It is hard to imagine that somewhere behind this house is a country house dating from the 1600’s. The original house was owned by the Rope (or Roope) family and when John Rope died in 1686 his daughter inherited it and took it by marriage to Thomas Howse of Carleton Rode. It is said that she unimpressed with Carleton Rode and insisted that her husband spend money on Morningthorpe; he rebuilt the frontage leaving the original house to form the kitchen and offices. Thankfully, the 17th century oak staircase still remains, with rope balustrades, and a small section of the original clay and timber walls. They stayed at Morningthorpe from 1697 and the house was later inherited by the Howse family.
Works to extend and restore the property were done in 1813 and then again to fashion the house in a Neo-Elizabethan style about 1859-65. It was Edward Howse, who became Sheriff of Norfolk in 1859-65, who had the unfortunate experience of having his name misspelled in legal documentation, and decided to change his surname to Howes to suit. He set about improving the mansion and was responsible for creating the library as well as installing armorial stained glass. Howes’ initials can be seen on the outside of the building and on the base of the library mirrored mantelpiece, said to be based on a similar one at Hampton Court.
In 1884 the house was offered to let and described as being of ‘Elizabethan-style, containing a vestibule, three entertaining rooms, gentlemen’s room, 10-bedrooms, superior kitchens, domestic offices, gardens and grounds’.
The house passed by marriage to Commander Thomas Holmes about 1886. He had joined the Royal Navy aboard HMS Victory in 1866 but was invalided out in 1884. In 1892 he joined the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as Inspector of Lifeboats for the Irish district, which explains why Morningthorpe hall was rented out for the majority of his freehold. Several people stayed under its roof including Mr A.C. Lyon, Mr J.E. Bayne, Henry Leeke Horsfall and Cyril Grosvenor Sargent. Commander Holmes was awarded an RNLI silver medal for gallantry by the King of Norway in 1914 after rescuing 12 men from the Norwegian schooner, Mexico, wrecked off Wexford. The attending lifeboat was also smashed to pieces on the rocks and its crew marooned on an island before being also rescued by Commander Holmes. During the First World War he was credited for rescuing 5,322 people and 186 boats and vessels saved from destruction.
When the property was bought by one of the tenants, Cecil Grosvenor Sargent in 1918, he became Lord of the Manor and went on to improve the house by purchasing the fine carved oak panelling and a stone fireplace, carved by James Linnall, removed from Lady Stafford’s boudoir in Costessey Hall, and now installed in what is now called the ‘Costessey Room’.
Morningthorpe was later divided into three by the architect Edward Thomas Boardman of Norwich, (not, as widely reported, by his more famous father, Edward Boardman, who died in 1910), and remained so until the 1990’s when it became home to businessman Ron Fiske, a Norfolk antiquarian collector and bibliophile. He also carried out restoration and refurbishment to the property including the re-roofing of the main house and former kitchen wing as well as overhauling the roofs of the coach house and outbuildings.
Ron Fiske (pictured below) decided to downsize and put the property up for sale in 2015 causing him to offer half his collection of 30,000 books and pamphlets, manuscripts and armorial rolls, for auction. In one room he had an entire collection devoted to memorabilia about Admiral Nelson. Almost 90 lots were put in the sale of September 2016, about £30,000 of the archives were bought by the Norfolk Record Office and the Norfolk Archive and Heritage Development Foundation.
The house has many distinguishing architectural details and is built of mellow red brick under a pantile roof with stepped gables and octagonal corner turrets with moulded brick pinnacles and onion shaped finials.
All images courtesy of Jackson-Stops, except Ron Fiske, courtesy of Eastern Daily Press.
Morningthorpe, Norwich, NR15 2QL