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How We Built Britain

Oxburgh Hall near Swaffham
Oxburgh Hall

How We Built Britain: Oxburgh Hall

Oxburgh Hall, a 15th century manor house near Swaffham, features in the BBC programme How We Built Britain. The series follows presenter David Dimbleby on his travels around the country exploring the buildings that shaped our history.

How We Built Britain follows presenter David Dimbleby on an epic journey around the British Isles for BBC One's new landmark series which explores the buildings that define a nation.

The series provides a revealing insight into the British character through the extraordinary landscape of Britain's buildings.

From the half-timbered villages of Shakespeare's England to the dramatic mills and mansions of the Victorian North, and the cathedrals and manor houses of medieval East Anglia.

Oxburgh Hall

The moated manor house of Oxburgh Hall, built in 1482 by the Bedingfeld family, was one of the first properties to feature in the six-part series for BBC One.

Now owned by the National Trust, Oxburgh Hall was chosen for its rich history and stunning architecture.

This includes the impressive gatehouse, a magnificent spiral staircase and the secret doors and priests' hole - where travelling Catholic clergy were forced to hide from their persecutors.

Family history

After 500 years, the Bedingfelds are still in residence at Oxburgh Hall. Frances Greathead, the last member of the family to be born there, remembers a happy childhood on the estate.

Oxburgh Hall (Credit: Norfolk Time To Explore)
Oxburgh Hall

"My earliest memories are wandering around the moat. We weren't allowed to walk on the grass near the water in case we fell in. One always had a nanny in tow," said Frances.

"I think it's special because it's really our family. We've always lived here, except when nasty people like Cromwell burnt pieces of it down and we had to go away for a bit," she added.

Head gardener Graham Donachie said the delights of Oxburgh Hall often come as a surprise to sightseers.

"It's beautiful. When visitors come through the archway, the first thing we hear is 'Wow, wonderful view. We didn't realise this beautiful property was here'."

Friendly Atmosphere

Frances Greathead agrees, and believes the charm of the property lies in its friendly atmosphere.

"I think people who come here get the feeling it's a family house and not a museum," said Frances.

"People often say 'Isn't it awful having the public tramping around?'

"But it isn't, because the sort of people who come here are people who come because the want to see the house, and they are mostly absolutely charming.

"And the National Trust keep it so well. We always used to struggle to mend the roof, because we weren't at all well off. Things always needed doing and now they get done, it's wonderful."

How We Built Britain

David Dimbleby travelled thousands of miles in his Land Rover for the series and explored 1,000 years of history to discover and celebrate the houses, factories and public buildings that reveal who we are.

"When the BBC suggested the idea to me, I leapt at it," said David.

David Dimbleby
How We Built Britain presenter David Dimbleby

"I know there is a great appetite for seeing Britain through its landscapes and this seemed a particularly interesting way of looking at our history.

"The buildings are not chosen haphazardly because they are beautiful, they're chosen because they tell the story of how Britain's changed over decades and centuries. That's what really inspired me.

"What I've been trying to do is ask what a building tells us. What does it say about the people who've built it and why they built it the way they did?

"These buildings tell us the story of the big social changes over the last 1,000 years," he added.

How We Built Britain, a six-part series, started on Sunday, 3 June, 2007 on BBC One.

last updated: 08/06/07
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