Weird Norfolk: What links Westwick’s obelisk, ghosts and stuffed bears?

Westwick Obelisk, Obelisk Lane, Worstead
Westwick Obelisk, a building at risk
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Westwick Obelisk once housed a tearoom. - Credit: Colin Finch

It is rare that a dainty tearoom with sea views is linked to a man who battled Satan and who appears as a ghost on wild and stormy nights: but Westwick lays claim to this fame.

Lying just beyond the parish of Worstead and in the grounds of the Westwick Estate is a curious obelisk, which rises from the brambles like the tower in Sleeping Beauty.

From its lofty position, it gazes out over the landscape towards the coast and has, of course, attracted its fair share of fantastical tales about its construction.

In the early 18th century, Westwick’s  landowner was John Berney of Westwick whose heirs were his daughters Juliana and Elizabeth.

His eldest daughter married Sir Thomas Brogrove and John agreed that their eldest son could inherit the Worstead Estate if he took the Berney name.

Furious that her sister was set to inherit, it is said that Elizabeth commissioned the building of a tall obelisk from which she could spy jealously on Juliana.

The tower of rendered brick and flint was topped with a glass and cast iron ‘gazebo’ which offered incredible views with the naked eye and a telescope.

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In Excursions in the County of Norfolk, written in 1818, it read: “At a little distance from the House is an obelisk, ninety feet high, with a room at the top neatly fitted up, from whence there is a remarkably fine prospect of a large extent of sea-coast on one side; and on the other, a rich inland country as far as the eye can reach; the whole in the highest state of cultivation, and beautifully clothed with wood.”

Westwick house showing the obelisk to the right hand sidef

Westwick house showing the obelisk in the distance to the right hand side. - Credit: Archant Library/Supplied

Juliana did give her son the Berney name: Berney Brograve was born in October 1726 and went on to inherit the estate and the title of Sir.

While Elizabeth’s family stayed at Westwick, the Brograves commissioned James Wyatt to build Worstead House and Worstead Park Coach House and renowned landscape designer Humphrey Repton to create the parkland.

Regular Weird Norfolk readers will recognise the infamous Sir Berney from other tales which also star him such as his ghostly appearance on wild and stormy nights where he is seen galloping between Worstead and Waxham and his links to the mill that bears his name near the coast.

Sir Berney had inherited land and property from several wealthy relatives and owned not only Waxham Hall, but also the manors of Horsey and Sea Palling – where his coastal fields and dunes were frequently flooded and constantly eroded.

Widowed twice, just four of his 17 children survived him. In two terrible days in 1793 he lost both his second wife and their 18-year-old son.

He is also said to have made a wager with the Devil, which ended with a desperate race to the safety of his mill on sodden marshland in Waxham.

Sir Berney, gasping for breath, clumsy with fear, staggered towards the sanctuary of his mill: half falling into the darkness, he turned to slam the door in the devil's face.

Outside the storm raged and the devil was so desperate to snatch the soul he had been promised, that he kicked at the door with his cloven hoofs, and howled his sulphurous breath at the building with such diabolical power that it lurched on its waterlogged foundations.

And that, of course, is why Brograve Mill stands at such a drunken angle to this day.

Another tale about this fascinating estate is that in the 19th century, two brown bears were kept in the grounds, but during a gale a tree crashed into their cage and they took the opportunity to escape.

Sadly, the creatures could not be captured and were, instead, shot.

Their bodies were then stuffed and apparently were given to Norwich Castle Museum – another bear, this time frozen, was given to the city as an unusual Valentine’s Day gift in 1976.

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