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Photo gallery: Beautiful 16th century Oxnead Hall in north Norfolk opens its gates for Paston Heritage Society

08:54 29 September 2014

The Paston Heritage Society celebrating its 21st anniversary at Oxnead Hall. Left to right, chairman of the Paston Heritage Society Rob Knee and members Tim Lenton and Caroline Gilfillan.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The Paston Heritage Society celebrating its 21st anniversary at Oxnead Hall. Left to right, chairman of the Paston Heritage Society Rob Knee and members Tim Lenton and Caroline Gilfillan. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

Set deep in the heart of rural north Norfolk, a stunning 16th century building opened up its gates for a special celebratory event for one afternoon only.

The History of Oxnead Hall

• Oxnead Hall was originally built abound 1580 by Admiral Sir Clement Paston with money that he raised from ransoming a captured French Admiral.

• Between 1631-42 it was remodelled by Nicholas Stone, who also sculpted some memorial busts of Paston family members which can be seen inside Oxnead and Paston churches.

• In 1671, Robert Paston hosted King Charles II and Queen Catherine of Braganza at the hall.

• By the eighteenth century William Paston, the Second Earl of Yarmouth, was forced to sell the hall and estate to pay off debts.

• In 1757 the hall was sold to Admiral Anson the circumnavigator and eventually demolished.

• More recently Oxnead Hall was extensively redesigned by the photographer John Hedgecoe.

• The hall is now owned by the Aspinall family.

Oxnead Hall is the former home of the famous Norfolk family the Pastons and to mark the 21st anniversary of the Paston Heritage Society (PHS), owners Beverley and David Aspinall allowed 85 guests a rare glimpse into the hall’s grounds.

Chairman of the society, Rob Knee, explained that Friday’s event was arranged for two key purposes.

“As well as celebrating the founding of the Paston Heritage Society by Lucy and Jack Care, we are launching a new book of poetry - Oxnead, a Paston Treasure - inspired by the history of Oxnead Hall, a one time jewel in the crown of the famous Paston family,” he said.

Written by Dr Knee and Norfolk poets Caroline Gilfillan and Tim Lenton - who together make up the offshoot of PHS, Chronicle - the group also treated guests to a performance at the hall.

Who were the early Pastons?

• Clement Paston: Clement was a yeoman who took advantage of the Black Death to build up a substantial landholding in and around Paston. He died on June 17, 1419 and was buried at Paston.

• William Paston: Born in 1378, Clement’s son, William, was educated in the law. It is with William that the fortunes of the Pastons really took off. He married Agnes Berry and their favourite residence was Oxnead Hall.

• John Paston Snr and Margaret Paston: William’s oldest son, born on October 10, 1421, and was also educated in the law. He married Margaret Mauteby. He made friends with Norfolk knight and landowner, Sir John Fastolff and became the main beneficiary of Sir John Fastolff’s will. John died in 1466 and was buried at Bromholm Monastery.

• John Paston the Elder and John Paston the Younger: John Snr’s two sons inherited the manors of Caister Castle, Coton and Hellesdon. It is this part of the Paston story which is illuminated by the many letters that passed between them and their mother, Margaret, who was still living at Oxnead Hall.

With costumes and set made by Penelope Knee, the performance covered the Paston family’s humble beginnings to the very highest ranks of society where the family entertained King Charles II at Oxnead Hall in 1671.

It was the cost of this visit, along with other huge financial problems, which marked the beginning of the downfall of the family. Only about a hundred years later the hall was a ruin and the treasures of the house dispersed and sold.

And in the remains of the hall a huge collection of letters, for which the Paston family is internationally known, were discovered by Francis Blomefield.

To view one of the Paston letters, click here.

Member of PHS and guests from the University of East Anglia, Norwich’s Dragon Hall and various other local arts organisations were invited to the event. They were each given a map to explore the grounds, gardens, outbuildings and also the nearby church with its underground tombs.

Dr Knee added: “It’s been our way of saying thank you to everyone who has helped with and been involved with the society.”

• On Saturday October 11 at St Margaret’s Church, Paston, there will be a celebratory event to mark the completion of the first stage of the church’s restoration. The new book will also be on sale. For more information visit www.pastonheritage.co.uk.

• Is your house due to be part of a special event? Email reporter donna-louise.bishop@archant.co.uk.

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