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Amazing secrets found under National Trust manor house’s floorboards

PUBLISHED: 14:57 17 August 2020 | UPDATED: 10:45 18 August 2020

Curator Anna Forest examines fragment of 18th century hand written document discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Curator Anna Forest examines fragment of 18th century hand written document discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

(c)National Trust - Mike Hodgson

A banned prayer book, a wartime chocolate box and rats’ nests made from Elizabethan textiles are among a remarkable collection of objects found under the floorboards of a Norfolk manor house.

Archaeologist Matt Champion looking under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk where unique set of items have been discovered during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonArchaeologist Matt Champion looking under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk where unique set of items have been discovered during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Archaeologist Matt Champion made the discovery when working alone through lockdown in the attic rooms of Oxburgh Hall, near Swaffham, which is owned by the National Trust.

Russell Clement, Oxburgh Hall’s general manager, said the find shone a light on the rich and varied history of the building, which is now undergoing a £6 million re-roofing and repair project.

Mr Clement said: “We had hoped to learn more of the history of the house during the re-roofing work and have commissioned paint analysis, wallpaper research, and building and historic graffiti recording. But these finds are far beyond anything we expected to see.”

Anna Forest, curator, said the “star” find was 15th-century illuminated manuscript fragment on parchment, whose bright blue and gold leaf still glimmer.

A chocolate box dating to the 1940s was among the many items found under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Matt ChampionA chocolate box dating to the 1940s was among the many items found under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Matt Champion

Researchers from the Cambridge University Library said the fragment, with text from the Latin Vulgate Psalm 39, was likely to have been from a portable prayer book called a Book of Hours. The small, 8cm x 13cm volume may have been used in illegal masses and deliberately hidden by the family after Catholic mass was outlawed by Queen Elizabeth.

Ms Forest said: “The use of blue and gold for the minor initials, rather than the more standard blue and red, shows this would have been quite an expensive book to produce.

“It is tantalising to think that this could be a remnant of a splendid manuscript and we can’t help but wonder if it belonged to Sir Edmund Bedingfeld, the builder of Oxburgh Hall.”

The Bedingfelds were once rising stars of the Tudor royal court before falling from grace when Sir Edmund refused to sign the Queen’s Act of Uniformity in 1559, which banned Catholic mass.

Oxburgh Hall covered in scaffolding during building work to replace the roof of the moated manor house. Picture: National TrustOxburgh Hall covered in scaffolding during building work to replace the roof of the moated manor house. Picture: National Trust

MORE: Oxburgh Hall becomes first National Trust site in region to reopen its doors

But the family stayed true to their faith over the centuries despite being ostracised and persecuted. They even had a secret compartment, called a priest hole, installed at Oxburgh Hall as a place for the clergy to hide from Elizabeth’s priest hunters.

Tiny pieces of books have also been found, some of which come from a 1590 volume of a Spanish chivalric romance titled ‘The ancient, famous and honourable history of Amadis de Gaule’.

The house’s north-west corner contained two ancient rats’ nests made of more than 200 fragments of high-quality textiles including silk, velvet, satin, leather, wool and embroidered fabrics.

The fragments, which are hundreds of years old, may have been off cuts from clothes being reworked and given new uses. Highlights include a large piece of slashed brown silk shot through with gold, possibly from a sleeve, a woven fabric embellished with delicate wool blackwork embroidery, a two-tone basket-weave clothing fabric with metallic thread which looks to be late 16th century in date, and pieces of a felted woollen textile which are similar to known examples from Tudor caps and stockings.

Sir Henry Bedingfeld, jailor to princess Elizabeth and owner of Oxburgh Hall. A copy of the 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes written by Saint John Fisher was found hidden ina void at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk during a reroofing project.

 Picture: National Trust/Jim WoolfSir Henry Bedingfeld, jailor to princess Elizabeth and owner of Oxburgh Hall. A copy of the 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes written by Saint John Fisher was found hidden ina void at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Jim Woolf

The nests also contained some scraps of handwritten music from the 16th century just large enough to be identifiable as from a cantus or soprano part, possibly from a part book.

Music is likely to have been part of the secret masses held at the house with the presence of a secret chapel during this period at Oxburgh often suggested.

And a builder working in an attic void discovered a gilded leather book of the King’s Psalms 1568 in an attic void, which is now being researched.

More modern, mundane objects such as cigarette packets and an empty box of Second World War-era Terry’s chocolates - which may have been hidden after the chocolates were eaten - were also found.

A tiny fragment of 16th century handwritten music found under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonA tiny fragment of 16th century handwritten music found under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Mr Clement said: “This is a building which is giving up its secrets slowly. We don’t know what else we might come across – or what might remain hidden for future generations to reveal.”

Oxburgh Hall was built in 1476, and Sir Edmund’s descendants still live in part of the building today.

The remaining debris from under the lifted sections of floors has all been removed, section by section, and bagged to be sifted through in the future to recover the final pieces.

The roofing work is being funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Wolfson Foundation, as well as the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, the Sylvia Waddilove Foundation UK, the Constance Travis Charitable Trust, as well as National Trust members and donors.

A copy of the 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes written by Saint John Fisher was found hidden in a void at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk during a reroofing project.

 Picture: National TrustA copy of the 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes written by Saint John Fisher was found hidden in a void at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust

Oxburgh Hall covered in scaffolding during building work to replace the roof of the moated manor house. Picture: National Trust/Ian WardOxburgh Hall covered in scaffolding during building work to replace the roof of the moated manor house. Picture: National Trust/Ian Ward

A copy of the 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes written by Saint John Fisher was found hidden ina void at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk during a reroofing project.

 Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonA copy of the 1568 edition of The Kynges Psalmes written by Saint John Fisher was found hidden ina void at Oxburgh Hall, Norfolk during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Curator Anna Forest examines a fragment of 18th century hand written document discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonCurator Anna Forest examines a fragment of 18th century hand written document discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Curator Anna Forest examines a 15th century illuminated manuscript discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project.  Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonCurator Anna Forest examines a 15th century illuminated manuscript discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Curator Anna Forest holds a large piece of fabric; slashed brown silk; shot through with gold retrieved from under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonCurator Anna Forest holds a large piece of fabric; slashed brown silk; shot through with gold retrieved from under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Curator Anna Forest holds a large piece of fabric; slashed brown silk; shot through with gold retrieved from under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonCurator Anna Forest holds a large piece of fabric; slashed brown silk; shot through with gold retrieved from under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Curator Anna Forest examines fragment of 18th century hand written document discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. 
 Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonCurator Anna Forest examines fragment of 18th century hand written document discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Curator Anna Forest examines a 15th century illuminated manuscript discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. 

 Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonCurator Anna Forest examines a 15th century illuminated manuscript discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson

Curator Anna Forest examines a 15th century illuminated manuscript discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. 

 Picture: National Trust/Mike HodgsonCurator Anna Forest examines a 15th century illuminated manuscript discovered under the floorboards of Oxburgh Hall; Norfolk by archaeologists during a reroofing project. Picture: National Trust/Mike Hodgson


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