Every now and again we come across a building that exceeds any pre-conceived expectations of its type. This Grade I Listed building and its estate is one such. There is something very satisfying about being involved in a property of such a high pedigree that is not only off the beaten track but also off the radar to all intents and purposes. These are properties that are known about by only a select few: their owners, the local conservation officer and perhaps English Heritage or similar historically interested bodies. But essentially not in the public domain.
Britain was once richly endowed with large Country House Estates of very high calibre but today relatively few remain intact and of these, many have suffered along a politically and economically challenging path to reach the 21st century at all.
This Elizabethan Hall in a classic ‘E’ plan, set on a garden island surrounded by a bridged moat, has been home to several well-known historic figures over the years, with many more highly important visitors staying as guests of the aristocratic owners at various times through its history. Built in the typically mellow toned Norfolk red brick in English bond, with accommodation extending over three storeys, it is a fine house with an imposing approach across parkland and over the moat bridge. Its Elizabethan profile is evident from a distance in its distinctive crowstep gables and pin tile roof.
The estate lapsed into disuse several times in its chequered history and the Hall itself had been on the ‘Buildings at Risk’ register for years prior to being ‘refurbished’ in the 1980’s. A range of repair works were carried out at this time on the main Hall but these were largely unapproved, did not follow conservation or heritage guidelines and were unsympathetic to the original construction techniques and the fabric of the building.
As part of our brief to upgrade and update the Hall whilst retaining its original form and character, we convinced our client to keep the rather unusual warm air heating system that had been installed during the 1980’s refurbishment. Internally the house remained in unusually good order despite many years of abandonment and it is likely to have been this warm air circulating that was its saving grace, alongside the maverick repairs undertaken in the 1980’s. Indeed, without this intervention the Hall might not have survived at all. Much of the existing floor structure had also been levelled and strengthened at this time so we were able to install an underfloor heating system through much of the Hall as part of the current upgrading, helping to make this single-glazed leaded lights and solid brick walls house feel more like a warm and welcoming home.
Although much of the internal layout was to remain, our clients’ brief included some alterations and reconfiguring to create an estate office, a boot room and a rear entrance hall with laundry and shower facilities. It was also decided to create a ‘moat room’ in order to open out part of the ground floor to the surrounding landscape. The high window cills of the brick transomed and mullioned windows as well as the moat itself, gave the impression of the surrounding garden and landscape to be inaccessible from within and seemed to isolate the inside of the house from not only the moated garden but also the wider landscape. The new, conservatory-like addition, off the kitchen area and extending out to the moat itself, dramatically adds to the setting of the house as well as providing physical and visual access to its surroundings.
In order to realise this moat room and create what may be a ‘first’ in the refurbishment of a Grade I Listed Hall, we worked closely with Historic England and the local Conservation Officer to convince them of the merits of this unusual addition within the curtilage of the splendid Hall. It is certainly unique in its placement close to a moat and allows another feature of the house to be enjoyed as well as taking it forwards into the 21st Century as a liveable home.
In addition to the Hall itself, a range of other estate buildings, in various stages of decay, were converted to create additional accommodation for staff and visitors, holiday accommodation and an entertainment area for shooting parties. Notable amongst these was the conversion of a post-war piggery to provide an events area and ancillary accommodation including a gym.
Existing cottages were updated to provide staff and guest accommodation as was a small stable and a section of a larger barn. The barns and stables on the estate were all included under the historic listing of the Hall so the refurbishment had to be carefully managed in order to comply with understandably strict Historic England and Conservation criteria. The result is an outstanding Hall with intact Estate buildings that will go forward into the future with a full range of useful and adaptable accommodations.
Elizabethan Hall & Estate
South Norfolk District Council
Grade I, Completed
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