A mid C18 walled garden and pleasure ground set in an early C18 park, extended and embellished in the mid C18 and mid C19 .
During the reign of Richard II, Hugh de Spencer, Bishop of Norwich built a fortified manor house here on the site of an old cathedral, with a deer park situated to the west of the present registered boundary. The manor passed to the Cokes of Holkham (qv) who split the estate during the C17, retaining the western section with the old deer park (known as Westfield Park and eventually disparked in 1844) and selling the eastern section to Hugh Awdley. This latter became known as North Elmham Park and was purchased in 1720 by Richard Warner who erected a new hall on it in 1727 and damned the Forth Beck to form an 8 acre (c 3ha) formal lake and three stew ponds, probably giving the area between a formal park landscape (earthwork remains) to suit the fashion of the time and certainly planting a formal oak avenue through the farmland beyond the lake to the south. In c 1765 the estate passed to Warner's grandson, Richard Milles, who remodelled and enlarged the park by deformalising the planting and the lake and extending it south beyond the water, and updated the gardens and built the walled kitchen garden. This mixed formal/informal landscape is shown in outline on Faden's map of the county dated 1797. In 1820 the estate was inherited by Milles' grandson George John Watson who changed his name to Milles and later inherited the title of fourth Baron Sondes. He commissioned William Donthorn in 1829 to remodel the hall and during the same period made great changes to the park, extending it to the east, and erecting a venison house, dovecote, new east entrance drive and lodge, and the eastern park wall. The resulting landscape was surveyed by Grigor in 1841. The estate remained in the Sondes family until 1924, although there were two attempts to sell it, the first being in 1898 which was unsuccessful. The hall was used by the army from 1914 to 1918 and was purchased in 1924 by a developer who demolished it and sold all the mature timber in the park. In 1926 the estate was purchased by Mrs Emily Birkbeck who built a new house beside the old outbuildings which had survived the demolition. She laid out a small garden to the south-east of the new house, Elmham House, on the site of the old hall. In 1987 the estate passed to her grandson Robert Don who developed a vineyard on part of the park. The site remains (2000) in private ownership.
LOCATION, AREA, BOUNDARIES, LANDFORM, SETTING
Elmham House lies adjacent to the B1110 Holt to East Dereham road, on the west side of the village of North Elmham. The registered site is almost square in shape and covers c 140ha. The east boundary is formed along most of its length by a red-brick park wall, beyond which lies the village. The north boundary is formed by a minor county road with farmland beyond, whilst the west is enclosed by Long Belt boundary plantation. The B1145 Norwich to King's Lynn road forms the south boundary, with open farmland beyond to the south. The registered site falls from the northern boundary, south to the Forth Beck which flows centrally through the park from north-west to east towards the course of the River Wensum, before rising again up to the southern boundary. North Elmham is situated in a relatively flat part of rural Norfolk, characterised by open fields and occasional woodland blocks. The sloping topography of the park therefore provides a contrast to its surroundings.
ENTRANCES AND APPROACHES
The main approach drive enters the northern park half way along the eastern boundary, off North Elmham main street, through curved knapped flint walls and gate piers (listed grade II). It passes a single-storey brick and pantile lodge with very wide eaves (listed grade II) on the south side and then runs west through the park, past a dovecote and game larder to the north, and enters the courtyard of the House on the east front. This drive dates from c 1830 and was put in place by Baron Sondes, the lodge, game larder, and dovecote being designed by Donthorn. A secondary drive comes off the main drive by the game larder and runs north-east to exit the park by Hall Farm.
Elmham House is a two-storey, red-brick and pantile country house built by Mrs Emily Birkbeck in 1928, using demolition materials from the original hall. It sits centrally in the northern half of the site, looking south across the park towards the lake. The garden front faces south, with a recessed wing to the east carrying a modern (late C20) conservatory facing the garden. Attached to the east end of this wing is a single-storey, partly open-fronted store with oak uprights and herringbone brick infill. The east front has a central carriage archway with kennels to the north, leading into a courtyard composed of outbuildings relating to the earlier hall. To the west is an early C18 two-storey brick and pantile range comprising a former smithy block and barn (listed grade II), now known as The Winery, whilst to the north is an early C19 stable block and harness room. The House and kennels complete the courtyard to east and south. The original Elmham Hall was built in 1727 by Richard Warner to the east of the present site and was remodelled by William Donthorn in a neoclassical style in 1829 before being demolished in 1924.
GARDENS AND PLEASURE GROUNDS
The gardens lie to the south and west of the House and are bounded by a ha-ha and iron fence with open panoramic views from the southern ha-ha boundary looking out to the park and lake and the landscape beyond. To the south-east is a pleasure ground, planted by Mrs Birkbeck on the site of the old hall, defined to the south by a yew hedge and containing monkey puzzles, catalpas, and large cedars which survive from the garden of the old hall. Directly south of the House is a lawn with a small brick terrace and sunhouse, also dating from the early C20. A wooded pleasure ground extends south and west between the ha-ha and the walls of the kitchen garden. It contains a collection of exotic conifers including taxodium, cryptomeria, and numerous pines underplanted with box and yew. Some of the trees are very mature, particularly the cedars. This area, covering 11 acres (c 4.5ha), was described by Grigor in 1841 as being a young pinetum and he records shrubs trained on the outer walls of the kitchen garden as well as a fine collection of fuchsias. Most of the trees here however are mid C19 or younger, although the area was described as shrubbery on both the 1831 Enclosure Award and the 1839 Tithe Award. Prior to that Richard Milles' own account of the planting of the walled garden in c 1765 records those species planted on the 'south wall next the park', suggesting that in 1765 the park came right up to the garden wall (UEA report).
The park extends to the north and south of the House and has little standing mature timber, the bulk of the C18 and C19 plantings having been sold in 1924. To the north the land has been divided by fences and planted with vines for the wine which the estate produced until recently (2000) and beyond these are two small pasture fields planted with mature holm oak along the boundaries. This area was taken into the park by Baron Sondes in the mid C19 but may have remained as pasture fields for much of the time. Also in this section stands the dovecote and the game larder. The circular brick dovecote (listed grade II) lies c 200m north-east of the House while the game larder lies beside the north drive c 140m north-east of the House. Both are dated 1840 on cast-iron plaques above the doors.
The bulk of the park lies to the south of the House, with the land between the gardens and the lake in the valley bottom being retained under grass. Most of the planting here is late C20 although there are a few oaks close to the east drive surviving from the C18 and C19 landscape. The easternmost section of park has few trees but a large hollow-way and associated house platforms survive from the deserted section of the village. This area was added during the mid C19. Approximately 250m west-south-west of the House are the remains of an icehouse (listed grade II), built of brick and limestone. The brickwork appears contemporary with the kitchen garden wall, suggesting that the icehouse forms part of Richard Milles' building activities. The lake and stew ponds in the valley bottom date from the early C18. Beyond these to the south the park is now (2000) under the plough and planted with a number of late C20 plantation woodlands. The remains of a formal oak avenue runs north/south in the south-east corner of this area, originally aligned on the old hall. The view up the old oak avenue in the south park, originally aligned on the old hall, now has no focus as the new house was built further to the west. The plantation along the western boundary is shown on Faden's map as well established and since it runs the length of the park, can be attributed to Richard Milles following his extension of the park to the south.
Thus the park was originally laid out in the early C18, extended to the south in the mid C18 and further extended to the east and north in the mid C19 to the area covered by the registered site today (2000).
The detached kitchen garden lies immediately to the west of the House courtyard and is surrounded by 3.5m high red-brick walls, with raised, grilled sections to north and south where glass ranges were attached. The south wall had an ornamental glass area on the south side in the pleasure ground (now demolished), whilst the south face of the north wall, within the garden, retains its C19 glass (ruinous) and a very old vine. On the east face is a red-brick gardener's cottage added in the C19 together with a range of glasshouses. The garden has box-edged herbaceous borders along the north wall with trained fruit (mature but not of a great age) and some areas of modern fruit and vegetable production in the body of the garden, the remainder being grass. In the centre is a rectangular brick-built water tank with steps leading down into the water (date of origin unknown). The kitchen garden was built in 1765 and planted by the owner Richard Milles who recorded his new fruit garden in a manuscript reprinted by the Royal Horticultural Society in 1937, at which time some of the original plantings were still alive. The C19 extension to the east with the addition of the gardener's cottage presumably dates from the Sondes phase of work in the 1840s.
J Grigor, The Eastern Arboretum (1841), pp 169/74
J Royal Horticultural Soc 62 pt 2, (1937), pp 501/7
Roy Strong et al, The Destruction of the Country House (1974), p 1129
J Kenworthy-Browne et al, Burke's and Savills Guide to Country Houses III, (1981)
Report on North Elmham park, (Centre of East Anglian Studies, nd (c late 1980s))
Map of the North Elmham Estate, c 1785 (MS2111 26 179 x 4), (Norfolk Record Office)
W Faden, A new topographical map of the county of Norfolk, 1797 (Norfolk Record Office)
A Bryant, Map of the county of Norfolk, 1826 (Norfolk Record Office)
Enclosure Award for North Elmham, 1831 (PC 29/19), (Norfolk Record Office)
Tithe map for North Elmham parish, 1839 (PD 209), (Norfolk Record Office)
OS 6" to 1 mile: 1st edition published 1887
2nd edition published 1905
Sale particulars for Elmham Hall Estate, 1896 (Norfolk Local Studies Library)
Late C19/early C20 photographs and postcards (private collection)
Sale particulars for Elmham Hall Estate, 1924 (private collection)
Description written: January 1999
Register Inspector: EMP
Edited: February 2001