The East of England’s rich agricultural heritage has given us another dividend – a string of superb stately homes that would be the envy of any region. Many are now owned by the National Trust and they’re all open to the public at some time, even the late Queen Elizabeth II’s private rural retreat. Come and see our very own Downton Abbeys…
Who wouldn’t want to take a peek at the Royals’ living and dining rooms at Sandringham? And don’t miss the half-finished jigsaw of Queen Elizabeth II… yes, her method was to do the edges first, so she was just like the rest of us. The House, museum and gardens are open from Spring onwards. You can also visit the parish church that you’ve seen so many times on TV when the Royal Family attend Christmas Day morning service.
Come and visit the location where Meghan Markle spent her first Christmas with her future husband and in-laws.
Built around 1482 by Sir Edmund Bedingfield, Oxburgh Hall is a striking moated country house in the village of Oxborough (yes, different spelling). Built as a family home rather than a fortress, you get a real sense of how they used to live centuries ago. Look out for the needlework hangings made by Mary Queen of Scots and the secret priest hole. We dare you to go in it!
You won’t forget your first sight of Blickling Hall – a magnificent Jacobean mansion with ancient yew hedges at the heart of impressive gardens and historic park in the meadows of the river Bure.
In the extensive grounds, through which wind excellent paths, you’ll find possible the only pyramid in the region – a mausoleum for the second Earl of Buckinghamshire.
The Hall stands on the site of a medieval manor house, the birthplace of Anne Boleyn, the luckless wife of Henry VIII who was beheaded in 1536 for not bearing a son (Queen Elizabeth I was some consolation though!). They say you can still see her ghost on the anniversary of her death, driven to the house in a coach drawn by a headless horseman, with her own head on her lap. So you know where you want to be on the night of May 19.
A fine Palladian house built in the 1720s for Great Britain’s first and longest-serving Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole. Unsurprisingly, Houghton Hall was built to reflect the taste, wealth and power of its owner. The regal bearing of the exterior is matched by the sumptuous interior.
Situated in traditional parkland, Houghton is home to a herd of white fallow and other exotic deer. As you walk in the grounds you’ll notice an impressive collection of contemporary sculptures and art. In 2018 Houghton hosted works by Damien Hirst and in 2019 there will be sculptures by Henry Moore.
There’s also a 5-acre walled garden including Mediterranean and kitchen gardens, and a Soldier Museum, the largest private collection of model soldiers in the world.
Built in the Palladian style for Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, in the mid-18th century, Holkham Hall is a treasure house, the interior full of fine portraits and objects brought back from a Grand Tour.
Its setting is perfect, surrounded by rolling 3000-acre parkland with herds of fallow deer and close to its own beach, named the best in Britain by readers of BBC Countryfile magazine.
There’s a museum, featuring the 18th century farmer ‘Coke of Norfolk’ who helped usher in the agricultural revolution, a restored Victorian kitchen and the immense Marble Hall entrance, one of the finest classical rooms in England and modelled directly on ancient Roman buildings.
Noted for its Jacobean architecture and Georgian interior, the first thing you notice about 17th-century Felbrigg Hall are the words ‘Gloria deo in excelsis’ (Glory to God in the highest) across the balustrade on the house.
The house is set in a rolling landscape with a lake, 520 acres of woods and the decorative and productive walled garden is an inspirational delight.
Explore Audley End, a decadent Jacobean mansion house, and meet the staff in the Victorian Service Wing. Enjoy stunning views across the unspoilt Essex countryside and wander the tranquil gardens created by ‘Capability’ Brown, gold winner of Anglia in Bloom Awards 2017.
Admire the interiors of what was once one of the largest and most opulent houses in Jacobean England, with impressive great hall, magnificent state apartments, intimate dressing rooms, libraries and 18th century Gothic-style chapel.
You’ll find Somerleyton Hall in the heart of the Southern Broads, amongst swathes of parkland peppered with thatched cottages and the occasional windmill. Though its history dates back to the Viking invasion of East Anglia, this opulent hall is largely the work of two great Victorians: the sculptor and architect, John Thomas, and the garden designer, William Andrews Nesfield. Explore its extravagant gardens, which feature a maze and 70ft flower-laden pergola.
Melford Hall in Long Melford is home to the Hyde Parker family, whose cousin Beatrix Potter was a frequent visitor from the 1890s onwards. It was at Melford Hall that Miss Potter drew inspiration for some of her best-loved characters, and the hall still contains many of her original sketches, alongside many other objects that document the fascinating family history of the Hyde Parkers. Melford Hall opens at Easter and closes in mid-autumn.
Helmingham Hall is a perfect example of a courtyard manor house; its four sides – each as attractive as the next – are surrounded by a moat, and every night Helmingham’s two draw bridges are raised, as they have been since 1510, leaving the hall an island protected by the water and its many fish. Perhaps Helmingham’s most spectacular feature, however, are its gardens, designed and maintained by the award-winning Lady Xa Tollemache, whose family have lived at Helmingham Hall since the 1480s.
Without doubt one of Suffolk’s most unusual stately homes, Kentwell Hall is Tudor mansion that’s full of surprises. Explore it and you might stumble across a castle made of yew trees, a galleon, a two-dimensional maze, rare farm animals, and even some real-life Tudors going about their business.
Ickworth House is a striking example of Italianate Georgian architecture, the like of which had never been seen before, and which is now unique in Britain. The palatial building is centred by a rotunda, inspired by those of ancient Rome, and shooting off from it are two great wings filled with art and treasures collected by the palace’s former inhabitants, the Hervey family.