Blickling Hall is located in the village of Blickling, north of Aylsham, Norfolk and dates back to the 11th century when it was the manor house of Harold Godwinson who, on the death of King Edward the Confessor, become the King of England. Following Harold’s death at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the succession of William I, the house was given by William to his chaplain. By 1091 it had become the Bishops’ country palace.
In 1378 Blickling Hall was acquired by Sir Nicholas Dagworth, an aide to Edward III. It was he who built the rectangular moat house that was to have a considerable influence on the future developments of the building. After his death in 1401 it was acquired by Sir Thomas Erpingham who was one of the commissioners to receive the renunciation of the throne by Richard II in 1399. In the 1450s it was purchased by Geoffrey Boleyn and was to remain in the Boleyn family for several generations and was the home of Sir Thomas Boleyn the father of Anne Boleyn. It is believed that Anne was born there, although there is no evidence to substantiate this. In 1616, the estate was sold to Sir Henry Hobart, and his descendants remained at Blickling Hall until 1940, when it was bequeathed to the National Trust. During the Second World War it served as the Officers’ Mess to the nearby RAF Oulton. At the end of the war, the house was let by The National Trust until 1960, when the Trust began work to restore the house and grounds, and these were opened to the public in 1962.
The Hall as it stands today started to develop in 1619, when the architect, Robert Lyminge was engaged by Sir Henry Hobart to expand the Hall. The design was to incorporate the existing medieval and Tudor fabric into the new Jacobean style building. This resulted in the red-brick house with leaded-light windows, its Dutch gables and many turrets. It was Lyminge who built the service buildings which flank the house and form the grand forecourt. The Hall is surrounded on three sides by a dry Moat.
The exterior provides a glimpse into the development of the Hall. The South façade was completed in 1620 and contains the Hobart crest. The clock-tower was built after 1828 to replace a previous one dating from the 18th century. The East façade is Jacobean along its complete length while the West façade, originally Tudor was remodelled and refaced in the mid to late 18th century. This was rebuilt to incorporate the gables in the mid-19th century. The West wing, dating from 1624, has been significantly repaired and remodelled with the complete wing being rebuilt in 1864 to include kitchens, and other service facilities. The East Wing dates from 1623 and now incorporates a restaurant, shop and information room.
The gardens cover 55 acres, the majority of which are located on the East side of the house. They consist of formal and informal gardens including a Secret Garden with a summer house, whilst nearby is the 18th century orangery housing a collection of citrus trees.
Visitors approach the Hall via the South Front and the entrance to the Hall is via the great timber door which leads through the Entrance Passage with its Jacobean plaster ceiling and into the Great Hall which occupies the site of the medieval Great Hall. This was to become the principal room of the Jacobean house. It became the stair hall in 1767 when the staircase was transferred there and rebuilt as a double flight. The stained glass window contains 15th and 16th century German and Flemish glass.
The Hall contains a number of interesting rooms which convey the ambiance of the place. Rooms such as the splendid Chinese bedroom and dressing room which were created in the 1760s when the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire divided the Jacobean withdrawing room. He also refurbished the Long Gallery to accommodate the library. The Long Gallery certainly creates an impression as it is over 37 metres (123 feet) long with an intricately plastered ceiling and a Siena marble fireplace. It contains one of the most historically significant collections of manuscripts and books in England with most of the 12,500 books being acquired in the 18th century. The collection includes three pre-1500 Latin bibles and first editions of three Jane Austen novels.
The dining room with its fully laid table contains some impressive oak and chestnut panelling and a marble fire surround with a large oak over-mantel which dates from 1627. The room also contains a beautiful 18th century ten-fold screen in painted and gilt leather.
The South Drawing Room was the Great Chamber leading off the staircase prior to being converted into a drawing room around 1760. One of the finest Jacobean ceilings can be seen in the Hall, together with the magnificent Jacobean timber chimneypiece. The room was where Charles II was entertained in 1671.
In the Peter the Great Room are two paintings by Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88) and a tapestry of Peter the Great given to the 2nd Earl of Buckinghamshire by Catherine the Great of Russia in 1765. This room leads on to the State Bedroom with the lavishly adorned State bed in the alcove fronted with two Ionic pillars.
The Hall also contains Kitchens and servants quarters, a number of which however are not usually open to the public. However, the author was also able to visit a number of these and wishes to express his gratitude to the National Trust for allowing this.
Throughout the Hall, items of furniture, ceramics, textiles, tapestries and artefacts are found in the situation that they would have been used and which transport the visitor back to the time of its use, presenting a realistic view of life in those times in what is in fact a living museum.
To see more photographs and take a virtual tour of the site click on the photoshow below.