Where Edith Cavell and lions once trod
- Credit: Archant
Property editor Caroline Culot had a fascinating tour of Colney Hall, Norwich, for sale for £1.95 million with Sowerbys on 01603 558153.
You veer off the road going out of Norwich near the hospital, along a private drive and suddenly this rather grand, Colonial style majestic white building in an elevated position in parkland, greets you. Colney Hall boasts a history as elaborate as its plasterwork ceilings; once needing 19 domestic staff and 14 gardeners to manage it. The original hall was built for a rich wool merchant and brewer in the late 1700s but it was much remodelled in 1900 when banker Hugh Gurney Barclay acquired it. It was when he visited Africa on a safari that he was given the unusual present of two lions, Mitzi and Fritzi by a German count. He brought the lions back which were kept at the hall as pets, roaming in the parkland and with a man-made cave built for their sanctuary which still exists today. A faded old photograph, made into a postcard, shows the lions lying together in the grounds. But after they mauled Barclay's son and heir Terrence in 1911, they were shipped off to a Dublin zoo. Newspapers of the time including the EDP tell of the horror of the young man being mauled and saved by the gamekeeper who fired his gun and made the animals flee. As well as the lions, Colney Hall also hosted Norfolk heroine Edith Cavell. Before the lions came, Edith was appointed in about 1889-90 as governess to Barclay's three children at the time (he went on to have eight) and was there for about a year before going to Brussels after which she trained as a nurse. Accounts from Barclay state he thought she was somewhat 'formidable.'
It is fascinating to think as you walk around the hall, that she may have walked in the same place and in the hall is a marvellous, large mirror which is believed to be about as old, if not older, than the hall. Did Edith look in that same mirror to check her hair was neat or her blouse was clean, you wonder? Interestingly, the house you now see is probably only about a quarter of its original size, much being removed over the years and the estate was broken up in the 1950s. Much of how it looks now with its balcony at the front was down to a property developer who created an 'American dream.' It now boasts seven bedrooms and is set in 4.2 acres of wonderful parkland. It has a very unusual orangery modelled like a grotto and you can actually enjoy water cascading, waterfall-like, down the wall. Standing on the front balcony leading from the master bedroom does really give you a feeling of grandeur and you can watch the sun and moon rise from there.