Ketteringham is a small Norfolk village unknown to most in the county of Norfolk let alone the country at large. Yet, like so many of its Norfolk counterparts, this typical country estate, with its modest hall and church, is steeped with history. Owen Chadwick, in the 1960s, used the diaries of its erstwhile incumbents of manor and church to paint a detailed cameo of English rural life in his book Victorian Miniature, but the history of this closed estate has never been fully explored.
Robert Sharpe’s research tells its fascinating story—a tale of politics, the death and saviour of kings, Victorian paternalism and home to racing innovation.
In Medieval times it was a minor manor owned by the Bigods and then de Veres, Earls of Oxford, whose seat was at the much grander Hedingham Castle. By Tudor times it was the home of the up-and-coming Heveningham family, whose fortune at the English court was no doubt helped by a strategic marriage that brought future connections with the Boleyns of Blickling Hall. At the time of the English Civil War, Sir William Heveningham MP was elected one of the commissioners to try the King for treason. At the restoration of the monarchy, it was Sir William that was condemned to death for his part in the trial of Charles II’s father. He was to die imprisoned in Windsor Castle. In 1717, Ketteringham was sold to Edward Atkyns, his father having been one of the judges at Sir William’s trial. Both are remembered in the chancel of St Peter’s. The estate eventually passed to a nephew; scandal ensued when he married a Drury Lane actress, Charlotte Walpole, at the age of twenty-one. Lady Charlotte Atkyns become friends with Marie-Antoinette at the time of the French Revolution spending the family fortune and mortgaging the estate in support of the French Royalists. In the 19th century the estate was purchased by Sir John Peter Boileau whose family, some 130 years before, had fled France due to Louis XIV’s persecution of the Protestant Huguenots. Sir John and his successors rebuilt the Hall making it the perfect Victorian home. In World War II, the Hall was requestioned and used as the headquarters of the 8th United States Army Air Forces and in 1958 the estate was eventually broken up. The Hall first became a school, and then the offices of Lotus Group Cars, where Colin Chapman could carry out innovative work far away from the rest of the British motor racing teams centred in Oxfordshire. Today it is divided into offices for a variety of companies.