The heart of the Felbrigg estate was built up before the Norman conquest and enlarged by the Felbrigg family. The name 'Felbrigg' is a relic of the Danish invasions - 'Fiolbrygga' is ancient Scandinavian for a plank bridge. When the Normans made their Domesday survey in 1086 the village was amongst the many possessions of the Bigod family and had presumably been so since the ejection of the two freemen of Harold's brother Gyrth. The earliest record of a family taking Felbrigg as its name comes from the late 11th century when Ailward de Felbrigg and his kinsmen were joined by marriage to the Bigods. In the church on the Felbrigg estate is a monumental brass, unusually depicting two lords of the manor and their wives. The first Sir Simon de Felbrigg is thought to have died in 1351 and is shown with his wife Alice de Thorp. Next to them, in armour, is their son Roger and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Lord Scales.
By 1394 Roger's son Simon had found a place at the court of Richard II and was described as a 'King's Knight'. A year later he was made royal standard bearer with an annual payment of £100, and other perquisites followed, notably the keeperships of certain royal castles including the old Bigod stronghold of Framlingham in Suffolk. He was made a Knight of the Garter in 1397 and so entered the most exclusive of the orders of chivalry. That he married Margaret, daughter of the Duke of Teschen and maid of honour to Richard II's first Queen, Anne of Bohemia, showed the regard in which he was held by the royal household. The Lancastrian coup of 1399 spelt disaster for Sir Simon who was deprived of the lucrative keeperships and offices by the new King Henry IV. His last ceremonial duty was escorting Richard's second queen, Isabel, into exile in 1400. When Sir Simon died in December 1442 he was buried with his second wife in the choir of the Norwich Blackfriar's church. His will provided for masses to be said for the soul of 'Richard, lately king of England' and instructed that Felbrigg be sold.
The Norfolk Windhams had been there since the estate passed out of the hands of the de Felbrigg family in the mid-15th century, but when their line died out in 1599 the Somerset branch of the Wyndham family took over. In 1621-4 Sir John Wyndham and his son Thomas constructed the south front formed out of the carcass of an early Tudor building, and adopted the Norfolk spelling of Windham. The son of Thomas Windham and his second wife Elizabeth Mede, William Windham I built the west wing in the 1680s with the architect William Samwell. Some of the rooms at Felbrigg still have this original plasterwork, and the drawing room ceiling contains the date 1687 and the initials WW. In 1669, the year after he came of age, William married Katherine Ashe, the daughter of a rich Twickenham merchant. Katherine's cookbook from 1707 has survived and is held in the Norfolk Records Office.
Their son Ashe, born in 1673, built the Orangery in 1707. The drawings for the Orangery are unsigned, but Ashe may have been its architect. He married Elizabeth Dobyns in 1709. and their only child William Windham II was born in 1717. The marriage was not happy and they separated three years later. William's Grand Tour lasted from 1738 – 1742 and he spent some time living in Rome. On his return he employed James Paine to make improvements to Felbrigg including the existing staircase, the current dining room being created in the old staircase space. The staircase was relocated so that he could create his Cabinet where many of the pictures bought on the tour still hang as he directed. In 1750 he married Sarah Lukin, a widow with three children. Born in 1750, William Windham III was known as 'fighting Windham', being sent home from Eton in 1766 for his prominent part in the school rebellion against an unpopular new headmaster Dr. Foster. He married Cecilia Forrest in 1798, and as they were both in their late forties so there was no prospect of a young family. A statesman, in 1794 he began a seven year term as Secretary at War. As a friend of Samuel Johnson, he inherited some of Johnson's books and bought others at the auction following his death. Having no direct descendents he had considered leaving Felbrigg to one of his close circle of friends, but in the end settled it upon William, the eldest son of his half-brother George Lukin.
George Lukin had been rector of Felbrigg and was now Dean of Wells. His son William was a distinguished sailor whose life before the mast began in 1781 at the age of 13. He became a Vice Admiral before leaving the navy in 1814. William Lukin made his reputation in 1806 as captain of the Mars, which in an action off Rochefort, helped to capture four French troop ships. In the following year the Mars took part in a bombardment of Copenhagen. William Windham III's widow Cecilia had a life interest in Felbrigg, which meant that he could not enter into his inheritance until her death in 1824. With her passing Lukin was now required to assume the name and arms of Windham as a surrogate heir. Admiral Lukin's son, William Howe Windham, was born in 1802, and he became a model improving landlord under the inspiration of Coke of Holkham, investing heavily in the farms. He rose to county prominence as a Whig member for Norfolk in 1832 but lost his seat in 1837. He was responsible for the re-modelling of the great hall with gargantuan neo-Jacobean details and marble busts of past and present Whig heroes, and introduced the stained glass windows. In 1835 he married Lady Sophia Hervey, daughter of the 1st Marquis of Bristol; the male members of whose family had a reputation for eccentricity in looks and behaviour which stretched back to the early 18th century. Sophia herself was highly strung and her husband's habit of shouting , whistling and singing to himself whilst alone in the drawing room was remarked upon by the servants. Their son William Frederick was born in 1840.
Willliam Frederick Windham was something of an odd child, he acquired the name of 'Mad Windham' in the merciless climate of Victorian Eton. His passion for uniform was encouraged in his early years when his parents gave him a suit of blue and red livery, which the Felbrigg servants had worn since Ashe's day, and allowed him to wait at table. As he grew up he became interested in trains and, having acquired a guard's uniform, could be found on the platforms of local stations causing chaos with unauthorised whistle blasts. On coming of age in 1861 he made his way to London where he dressed up as a policeman and patrolled the Haymarket, rounding up the dubious women who poured out of the pubs at closing time. In the same year, on a visit to Ascot, he fell into the clutches of Agnes Willoughby, a glamorous kept woman whose protector, the timber contractor known as ‘mahogany Roberts’ was soon to take an unhealthy interest in the Felbrigg woods. Agnes was a striking figure who sported a scarlet riding mantle at meetings of the Royal Buckhounds and was perpetually surrounded by crowds of admiring officers. Her blond hair and china doll complexion captivated Windham, as did the epithet ‘pretty horsebreaker’ which she and her kind attracted.
Windham assented to a very generous marriage settlement guaranteeing an income for Agnes. In an attempt to protect the estate, his uncle General Charles Windham brought a petition for De Lunatico Inquirendo, leading to a notorious inquiry which sat for 34 days hearing evidence from 140 witnesses. However, the case collapsed and Windham was declared sane. You can read more about this in the book " A Scandal at Felbrigg" by Trevor Heaton. The marriage was short-lived and by 1863 Windham's debts were completely out of control and the estate passed into the hands of his bankers. Before his death in 1866, William Frederick remained a conspicuous figure in North Norfolk, buying a mail van which he had painted scarlet with the Windham arms, and driving it daily into Norwich for his letters. Then he became the owner/driver of a coach which travelled established routes, pinching the customers of other companies and giving them free trips until, after he had lost everything, he concluded with a spell as an increasingly erratic and dangerous driver of the express coach between Cromer and Norwich.
The estate was bought by Norwich merchant, John Ketton for £77,238.7s.1d John Ketton had altered his name from Kitton in 1853, and had made a fortune from oil cake and cattle feed in the 1830s and 40s. The family moved here in 1863 and lived happily in the old house with all its contents and memories for many years. They kept many of the old records in the house from which we know when certain items of furniture were bought. Rev B J Armstrong wrote in his diary in 1864 "Windham is gone to the dogs, Felbrigg has gone to the Kittens". Felbrigg garden is laid out in two different styles. The west garden is laid out in the style of a typical Victorian pleasure ground, arranged around an 18th-century orangery. Accentuating the play between light and shade, its formal lawns are interspersed with areas of dark shrubbery. This garden features a number of specimens from North America including red oaks, western red cedars, and a meadow with a walled garden. There are double borders of mixed shrubs, a herbaceous border, and more. The orchard has been planted with varieties of fruit known to have grown in the garden during the 19th century. The gardens are home to the National Collection of colchicums.
There is designated disabled parking at the front of the main car park. Manual wheelchairs are available to borrow from the Visitor Reception. A manual wheelchair and a single seater personal mobility scooter is available to borrow from the Walled Garden Reception point. Braille and large print guides available upon request from the entrance into the Hall. Reception, Squires Pantry and Shop are fully accessible to wheelchair users. Ground floor of Hall is wheelchair accessible and a Virual tour of the upper floor is available. Induction loops located in the shop, tearoom and the main visitor reception. Level access to hall and gardens. Accessible toilet available close to Visitor Reception. All-weather path through the woods. Map of accessible estate and garden routes available on request from Visitor Reception. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Felbrigg, Norwich, Norfolk, NR11 8PR
Transport: Cromer (National Rail) then 2.5 miles. Bus Routes : no service.
Opening Times : Wednesday to Sunday + Bank Holidays 10:00 to 18:00
Tickets : Adults £9.90; Children £4.70
Tickets Garden Only: Adults £4.80; Children £2.05
Tel: 01263 837444