Revealed: The 24 aristocrats who own 10 per cent of Norfolk's land

Lord Charles Townshend, 8th Marquess Townshend, with his dog Bob at Raynham Hall

Charles Townshend of Raynham Hall is the 8th Marquess and owns a 5,000-acre estate. His family have owned land in the Fakenham area since the 1100s - Credit: IAN BURT

Aristocrats including an Italian Count and English nobles whose families found favour with King Charles II and even William the Conqueror still own ten percent of Norfolk’s land, new research has revealed.

A joint investigation by this newspaper and the Who Owns Norfolk project shows that around 140,000 of Norfolk’s 1.4m acres are in the hands of the Crown, families with hereditary titles, or those descended from nobility.

That includes the 25,000 acre Holkham estate in northwest Norfolk owned by the Earl of Leicester, 12,000 acres around the county owned by Count Padulli di Vighignolo, and the 20,000 acre Sandringham estate which is the private property of the Queen. 

Use our interactive map, created by Who Owns Norfolk, to view estates and their owners. There are 24 estates listed and clicking on the land will reveal who owns the land and WON's methodology and sources.

Other major landowners in the county include the Ministry of Defence, The National Trust, the RSPB, the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, Anglian Water and the Forestry Commission, as well as privately wealthy families including the Colmans who made their money in mustard.

Thomas Sheils, 27, founder of Who Owns Norfolk, said: “I was expecting it to be a pretty unequal picture so I wasn't surprised, but I do find it shocking, especially when you find land that has been owned by a single family since the time of William the Conqueror.

"It totally contradicts any idea that people are born equal, when you have this select group of families still benefiting from the wealth of ancestors from hundreds or even a thousand years ago."

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English land ownership laws date back to 1066 when William the Conqueror claimed all of England for the Crown, then leased estates to his favourite lords and nobles, who in turn leased the land to tenants and farmers.

Today, England and Wales remain among the last countries on earth which allow properties to revert to third-party landlords after a set time.

Scotland and Britain’s former colonies have abolished leasehold but it still accounts for a quarter of property sales in England and Wales.

Houghton Hall in its beautiful parkland setting. Photo: Simon Bamber

Houghton Hall. - Credit: Simon Bamber

It is not known how many private homes and businesses pay rent or ground rent to these wealthy Norfolk families.

The research, undertaken by the Who Owns Norfolk project, pulled together information from the Land Registry, Natural England, freedom of information requests, Companies House, and information about public rights of way (and the estates they cross) kept by Norfolk County Council.

Houghton estate, 4500 acres, owned by the Marquess of Cholmondeley 

In 1789 the French people revolted against their aristocratic rulers, declaring a republic and introducing many lords and ladies to Madame Guillotine. 

On these shores, that year saw the Cholmondeley family purchase Houghton Hall and its estates - land they’ve owned ever since.

Lord David Cholmondeley of Houghton Hall

Lord David Cholmondeley of Houghton Hall traces his lineage back to Anglo-Norman Barons at the time of Henry II - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

The Cholmondeley family descends from William de Belward, the feudal lord of the barony of Malpas in Cheshire.

He acquired the lordship through his wife, the daughter of Hugh de Kevelioc, 5th Earl of Chester, an Anglo-Norman baron who signed a peace treaty with Henry II in 1174. Their second son, Robert le Belward, became feudal lord of the barony of Cholmondeley.

The current Marquess, David Cholmondeley, 61, was a page of honour to the Queen aged 14 and spent his early life as a filmmaker. He married fashion model Rose Hanbury, then 25, in June 2009 and their twin sons were born that October. 

The family now employ 42 people full time on the estate, near Kings Lynn,  and a further 40 part time.

Estate director Robert Miller said providing employment was something Lord Cholmondeley (pronounced Chumlee) was “very keen on”, stressing the estate runs apprenticeship schemes and provides “high quality jobs tucked away in bits of rural Norfolk.”

Gayton estate, 3200 acres, owned by the Earl of Romney

Julian Marsham, Earl of Romney, owns the 3200 acres of Gayton estate, which includes an 800 acre tenanted farm.

His son David, Viscount Marsham, is one of Prince William’s very closest friends, and was seated in the Statesmen’s Aisle in Westminster Abbey’s north transept for the royal wedding, reserved for the couple’s close friends and family

Their ancestor the first Earl - also named Charles - was ennobled in 1801 having made a fortune from slavery in the sugar plantation of St Kitts in the Caribbean.

Gayton Hall

Gayton Hall and its estates are owned by the Marsham family, who originally gained wealth and titles owning sugar plantations in the West Indies - Credit: IAN BURT

Since those days the family has lost significant holdings in Kent but have owned the Norfolk estate for over 150 years and live in Gayton Hall in the village, near Kings Lynn.

Estate manager Alistair Beales said the Estate provides allotments, a football pitch, a cricket pitch, the site of Gayton Social Club and part of the Primary School grounds in the village, all for rents of a few hundred pounds a year.

The Estate and its farming and business tenants currently provide full time employment for 17 people with a further five working part time. Including family, staff, retired staff and tenants in let houses, the Estate houses 18 families.

Holkham, 25,000 acres, owned by the Earl of Leicester

The Coke family have owned and lived in Holkham Hall continuously since the 1750s, and the estate covers just over 25,000 acres of northwest Norfolk near Wells-next-the-sea.  

It is not known how many tenants pay rent to the current Earl, but on his website he explains the estate “provides resources both to maintain the house, and to ensure that the social fabric of rural life remains intact.”


Holkham Hall, at the heart of the massive estate twice the size of Norwich which is owned by Thomas Coke, the 8th Earl of Leicester. - Credit: Mike Page

This incarnation of the Earldom dates from the 1837 elevation of Norfolk farmer, reformer and parliamentarian Thomas Coke.

After decades in the Commons he took no great pride sitting in the Upper House, calling it a “hospital for incurables”.

His descendant and namesake, the current Earl, feels differently and last month won an internal election among Tory peers to win a seat in the Chamber.

The 8th Earl of Leicester, at the Holkham Estate.

Thomas Coke, Lord Leicester, has been elected to the House of Lords. - Credit: Holkham Estate

Sandringham, 20,000 acres, owned by The Queen

The Queen is one of Norfolk's largest landowners. 

Around 33,000 acres including large areas of coastline and foreshore are owned and administered by the Crown Estate, although this is not a private landowning. It remains in the possession of the British sovereign whoever he or she is, and is administered by the government.

Sandringham. Photo: Mike Page.

The Sandringham Estate, comprising 20,000 acres, is not the property of the Crown but the personal home of the Queen. It has been owned by her family since 1862. - Credit: Archant

Sandringham and its 19,770 acres on the other hand, is a private home, purchased by Queen Victoria for her eldest son Albert in 1862. It has remained in the family ever since, as a much-beloved summer residence.

Eight tenant farmers rent approximately half the estate, which also includes most of the villages of Shernborne, Anmer, Appleton, Babingley and Wolferton in West Norfolk.

The estate engages in a great deal of conservation work. Since 1952 more than two million trees have been planted and 45 new woodlands and ten wetlands created.

The Queen meets the crowd during her visit to West Newton Church. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Queen meeting the crowd during a visit to West Newton Church, which is on her Sandringham estate in Norfolk - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2019

Albanwise Estates, 12,000 acres, owned by Count Padulli di Vighignolo

In 1992 an Italian aristocrat named Luca Padulli bought swathes of Norfolk, and now owns ten times more property titles than the Queen.

Count Luca Rinaldo Cantardo Padulli di Vighignolo, 65, owns manor houses and collects art by Michelangelo and Rubens. His businesses own 106,000 leaseholds across Britain.

The secretive Count does not give interviews but when questioned by MPs in the select committee inquiry on leasehold reform, his company representatives admitted that consent fees fund their “entire operation”, as all ground rent income goes straight to their investors. 

“Consent fees” are charged by superior landlords to tenants wishing to make improvements to their homes, and for some companies can be as steep as £60 for permission to install a new doorbell or £80 for consent to own a dog.

In Norfolk, Count Padulli owns Rugg's Hall Farm in Felmingham; the Barton Bendish Estate near Kings Lynn; the Saxlingham and Gunthorpe Estates; Bawdeswell Estate near Reepham; Dunham Lodge near Little Dunham; and Kempstone Lodge Farm near Beeston, among other properties.

These are not funded by his other business operations.

Phil Jarvis of Albanwise Wallace Estates Limited said: “We invest in property and farmland assets across Norfolk, acting as managers, custodians and long-term stewards.

"Our mission is to always enrich the communities that we invest in, with long-term sustainability at the heart of the business. 100% of the profits we generate are reinvested back into the business.”

Raynham Hall estate, 5000 acres, owned by Marquess Townshend

The Townshend family date their ownership of the land around Raynham, near Fakenham, to the 1100s.

Lord Charles Townshend, 8th Marquess Townshend, with his dog Bob at Raynham Hall

Charles Townshend of Raynham Hall is the 8th Marquess and owns a 5,000-acre estate. His family have owned land in the Fakenham area since the 1100s - Credit: IAN BURT

Sir Roger Townshend began work on Raynham Hall in 1617.

His brother Sir Horatio was a favourite of King Charles II and was made a Viscount in 1682, after the family played a prominent role in the Restoration of the monarchy.

The current (eighth) Marquess, Charles, runs the estate which farms cereal crops and Aberdeen Angus cattle, and has 40 properties which are leased to employees and locals.

Other notable aristocratic holdings

Elsewhere in the county other titled lords own smaller holdings - but have held them for even longer.

The 942-acre Merton Hall Estate just north of Thetford is owned by 96-year-old John De Grey, the 9th Baron Walsingham, whose family have lived there since the Norman Conquest.

What was originally a Saxon manor was given by William the Conqueror to his countryman Ralph Baynard in 1067, a year after his victory at the Battle of Hastings.

In 1337 an heiress of Ralph's descendant Fulk Baynard married Thomas de Grey, establishing the Norfolk branch of the de Grey family, who have lived there ever since.

Sir William de Grey was ennobled as Baron Walsingham in 1780.

Over in the east of the county, Raveningham Estate (3200 acres) near Beccles has been in the hands of the Bacon family since 1735.

Their baronetcy dates back to 1611 and was first granted to the son of Elizabeth I’s Lord Keeper Of The Great Seal.

Raveningham Gardens, Raveningham Hall. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood

Raveningham Hall and its estate has been in the hands of the Bacon family since 1735. Their baronetcy dates back to 1611. - Credit: Archant

The current baronet, Sir Nicholas, 68, has served as Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk and High Sheriff of Norfolk.

North Creake Estate (2600 acres) near Docking is owned by the Spencer family. Charles Spencer is the head of the family as the 9th Earl Spencer and brother to the late Diana, Princess of Wales.

Ditchingham Hall and its estate (2000 acres) outside Thwaite is owned by Robert Shirley, the 14th Earl Ferrers. The title is the senior Earldom in the country, originating in 1711.

Stradstett Hall, at a little under 2000 acres, is one of the smaller plots of lands but its owner, Jeremy Bagge the 7th Baronet.

Conservative politician Sir Jeremy Bagge, the 7th Baronet,

Conservative politician Sir Jeremy Bagge, the 7th Baronet, owns a 2000 acre estate and has admitted he has "not been trained for interviews" - Credit: Ian Burt

The aristocratic owner of the 6200 acre Shadwell Park estate hails from slightly further afield: Sheikh Hamdam bin Mohammed Al Maktoum is the Crown Prince of Dubai.

An avid equestrian, the Sheikh bought the land outside Thetford in 1984 and has been breeding racehorses in the Nunnery Stud ever since.

The estate makes contributions to local charities including £30,000 a year to the East Anglian Air Ambulance.

When is a Lord not a Lord?

Some of the county’s largest privately-owned estates are in the hands of families which do not currently boast a hereditary aristocratic title, but who are connected to some of the oldest and wealthiest families in the land.

Medieval Castle Rising.

Construction of Castle Rising was begun in 1138 by William d’Aubigny, 1st Earl of Arundel. Today his descendent Greville Howard owns the land. - Credit: Jon Williamson

The 2600 acres of the Castle Rising estate are now in the hands of Greville Howard, a Conservative politician who does sit in the House of Lords, but as a life peer ennobled in 2004, not a hereditary.

However he is a member of the Howard family which includes Henry VIII’s fifth wife Catherine Howard and before that William d’Aubigny, 1st Earl of Arundel, who in 1138 built the castle whose ruins Greville Howard owns today.

The Le Strange Estate (6200 acres) in Huntstanton is owned by the Le Strange family, who boast an even older pedigree.

According to multiple historic sources they are believed to be direct descendants of the Fitz Herlewin de Hanstanton family, who were granted the lands during the reign of William the Conqueror.

Thomas Sheils of the Who Owns Norfolk project

Thomas Sheils of the Who Owns Norfolk project has collected data on the county's largest landowners - Credit: Thomas Sheils

Every estate mentioned in this article was contacted for comment.

If you believe you have a story connected to these estates, or if you work for or pay rent to these families, please get in contact if you wish: 

*This article was updated on August 12 to make explicit that Count Padulli’s leasehold interests nationwide do not fund his Norfolk estates.

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