The Old Hall: History
There have been settlements on the grounds of what is now Old Hall since prehistoric times. In Roman times it is likely that the site of the Hall was used as a military camp on a conjectured military route from the West to Brancaster possibly to stem the Iceni uprisings lead by Boudicca. Indeed many aspects of the moated enclosure resemble a typical Roman Castra (or camp) but more research is needed. There is also good likelihood that there is a buried Saxon settlement just awaiting excavation just to the South of the moat, certainly some timbers have been excavated.
In medieval times there was a stockade within the moat boundaries. The land was owned by the Mortimer family, wealthy and powerful land owners of the region in the 13th Century. In the 14th Century Barnham Ryske (as the village was then known) was decimated by the plague with many cottages lying between the current site of the Hall and the local church of St. Peter and St. Paul being abandoned and allowed to fall into ruin. In 1440 a gate house and drawbridge is recorded as being on the site leading to, what was probably, a timber Great Hall. Nothing of these structures remains. The great wooden hall is likely to have burnt down in the late 14th Century and the gatehouse being finally demolished in 1849.
The land then passed into the ownership of the Chamberlayne family originally from Geddings in Suffolk. The Chamberlayne family traced its ancestry to Edward I but unfortunately got embroiled in the Wars of the Roses on the wrong (Yorkist) side. Sir Robert Chamberlayne, patriarch of the family was tried and executed for high treason by King Henry VII in 1491 leaving the family with very little money or land. His youngest son, Edward with the dowry of his wife, Elizabeth Starkey, was able to build a modest manor on the site of the old wooden hall.
The Old Hall (formerly known as Barnham Ryskes Hall) was built by Sir Edward Chamberlayne between 1510 and 1550. He completed the South wing in 1514 with the porch tower being built in c. 1540. The style of the manor, whilst modest in proportions, featured numerous very fashionable elements. For example the white mortared entrance arch and window pediments were designed to mimic the fashionable marble examples of the Italian Renaissance. The North wing (and crow steps gables) were completed in 1614. Again attempts were made to keep things fashionable with “false” diaper work being applied to most brick walls. Traditional diaper work, that is the dark crosses in the brick work is made from darker, usually burnt bricks. The diaper work here follows the lesser but more common practice of staining select bricks. From 1514 until 1663 the Old Hall was the local Manor House with the manorial court held there during this period. Plaster relief in the Jacobean Parlour indicates the manorial court duties.
Sir Robert’s widow, an influential woman in her own right, Lady Elizabeth Fitz-Raaf successfully petitioned King Henry VIII to reverse the attainder of Sir Robert in 1531, however, Henry did not restore any of the family’s assets and the family never regained any appreciable wealth, missing out in the dissolution of the monasteries of the era. Ultimately the house was sold to the Wodehouse Family of Kimberley in 1644 who used it as the principle farm house on their extensive estates.
The Tudor South wing doubled as the village rectory from c. 1815 until 1849. Unfortunately in 1849 the moat’s drawbridge and porter’s lodge were demolished but otherwise very little was remodelled or changed.
The current farm house next door to the Old Hall is owned and farmed by the Eagle family who also owned the Old Hall from 1923 until 1963. The house and, in particular, the Jacobean parlour was, at this time used for agricultural storage including hay bales and fencing. Many of the windows lacked glass and the increased dampness caused the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour to sag with increasing severity over this period. Luckily the parlour had been subdivided into two rooms with a stud work partition wall across the centre. The ceiling finally came to rest, propped up by this partition wall.
After the Second World War a number of restoration and preservation societies sought buyers for The Old Hall due to its historic importance. However, due to a combination of the sad state of repair it had been allowed to fall into combined with the relative poverty inflicted by the War, especially in the form of sweeping death duties, meant that was not until 1963 that a buyer prepared to invest in the restoration was found. In the meantime a number of tenants passed through the house including members of the Lincoln family directly related to the US president, Abraham Lincoln. The Lincoln family graves are in the neighbouring village of Hingham. The next owners were the Hawker family who owned the house from 1963 to 1973. They undertook extensive but very sensitive renovation work and it is thanks to them that so many of the original features were saved. Unfortunately the octagonal staircase tower on the West facing South wing was beyond repair by this time and had to be dismantled. However, the magnificent plaster ceiling in the Jacobean parlour was largely salvageable by the expedience of fitting hundreds of threaded rods to its reverse surface and ever so slowly screwing them up thus jacking the ceiling back into place. An article in the February 23rd, 1967 edition of Country Life magazine details the restoration process.
In 1973 the house was briefly owned by a Mr. Walwork until 1977 though nothing is known about his tenancy. Then in 1977 the house was purchased by Dr. Hartley Booth and his wife Adrianne. The Booths, related to the Booths who founded the Salvation Army maintained the house and restored a number of original features such as the Tudor fireplace in the dining room (or original hall) and the Tudor ceiling that lay concealed under a lower (probably) Victorian false ceiling. In 2001 the Booths also established a John Evelyn (1620-1706) memorial arboretum to the front (East) side of the house. John Evelyn was a founder member of the Royal Society and author of its first ever work being “Sylva: or A Discourse of Forest-Trees and the Propagation of Timber in His Majesty's Dominions” published as a paper in 1662 and as a book in 1664. The book, in trying to redress the widespread destruction of natural forests in England (due to the Civil War) catalogued all tree types native to England in the 17th Century and the arboretum comprises only trees mentioned in the book.
In late 2018 Tom Webster was searching the internet for a suitable house for a friend of his and as is so often the case when one is online found himself going down various “rabbit holes” culminating in discovering the Old Hall being for sale. Against the will of his wife (who reckoned she was never going to move from Parsonage Farm, the previous abode) an appointment was made to view the property. Approximately 5 minutes after arriving at the front of the house both Tom and Brigitte Webster were convinced that this was the house for them. It took almost a year to the day to turn that conviction into a successful purchase and now The Old Hall, Barnham Broom is the new, and far more appropriate home of the Tudor and 17th Century Experience.
Apart from Abraham Lincoln and Henry VII and VIII the house also has links to Prime Minister Robert Walpole, Britain’s first Prime Minister in 1707 as well as Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first Female Prime Minister.
A tour around Old Hall
The Front Porch.
The archway into the porch tower displays many interesting period features. For example the white archway and window surrounds were intended to mimic the Italianate renaissance use of marble and had been made fashionable by Henry VIII. However, the “crows steps” at the gable were probably added during Elizabethan times as a fashion introduced by the protestant immigrant Dutch and Flemish. Inside the porch there are left and right stone benches upon which the the property’s tenant cottagers would have waited to pay their rent. One benefit of the large covered porch is that the huge early Tudor linenfold front door has remained remarkably intact. Note the Tudor rose motif. Though this door is the current front hallway with our oldest furniture item, an original French or Flemish oak dressoir dating to c.1485.
The Dining Room (Great Hall)
The current great hall (as the Tudors called such a dining room) is narrower than when built in 1514, the Victorians having added the corridor to the rear. However, it still retains its original oak ceiling mouldings and large inglenook style fire place. The original lintel was largely damaged and now a reproduction frontispiece adorns the original woodwork to give a clearer idea of what it would have looked like. At one time there would have been a minstrels gallery at the North end and indeed the original gallery window is still visible on the outside of the house.
Also part of the 1514 wing of the house, this was probably the ladies withdrawing room. It is now the family antiques, places of interest and history library, the ideal place to relax in front of a fire and investigate the next site of historic interest to go and visit. The room also features interesting “squint” windows to allow occupants to observe people approaching from the side - we have yet to investigate their true purpose. All the furniture in the library dates to earlier than 1600 and includes some superb Italian Renaissance “Cassbancas” being an Italian take on the idea of a bench married to a sofa.
The Staircase Tower.
To the rear of the entrance hallway is the grand staircase in a tower that makes the Leaning Tower of Pisa look like it was levelled with a spirit level. It is of a solid oak construction outwardly clad in bricks. One very interesting feature is an original “dog gate” at the foot of the stairs. This was intended to keep the family’s deer hounds downstairs and dates to c.1620!
The Great (Jacobean) Parlour
At the top of this staircase is a fine Jacobean door leading into the Great Parlour. Dating from 1614 this room sports one of the finest plaster ceilings in all of England! It was once used as the manorial courtroom as the winged angel motif on one of the frieze panels attests. In the centre is an inverted finial with the remains of Jacobean courtiers and wild boar motifs.
Sir Robert Chamberlayne Chamber
Through the side door of the Great Parlour is the Sir Robert Chamberlayne ensuite bedroom or chamber (as they referred to bedrooms in Tudor times). The room is named after the patriarch of the family. Sir Robert was executed for treason by Henry VII in 1491 but his attainment was reversed posthumously by Henry VIII in 1531. In the 17th Century this was the master bedroom and still bears the Chamberlayne crest above the fireplace. This currently houses one of the nicest examples of a 17th century four poster bed to be found. It is largely original and in superb condition. The views from the ensuite bathroom across the water meadow to the river Yare to the West are stupendous!
Tudor Games Room
The other door from the Great Parlour leads to the Tudor Games Room. Dating from the early 16th Century this was originally an oratory where the resident priest would hold mass every day for the family. The original wall recessed bible box is still present. The walls were once all painted and one still retains near perfect original wall painting. This dates to c. 1590 and is intended to represent the blood of Christ (possibly remembering the family’s Roman Catholic past in a now protestant England). The room is now used for our collection of Tudor board and card games.
Leading up from this room is a narrow spiral staircase to the household chapel. This was once the bedroom for the resident priest, the last being Father Richard Chamberlayne who died in 1570. Currently still being restored it is intended that authentic Tudor wedding services will be performed here.
Sir Edward Chamberlayne Chamber
The first bedroom in the South (1514) wing of the house is the Sir Edward Chamberlayne Chamber. Sir Edward started the build of the Old Hall in around 1510 and this small single chamber is so named to represent the man overseeing the construction of the house. The bathroom for the chamber is not ensuite but down the corridor. The bed in this chamber is an original “truckle bed” dating to the early 17th century.
The Great Chamber
This bedroom is next down the corridor and is so named due it being located directly above the Great Hall or dining room below. It is a generously proportioned room and contains an original four poster bed dating to either late Elizabethan or early James I. Adjoining it is an ensuite bathroom. It boasts fine views to the front (South) of the house. This room is the only other room in the house with a lockable bible box set into the wall.
The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk Chamber
The final bedroom down the corridor is currently also the master bedroom. However, this can be rented upon request (we’ll just move out and sleep in a yurt or something in the interim). This bedroom has the most magnificent of panoramic windows overlooking the front garden and (soon to be created) reproduction early Tudor knot garden. The bed is an original early Tudor four poster bed of modest proportions. The room also boasts a fine heavy beamed fireplace complete with impressive apotropaic fire scorch marks. The furniture in this room is all 16th Century and includes a rare example of a “Dante Chair” and an exquisite Cassone (or chest).