Category Archives: NORFOLK

FRING HALL

When fire broke out a lack of water caused by summer drought resulted in this country house’s destruction

Fring Hall - Lost heritage
Image: Lost Heritage.

Between the autumns of 1933 and 1934, the southern counties of England suffered extreme drought. The summer wasn’t particularly hot, but lack of rainfall depleted surface water in rivers, streams, ponds and lakes, leaving many of them dry beds. The effect of this had devastating consequences for one Norfolk country house when it caught fire in the early hours of Saturday 23 June 1934.

Fring Hall, built in 1807, was one of the show mansions of West Norfolk, and home to the Hon. Somerset Arthur Maxwell (1905-1942), the eldest son of Arthur Kenlis Maxwell, 11th Baron Farnham. He’d married (Angela) Susan Roberts, daughter of Captain Marshall Owen Roberts, by his former wife Irene Helene Murray, in 1930.

The House, which stood in many acres of grounds, with a beautiful garden and park, had been leased from the Dusgate family, and redecoration had recently been completed in readiness for the incoming tenants.  It was described as ‘a neat cemented mansion, upon a commanding eminence, with extensive gardens and pleasure grounds’

Somerset Maxwell and Susan Roberts - The Sketch - Jun 4 1930 - BNA
Somerset Maxwell and his future wife, Susan Roberts. This picture was taken shortly before their marriage in 1930. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

Mr Maxwell and his wife had arrived from London about an hour before the fire broke out. He at once communicated with the police when the outbreak was discovered by a servant, and the Sandringham Brigade from the King’s estate was the first to arrive.

So intense were the flames, that by 4 am only the walls were left standing, and some of these had become cracked and in danger of collapse. The roof and two wings had gone and the fine old mansion of about 60 rooms was little more than a blackened ruin.

Only a few hundred gallons of water were available to fight the flames. Owing to the drought there was no water in the ponds or in the ditches, and 60 men from five fire brigades and 20 Royal Air Force men could only stand by after the initial supply was exhausted. The main sources of water turned out to be a well in the grounds and some storage tanks, meaning only a few hoses could be used.

Flames rose to a great height and could be seen for miles, the roads full of motorists who had come to watch. One local resident was able to report on the blaze:

“Mr Maxwell, I believe, only took over the mansion about four months ago, but only returned to it yesterday to attend a Conservative meeting promoted by Viscountess Downe, at Hillington.

“In the glare of the fire he worked in his shirt sleeves, doing all he could to help the firemen. Valuable furniture and jewels were saved before the flames reached the front of the house, I understand.”

Despite the lack of water, men were able to get into the buildings and rescue most of the downstairs furniture and some from the bedrooms. All the jewellery and silver recovered were placed in a cell at Docking Police Station for safekeeping.

Fring Hall - Yumidk
Image: Lost Heritage.

Fring Hall was rebuilt in 1936 and said to be a copy of the original, although there are differences in its external appearance. The cropmark of the original building is said to appear in dry weather protruding from the side of the present house.

Lt-Colonel, the Hon. Somerset Maxwell, one of the country’s tallest MPs, died in 1942, of wounds he received in Agedabia (now Ajdabiya) in Libya.

Somerset Maxwell - The Bystander - Jun 7 1938 - BNA
Five Maxwells and a pony: Somerset Maxwell, MP for King’s Lynn since 1935, his wife, his sons and a small attractive daughter were photographed at Fring Hall in 1938. The house had been rebuilt after the fire. He would die four years later fighting in World War Two. Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

These days Fring Hall is home to the Brun family. Henrik Constantin Brun (1908-2009) came over from Denmark before World War Two and worked for a large farming company before branching out on his own as a tenant on the Sandringham estate. His youngest son, Edward Henrik Constantin Brun (b. 1948), is now the occupier at Fring Hall with its woodland used to supply coppice and woodland products.

MORNINGTHORPE MANOR

Morningthorpe 1
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.

Morningthorpe 7

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.

Morningthorpe 8
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.

Morningthorpe 10Morningthorpe 5Morningthorpe 2Morningthorpe 3Morningthorpe 4
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.

Ron Fiske
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 Manor,
Morningthorpe, Norwich, NR15 2QL