Blickling

Last Updated on 9th November 2021 by Mike@bitaboutbritain

Blickling Estate, visit NorfolkBlickling is an extensive estate and stately home in Norfolk, with walks, gardens and a splendid house to enjoy wandering around.  People will tell you that it was Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, but don’t believe a word of it.  Anne was indeed probably born at Blickling, in 1501 or 1507, but there is no visible trace of the house that she might have known and, anyway, she spent most of her childhood at Hever Castle, in Kent.  The current Blickling Hall was built in the century after Anne Boleyn.  That doesn’t kill the rumour that she haunts the place, however, especially on 19 May, the anniversary of her execution. Let us say that she does, along with a dozen other places; after all, these things help sell tickets.

Blickling, visit Norfolk“The settlement of the followers of a man called Blicia” (Oxford Dictionary of Place Names), Blickling, was mentioned in the Domesday survey of 1086.  The Boleyn connection came almost five hundred years later, in 1452, when the estate was bought by Anne’s great-grandfather, Geoffrey Boleyn, a hatter, mercer and, in 1457, Lord Mayor of London.  Anne’s father, Thomas Boleyn, was also born at Blickling.  Thomas was a skilful, well-connected, diplomat; Mrs Boleyn, Anne’s mum, was Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk.

Norfolk gardens, BlicklingBut you don’t really need the brooding absence of Henry VIII’s second wife, bless her, to appreciate the elegant red-brick Jacobean mansion that is Blickling Hall.  It was built sometime after 1616, when the property was purchased by politician and lawyer Henry Hobart, and was designed by Robert Lyminge, or Lemynge, the architect of Hatfield House.  Its long gallery was converted into a wonderful, unique, library in the 1740s, when the then owner, Sir John Hobart, Earl of Buckinghamshire, inherited a carefully assembled book collection from the scholar, Sir Richard Ellys.  The long gallery library now contains more than 12,500 volumes.  The greatest changes to the house were made when Blickling was owned by William Schomberg Robert Kerr, 8th Marquess of Lothian (1832-70), who had the west wing rebuilt to accommodate a new kitchen and other mod-cons.  Kerr married his cousin, Lady Constance Talbot, in 1854 and they travelled extensively together.  Sadly, William Kerr died young, aged just 38, apparently from a mysterious disease caught overseas.  His ornate memorial in St Andrew’s church next door to the estate includes an astonishing, life-size, life-like, effigy; his equally magnificent tomb is in Jedburgh Abbey.

Blickling entrance hallThe final private owner of the Blickling Estate was the 11th Marquess of Lothian, Philip Kerr (1882-1940).  Lord Lothian was an influential Liberal politician, diplomat and newspaper editor, whose fascinating career included a spell as Prime Minister Lloyd George’s secretary and, at the end of his life, Ambassador to the United States of America.  Previously an appeaser, Lothian later came to realise that Hitler had to be stopped and, in Washington, he played a vital part in encouraging support for that view – and in the creation of the Lend-Lease Programme.  He also donated the Blickling Estate to the National Trust.

Blickling, Chinese bedroomLothian inherited the estate in 1930 and entertained an eclectic array of celebrities there, including the Astors, Stanley Baldwin, Joyce Grenfell and (somewhat surprisingly) Joachim von Ribbentrop. But he is rightly celebrated by the National Trust (and should be by you, too) as the force behind the National Trust Act of 1937 and the Country Houses Scheme, which meant that a family donating their property to the Trust could avoid paying death duties and able to continue to live in the property, provided at least part of it was opened to the public.  So, without Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian, you probably wouldn’t be able to visit Blickling, plus a bunch of other places.

Long gallery library at Blickling HallDuring the Second World War, part of the Blickling Estate became RAF Oulton, a station used by both RAF Bomber and Coastal Commands, as well as by the USAAF.  Service personnel were billeted in Nissen huts in the grounds of Blickling Hall and officers in the house itself. The National Trust has set up a museum on the site to commemorate this period in Blickling’s history and there’s more about RAF Oulton on the excellent Aviation Trails website.

Blickling Hall interiorBoleyn Bull at Blickling, Covid-19The Blickling Estate is a lovely place to visit.  The house is beautiful as well as fascinating and the grounds are super.  I spent ages trying to replicate a photograph I had seen, of the house seeming to rise majestically from the slightly misty lake, before I worked out that it was probably taken from a boat. We visited in 2020, during a lull between lockdowns when the National Trust, and others, were gamely trying to open some properties on a limited basis whilst ensuring Covid-19 restrictions were adhered to. So it was that, on a dull, overcast, autumn morning, we found ourselves lining up outside Blickling Hall to gain entry as numbers permitted.  The inevitable consequence of the Trust’s excellent efforts was an erratic crocodile of masked tourists, most of whom maintained safe distances from one another. However, in the interests of fairness, the scheme relied on everybody walking round the house in a considerate manner and at roughly the same speed, requirements that the couple ahead of us had not cottoned on to.  Blissfully unaware of the restless queue forming behind them, they stopped to examine every object, read every notice, talk earnestly and at length to every room steward and take photographs from every conceivable angle.  They were probably the only ones who had time to focus their cameras.  By about a quarter of the way round, the sound of unhappy mutterings and foot-shuffling in the rear was audible to all but the stone-deaf. People were craning their necks, to see what the hold-up was. Had a headless Anne Boleyn suddenly appeared, Lazarus-like, in the South Drawing Room?  And then we came up against that feature of the English stately home that the National Trust does so well; the patronising and pompous attendant.  “Come along, move along, keep moving,” bellowed this lump of a female as we were finally allowed to enter the room she was guardian of. I narrowed my eyes at her in a ‘don’t mess with me, my good woman’ kind of manner, which she ignored.  So I casually tasered her as we walked by and I believe the couple behind us threw her out of a window.

Blickling EstateTo be clear, the vast majority of National Trust staff and volunteers are simply wonderful.  But something in the organisation’s unique culture ensures that people who shouldn’t be allowed out in public can occasionally escape onto the front line.  Once there, they roam freely, able to offend at will.  Dear National Trust: forget trying to win brownie points by banging on about diversity awareness; invest in some basic customer service training.

Blickling EstateIn closing, I should like to take the opportunity to offer my ranting services at a highly competitive rate and direct you to the National Trust’s website for further information.

And don’t forget to visit Blickling’s church, St Andrew’s, next door. It is 15th century on an older site, significantly restored in the mid-19th century. As well as the astonishing marble memorial to William Schomberg Robert Kerr, the interior contains some significant medieval brasses, a medieval font and some wonderful stained glass.

Blickling church, William Kerr

78 thoughts on “Blickling

  1. marmeladegypsy

    This looks really beautiful, Mike. I love seeing a home that looks comfortable — not all gold gilt chairs and uncomfy sofas! But the more contemporary furniture works within the house and that took some real skill to make it feel like it belonged there. I can relate to the frustration of those in line. It’s one thing to take one’s time when there isn’t a crowd or if the crowd can move around you, but that had to be quite annoying! Glad she was tossed out the window! The church looks like it would be lovely, too.

  2. Mary

    I love old historic bldgs, so why did this one make me think about the excess of wealth concentrated in few hands, as is now happening on a monumental scale in the US, as it once did in UK?
    Looking at the photo of the monument to RSRKerr, I thought, this is what people who have too much spend it on, How sad it is, that, in every age, many go hungry and sleep rough, while a few live lavishly, ignoring the less connected and fortunate. This is a beautiful place, though furnitue/decor is modernized in a pedestrian way, but it made me sad in a way I never have been before.

  3. willedare

    The depth and breadth of history (and previous wealth!) in Britain astounds me every time I read one of your blog posts. Thank you for another lovely trip to an extraordinary property!

  4. SueW

    Such a beautiful house and thank you for making the tour so interesting.

    Oh I love this bit “People who shouldn’t be allowed out in public can occasionally escape onto the front line.” Yes and I’ve met some of them!

  5. Helen Devries

    We lived nearby for a while so visited the house and grounds a fair number of times as it was a good place to take visitors. The attendant sounds like a good example of NFN to me….

  6. Jim Borden

    that looks like a wonderful place to visit; and I think those pompous attendants are a key part of the experience. I’d be disappointed if I didn’t come across at least one 🙂

  7. V.M.Sang

    Although I lived in East Anglia for 5 years in the late 70s, I have never heard of Blikling. It looks lovely from your photos.
    The trouble with East Anglia is that it’s quite literally off the beaten track. You don’t go through it to get to anywhere else, so many of its treasures are not known.

  8. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – this looks to be an amazing place … I hadn’t been aware – and certainly if I ever get up to Norfolk I’ll make a plan to visit. Fascinating post about him, history and the house – loved it – thank you – Hilary

  9. April Munday

    That’s a stunning looking place. I don’t tend to visit NT properties, as they’re usually from more recent periods than the one I’m interested in. They also seem to be set up to make me feel stupid. It’s not the staff necessarily, just the way the information is presented, I think.

    My best encounter with a room steward was in No.1 Royal Crescent in Bath. She answered my questions with wit and enthusiasm, which really made the visit. Yes, I would be the woman holding everyone else up. I ask questions, I take photographs, I refer to the guide book and I look at everything. Fortunately, I tend to stick to ruins.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      You certainly don’t want to dash round any of these places. I like to pause, and ponder, and learn. But in the circumstances I’m afraid those two were simply being selfish – particularly as those coming after were chivied along by the power-hungry guards and didn’t get a chance to spend much time at all.

  10. Ian Hutson

    I have only the most vague memories of my happy times staying at Blickling. This is almost certainly because I never stayed there.

    Say several splendid concerts in the grounds. Status Quo, for one. Meat Loaf for another. I was also never paid for my air-guitar or for my backing vocals. Mr Meat Loaf was a worry. While the music was fantastic, at one point he got down on all fours for a track and stayed down there for so long that I couldn’t decide whether he’d just forgotten to get back up or was in fact having a seizure or a heart attack. I keep his white lace handkerchief with me to this day.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Out of respect for my readers, I omitted to mention that Olly Murs is due to appear at Blickling sometime. Great setting to see the Quo! I think I was the only person in the world who thought Mr Loaf was awful – though he was obviously very good at it.

  11. tidalscribe.com

    I love the stained glass windows by the staircase – imagine descending those every day. We went there a very long time ago when we had a seaside holiday with our young children in Norfolk. I remember the outside views, but can’t recall the inside as the children thought the red ropes were for swinging on so we didn’t linger. Good thing your grumpy volunteer wasn’t on that day!

  12. artandarchitecturemainly

    The staircase is not just an impressive structure in its own right, it is also a superb location for displaying stain glass windows and paintings. However to maximise the pleasure, I would have liked the colours to have been greatly lightened.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      The staircase is wonderful – sadly, I was unable to take the photo I wanted, showing the central staircase with the two arms leading off. I’ll have a word with the designer about the glass, to see if it can be changed.

  13. Jennie

    Thank you Philip Kerr, aka Lord Lothian. Clearly he saw what was happening during the war, understood, and donated. It seems without him and his influential friends there may not have been a National Trust. That is huge! The Blickling estate is truly beautiful. Thank you, Mike.

  14. John

    Wow, such a stunning place, Mike! Beautiful. Why would any staff or volunteers be rude to the public? A good reason to fire them…

  15. Darlene

    I am curious as to why the attendant did not move the couple along who were holding everyone else up? A great write up about this place, one I haven’t been too but would like to.

  16. Peter's pondering

    A man after my own heart Mike. My wife and I carry Zappers wherever we go. Particularly useful for drivers failing to stop at pedestrian crossings and people carrying on reunions in the middle of supermarket aisles!

  17. Dorothy Willis

    I have a question about the photo of the monument. What makes that red stain? I’ve noticed it on other similar monuments. Did someone throw red paint on it and it wouldn’t come off?

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      I think the monument is marble – you often get different shades of colour in marble, caused by various minerals, including iron (apparently) – I’m not good on geology, I’m afraid.

  18. Andy

    Goodness – that’s a grim grey cloudy sky you got there Mike. Looks like a great place for an evening of Whodunit role playing !
    Philip Kerr, in the drawing room, with a bar of soap!

  19. Clanmother

    A brilliant post! I especially appreciated how the National Trust come into being. Philip Kerr, the 11th Marquess of Lothian saw the possibility of the future.

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      Thank you. The act certainly helped the NT – and those of us who enjoy traipsing round these places! The cynic in me wonders whether part of Kerr’s motivation might have been the avoidance of death duties, but he seems to have been a very decent man.

      1. Clanmother

        I am enjoying traipsing round these places with you. We have been a NT membership for several years until last year so look forward to joining when we come back. In the meantime, we’ll be travelling with you!

  20. Eunice

    I visited Blickling on a glorious summer day a few years ago and got some great photos both inside and round the grounds. I love your description of how you and the other couple dealt with the NT attendant, it made me laugh. I’ve noticed that myself quite often in NT places, you always get one who thinks they are ‘it’.

    The story of Anne Boleyn’s ghost riding headless through the grounds on the anniversary of her execution always makes me smile. Aside from the fact that I don’t believe in ghosts how on earth could she see where she was going if she was headless?? Maybe I’m just too logical… 🙂

  21. furrygnome

    That’s some memorial, fancier than any others I’ve seen. Good for the 11th Marquess; we owe him a lot, as do a lot of England’s wealthy families! There must be an intriguing Scottish connection for the 8th Marquess. Any ideas?

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      I’m afraid I’d need to look that up, Stew. Certainly a Scottish connection, but that should not surprise us – the Scottish/English aristocracy has been connected for at least a thousand years.

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