Restorations of Bristol, who carried out the installation, had modern technology on their side. They had the benefit of a crane attached to a flat-bed truck, instead of a pulley system, which would have been what they would have used a century ago.

The mill has become a feature of Anglesey Abbey gardens. Once redundant, it was purchased and restored by the 1st Lord Fairhaven in 1934, an iconic building in the garden he himself designed. Flour production resumed in 1982 following restoration of the mill by the Cambridgeshire Wind and Watermill Society.

Today, the mill stones we’ve chosen to install came from a disused mill in Portugal, but they were originally manufactured here in the UK. We know our visitors enjoy seeing this historic mill in operation and these stones enable us to mill a superior grade of wholemeal flour once more, which is ideal for baking with.

If you want to see the old millstones, look out for them on display in the gardens close to the mill.

Are traditional seaside days out in decline?

A new report out today reveals a 20 per cent decline over the last 10 years in the amount of people visiting the British coast for a day out each year (62 per cent in 2005 vs 42 per cent in 2015), with over half the nation (58 per cent) having not had a single day trip to the coast in the last 12 months.

The comparative study of 9,000 people by the National Trust over a 10 year period, details a steady decline in the nation’s feelings of connectedness to the coast despite the research showing that 88 per cent of adults in England, Wales and Northern Ireland regard the coast as a national treasure.

  • In the East, just 43% of respondents said they had been on a day trip to the coast in the last 12 months, with 32% saying they had taken a holiday to the coast.
  • Just 22% of people in the East said they visited the coast once a month or more, whilst for 37%, a trip to the seaside happens two or three times a year.
  • But 95% believed that it was important the coast is kept beautiful for future generations to enjoy.

Repton-3 (1)Photo credit: Justin Minns

11% of people in the East said that the Norfolk coast in general was particularly special to them, with a further 9% specifically mentioning Cromer, Great Yarmouth, Hunstanton, Wells next the Sea or Sheringham – whilst Suffolk or one of its coastal towns (Southwold, Lowestoft or Aldeburgh) was the top choice for 5% of people in the region.

Feeling connected to the coast is also on the decline in younger generations with only 14 per cent of 18-24 year olds saying their happiest childhood memory is being by the sea, which is half the national average (29 per cent). This rises to 38 per cent of 55+ year olds.

Coastal value in the older generations sees 94 per cent of those aged 55+ agreeing that it is important that all parents give their children the opportunity to experience the UK’s coast or seaside. 88 per cent of people with children in their household also agree, and this falls to 77 per cent agreement amongst those aged 18-24.

Brancaster-23Photo credit: Justin Minns

The biggest barrier stopping people hitting the shores more often has been revealed as not having enough spare time to get to the coast (29 per cent). Additional reasons credited to the decline were: UK coasts being too busy when the weather is nice (23 per cent); too expensive (18 per cent); not having easy access to transport (17 per cent) and; preferring to go abroad than holiday on Britain’s coast (14 per cent).

Despite the study revealing a worrying decline in people visiting the British coast, there is an overwhelming sense of pride and affection for our shores with 81 per cent of people agreeing that our coastline makes this country a better place to live and more than one in five (22 per cent) day dreaming of the coast during everyday life.

Ben Cowell, Regional Director for the National Trust in the East of England, said: “Our region is defined by its special coastline. From Norfolk’s beaches and resorts to the seaside towns and coastal landscapes of Suffolk and Essex, there are so many places for people to enjoy. Lots of people come to the East of England from other parts of the country to take advantage of our wonderful coast – so it’s a shame to see that fewer of the people who actually live here are choosing to do the same. If you do one thing this summer why not spend a day at the seaside – you won’t regret it!”

2015 sees the 50th anniversary of the Trust’s Neptune Coastline Campaign – one of the longest running environmental campaigns in western Europe which has resulted in the charity managing 775 miles of coast in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, equating to over 10% of the UK’s coastline.

To celebrate this milestone and as part of a wider summer-long campaign, the Trust is inviting members of the public to help one of Britain’s most celebrated poets, Dr John Cooper Clarke, complete a specially commissioned poem– reminding the people of the UK of just what the coast can offer. The nation is now invited to help finish the poem by sharing their memories and love of the coast using #lovethecoast.

The love story behind an eighteenth century sculpture

We’ve been chatting to Wimpole’s House and Collections Manager, Iain Stewart, about the Edward and Eleanor plaster relief that has returned to Wimpole and the fascinating story behind John Deare, the man who sculpted it…

Edward & Eleanor2015_002

With around 18,000 objects in our care at Wimpole, it’s fair to say that my favourite things change from time to time.

Every now and again, a visitor or one of our research volunteers brings to light a new piece of information that helps draw my interest to something different in the collection.

Sometimes, it simply depends on my mood, at other times it changes with the movement of light through the house. The way different objects become highlighted by the colours washing in through the windows from the parkland, or through John Soane’s incredible lanterns can vary throughout the year. It’s this wonderful variety that makes it possible to visit Wimpole time and again, knowing you’ll always discover something new.

The object I’m most fascinated by at the moment is known as ‘Edward and Eleanor’, a plaster relief modelled by a sculptor named John Deare. I particularly like this piece for the following reasons.

Edward & Eleanor2015_041

Firstly, I think Deare has a great story. He enrolled at the Royal Academy School, which went onto give him a pension for a three year stay in Rome, on the condition he sent back a work to the Academy’s annual exhibition. For his exhibition piece he modelled in plaster ‘The Judgement of Jupiter’ with over 20 figures. Emulating history painting of the time, it was the largest 18th-century relief by a British artist. In fact the Academy argued with him over its size (they thought it too big) and it was not sent to London.

Edward and Eleanor was his next relief and it turned out to be Deare’s first and only Royal Academy exhibition. It was commissioned by Henry Blundell and shown in 1788. This relief depicts the legend of Queen Eleanor of Castile, risking her life to suck the poison from a wound her husband, King Edward I, sustained during the crusades. The subject matter and elements of the composition may have been suggested by Angelica Kauffman’s painting of the same subject, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1776, during Deare’s time as a student.

After Deare exhibited his plaster piece, Sir Andrew Corbet commissioned a marble version for Adderley Hall, in Shropshire. We can’t be absolutely sure, but we think there’s a very good chance that our plaster might have been taken from a mould of this marble version.

Deare was said to be a hard worker, often working late into the night and rarely sleeping before 3am. To improve the accuracy of his figures, he studied anatomy, attended dissections and examined life casts at the Royal Academy.

Finally there are a number of stories surrounding his death. Some say he died of a broken heart after falling in love with the wife of a commander of French troops, which got him thrown into prison. The story I most like to imagine to be true was recorded by J T Smith, who said Deare had slept on a block of marble in the hope that he would find inspiration for his next work, but unfortunately only managed to catch a chill, which killed him in just a few days!

Edward & Eleanor2015_004

I also really like the story behind the subject Deare chose for this work. As was common practice in the middle ages, Edward and Eleanor had an arranged marriage. However, unlike most, theirs seems to have been a happy marriage. Most accounts show that Edward and Eleanor were devoted to each other, stating that Edward I had no known mistresses, unlike many medieval kings, and was one of the few not to have known to have had children outside of wedlock. In fact, their household records imply a comfortable, even humorous relationship.

Eleanor and the children often travelled with Edward, even on crusades. Apparently an assassination attempt was made on his life, in June 1272. He was wounded in the arm by a dagger that was thought to be poisoned. Like all good stories, this one was later embellished, claiming Eleanor sucked poison from the wound, thereby saving Edward’s life. It is this bedside scene that is portrayed in Deare’s work.

And finally, the relief has had such a long association with Wimpole. It was bought and installed here, removed, lost, and eventually returned.

This repatriation of lost objects is a major part of my work as House & Collections Manager, working with the support of my Curator, Wendy Monkhouse. Once we’d got the plaster back, we knew it was in such a poor condition that it couldn’t be displayed. So, we made the decision to send the work to Cliveden Conservation, a specialist company that repaired and conserved the piece for us.

It’s been away from the Hall for three years, so it was such a pleasure to see it return this year. We have hung it in John Soane’s staircase, using a type of bracket we researched with the help of the Soane Museum. The colour that washes down through the staircase from the skylight, shows up beautifully the remarkable work not just of Deare, but also of Cliveden in their painstaking conservation treatment.

If you haven’t seen it yet then don’t just take my word for it, I thoroughly recommend a trip to Wimpole to take a look for yourself. If you see me in the house, then please do come and say hello and find out if I’ve moved on to a new favourite object yet!

Come bye and discover life as a shepherd at the National Trust

Did you know the National Trust has its own shepherd, who looks after a flock of 100 sheep on the Suffolk coast? But life is anything but quiet for Andrew Capell and his sheepdog Kite.


Andrew Capell has worked with sheep for more than 30 years and has been tending the National Trust flock at Orford Ness, Dunwich Heath and Sutton Hoo since 2010. He has a mixed group under his care, made up of White Faced Woodlands, Norfolk Horns, Portlands, Hebrideans and Manx sheep.


As well as Wendy Woodland, Andrew has names for many of the others with strong personalities. Like Mike, the Manx who – from some considerable distance – can smell a pocket of treats hidden in Andrew’s pocket and won’t stop until he’s got the first mouthful all to himself. Or like Dopey and the boys, a gang full of mischief always trying to climb over fences or sneak out the gate. Trouble comes when they want to return to the flock and can’t work out how to get back into the field!

“Most people think sheep are docile, but far from it. There are some really strong characters in my flock. When you get to know them you realise they each have their own characteristics and each one is very different from the others.

“They can recognise about 50 human faces and it takes time for them to bond with you. They remember things and if they have had a bad experience they will avoid the place where it happened. Some of them don’t like having their injections and will try anything to escape getting them!”

There is a strong hierarchy, with three sheep dominating the community – Wendy, Mike and Nobby the Norfolk Horn.

“I trust them and they trust me. If I want to move a small group into another field I always put one of those three in, because they will lead the gang and the others will be happy to follow,” said Andrew, who is always accompanied by his trusted companion, sheepdog Kite.

Small file - they need to get bigger one from EADT

The sheep are used for grazing on the National Trust’s nature reserve at Orford Ness in order to provide the variation in grass height that wading birds need to nest.

The flock lives on Orford Ness during the warmer weather, usually from May to October, before moving off to Dunwich Heath and Sutton Hoo for the winter. This is because the marshy land at Orford Ness swells with water during the colder months and it is too wet for the sheep to feed.


(All images courtesy of East Anglian Daily Times)

Andrew often shears the sheep where visitors wait for the ferry home from the Ness, helping them to learn about his work. The wool is then made into yarn and sold at Café Kint in Lavenham and at the National Trust shops at Dunwich and Sutton Hoo.

Why not watch this short film, which shows you a day in the life of Andrew’s trusty sidekick, Kite?

So, look out for Andrew and Kite on your next visit to the Suffolk Coast. 


Could Beatrix Potter or John Constable be the new face of the £20 note?

The Bank of England has announced the list of people nominated to appear on a new £20 bank note after a two month public consultation. The consultation asked for nominations of people who had influenced, been innovative or helped shape the visual arts in Britain, and a number of names with connections to National Trust places in the East could now potentially be found on the shortlist.


We take a closer look…

Bank notes. A key part of our everyday lives and a tool that we take for granted. But who decides which face will join that of the Queen on each of those notes? It’s a big decision and the image of the chosen person will be seen by thousands every day.

Former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill is set to grace fivers in England and Wales from 2016, whilst author Jane Austen will appear on £10 notes from 2017. So who will replace the economist Adam Smith on the £20 note?

As part of the launch of a new series of bank notes, the public have been asked to make nominations from within the field of visual arts – and what an illustrious set of names are now on the longlist! After more than 29,000 votes, the Bank of England must now narrow down 592 eligible nominees to a shortlist of just three to five, with the final name to be selected by the Bank of England Governor.

Amongst the names on the current longlist are some with connections to National Trust places here in the East of England – whether one of them is eventually chosen we will have to wait and see!

Beatrix Potter
One of the nominees is the author Beatrix Potter, who wrote such famous stories as The Tale of Peter Rabbit and The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. Beatrix Potter was the cousin of Ethel, Lady Hyde Parker, grandmother of Sir Richard Hyde Parker, the present Baronet who still resides at Melford Hall. Beatrix came to love Melford through her many visits. Today, Melford is home to some of Beatrix Potter’s original watercolour artworks and even the original Jemima Puddleduck toy – gifted by the author herself.

Melford Hall will be celebrating the author’s connections with a Beatrix Potter Day on July 29, or why not pop along for some outdoor theatre with The Tale of Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny on August 15?

John Constable
No call for people influential in the world of visual arts would be complete without mention of John Constable, who is also on the longlist. The East Anglian scenery that inspired Constable can still be discovered and explored at Flatford and a visit to the beautiful Dedham Vale can often feel like walking through one of his paintings – perhaps you’ll be inspired to pick up a brush yourself?

By including ordinary people going about their lives as part of the natural world, John Constable changed landscape painting forever. At first, his work was rejected by the art establishment and even The Haywain remained unsold when it was first exhibited in 1821.Willy Lott's House at Flatford and the River Stour, Suffolk.

Capability Brown
Next year will see gardens and parks around the country celebrating 300 years since the birth of landscape designer Capability Brown, who is also on the list. Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown designed over 170 parks during his illustrious career and made a less formal, more romantic approach to landscaping fiercely fashionable among the country’s landed gentry. Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire is home to one such landscape and will be leading the way with our contributions to the celebrations next year.

Brown’s style derived from the two practical principles of comfort and elegance. On the one hand there was a determination that everything should work, and that a landscape should provide for every need of the great house. On the other, his landscapes had to look elegant.WimpoleFolly-24

Humphry Repton
Another landscape designer on the list is Humphry Repton, the designer behind Sheringham Park in Norfolk, which is thought to be the best preserved example of his work. Humphry Repton knew Sheringham well, having lived in the village of Sustead 3 miles away for 12 years. He had previously lobbied the government to purchase the Estate for Horatio Nelson’s family, before being commissioned by Abbot Upcher in 1812 to prepare a design for Sheringham Park.

His influence can still be seen today, during a walk through this coastal landscape, with clever details helping to bring the beautiful Norfolk coastline into view. Visitors to the Park can also find an exhibition detailing Repton and his work there.Why not find out more about the search for a new face to appear on the £20 note?

Brancaster Activity Centre re-opens 18 months on from tidal surge

Many of you will remember us writing about the tidal surge in December 2013 and the devastating flood damage that forced us to close Brancaster Activity Centre. After 18 months of planning, repair and refurbishment, we’re delighted to reveal that the Activity Centre is all set for its official re-opening. 

Brancaster Activity Centre

Katherine Tofield is the Centre Manager at Brancaster Activity Centre…

The Acitvity Centre is on the Norfolk coast and it’s from here we run residential programmes for school children, attracting groups from all over England. They have the opportunity to enjoy raft building, kayaking, orienteering, cycling, ‘coastal safari’ activities, and much more. For some, it’s their first visit to the coast.

We re-opened our doors to schools and groups in June, but this Saturday 18 July will be the official opening, when visitors can take a look around at the new facilities and we can thank all those that have supported us to get back up and running.

Once the Centre had dried out, we took this opportunity to refurbish and refit the Centre, enabling us to provide even better facilities for visitors. With the help of National Trust staff, partners and volunteers, the Centre has been redesigned with new fixtures, appliances and furnishings. Another priority was installing suitable flood mitigation measures to minimise damage from possible future flooding.

Flood Level

Due to the Centre’s location, flooding always remains a small risk, so many flood mitigation measures have been installed, including flood gates and sacrificial wall coverings. This means it won’t take us as long to get the Centre operational again, following any future floods.

The project has been largely funded by the National Trust’s Coastline Campaign, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, having been set up in 1965 with the aim of saving our nation’s coastline from unsympathetic development and to protect it for future generations enjoyment.

We’re also extremely grateful to our corporate partner, Panasonic UK, who have kindly donated state of the art energy efficient audio visual equipment, to aid the visiting school’s learning. Families and other groups are now also able to book the nine en-suite rooms and enjoy the well-equipped, self-catering kitchen complete with energy-saving devices. This includes high-capacity washing machines, an energy-efficient dishwasher, and heat pump tumble dryers that use up to 40% less energy than some conventional units. Panasonic’s induction hobs and combination ovens also save energy, time and money.

Inside 3

We’re incredibly proud of what we have achieved with our new refurbished Activity Centre. We’ve already had fantastic feedback from visitors that have stayed at the Centre since June and we’re really excited to be able to celebrate and share our new Centre with the local community and guests on Saturday.

The Centre is being officially opened by Dame Helen Ghosh, Director General of the National Trust and David Bond, the star and mastermind behind the film Project Wild Thing. David will be joining us to talk about the importance of getting children outdoors and closer to nature. The ceremony will be a celebration for the team and the National Trust but is also an opportunity to give thanks to the many people and organisations that have supported us on our journey since that December evening back in 2013.

Inside 1       Inside 2

Photo credit: Ian Ward

If you would like to look around the Centre, come along and join us on Saturday 18 July between 9.30am and noon. There will also be activities available, giving a flavour of what the Centre has to offer – including crabbing and bug hunting. 

Excavating Oxburgh’s brick kilns

Oxburgh Hall is a castle of bricks; thousands of them went into making its walls, towers and stairs. This week, as part of the Festival of Archaeology, we’ll be excavating one of Oxburgh’s medieval brick kilns.

Angus Wainwright is the National Trust’s archaeologist who is heading up the dig, here’s what he had to say…

Today, a brick is perhaps not something that might cause excitement and interest, but when Oxburgh Hall was built, brick was a new wonder material. Brick makers were deemed wonder workers who could turn soft clay into a rock-hard building block of the perfect size that it would fit into the hand of the builder.

To achieve this wondrous transformation required many years of experience, controlling the medieval elements of earth, fire, water and air. The brick makers worked their magic in a specially built kiln where wood was burnt in a carefully controlled air flow, which drove the water out of the clay and converted it from a crumbly earth to a hard block.

Oxburgh’s spectacular Gatehouse is an example of a tour de force of late medieval brickwork. Skilfully carved bricks form elaborate decoration, including the quatrefoil windows in the two projecting turrets. Even the vaulted ceiling retains areas of original painted decoration imitating a brick.

Oxburgh is best described as a fortified manor house, not a fortress. The moat, imposing gatehouse, heavy gates, battlements and gun ports would certainly have deterred a group of assailants, but Oxburgh’s ability to withstand a sustained and heavy bombardment would have been minimal. Brick is a relatively weak building material, and there are vulnerable points in the house’s construction, not least the enormous central gatehouse windows.

With brick playing such an important part of Oxburgh’s make-up, it was with delight that back in 2013, archaeological investigations in the woodland at Oxburgh led to the discovery of a 19th century brick kiln and the shallow pits where the clay was quarried. The kiln did not supply the bricks for the construction of the hall, but perhaps produced bricks for work around the estate in the early 19th century.

Photo credits: Robert Morris, Andreas von Einsiedale, Chris Lacey

This week on Wednesday 15 and Friday 17 July, a team of volunteer archaeologists will be uncovering one of Oxburgh’s medieval brick kilns, which has been hidden under a pine plantation for the last few hundred years.

Why not come and see how we get on, at our live dig, what will we uncover?