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The vast history of Raynham Hall
By Edd Smith
BBC Norfolk

Raynham Hall, Norfolk
Raynham Hall marks the start of the River Wensum

The 7000 acre Raynham estate covers the first seven miles of the River Wensum and it has many stories to tell.

One of the oldest halls in Norfolk, it was the first in England to be heavily influenced by European architecture.

The hall is also famed for its spooky visitors - most notably the ghost of Lady Dorothy, the wife of the second viscount of the estate.

"No one has proved the picture taken of her is a fake," said Lord Charles Raynham of Raynham Hall.

The 17th Century hall, near Fakenham, has been home to the Townshend family for more than 300 years.

Raynham is located near the source of River Wensum, where the river then flows north-easterly towards Pensthorpe Nature Reserve, before dropping south to merge with the River Yare at Trowse, Norwich, approximately 56 miles (90km) later.

Raynham Hall was built by Sir Roger Townshend in 1620, more than 100 years before the foundations of Holkham Hall were laid. Raynham was built in an entirely new style following the Italian form with a more contemporary red brick design.

Further additions were made to the hall in the 1730s when the second Viscount "Turnip" Townshend employed the skills of William Kent who went on to be one of the architects of Holkham.

Kent was responsible for some fine work at Raynham, including the elaborate carved chimney-pieces, the mosaic paintings and decorated doorways.

Turnip Townshend

The present Marquess Townshend of Raynham was born in 1916 and succeeded the title when he was only five years old. His son, Lord Charles Raynham, spoke of the curious character of former Raynham resident Turnip Townshend, the revolutionary agriculturalist.

"He was the most famous Townshend and a politician too," said Lord Raynham.

"He got bored of politics and returned to farming at Raynham where he was born in 1674," he added.

Lord Raynham says that Turnip Townshend wasn't just famous in these parts, but has became known as a pioneer throughout the agricultural world, as his nickname suggests.

"He developed the Norfolk four course rotation of crops," said Lord Raynham.

"His four crop rotation was the basis of agriculture all around the world. He introduced turnips and root crops, as well as the use of lime to improve the quality of soil. He taught people how to get more from their soil by rotating crops regularly," he added.

Famous haunting

The Raynham estate is also famed for strange goings-on, with the ghost of Lady Dorothy, Turnip Townshend's wife and sister of our first Prime Minister Robert Walpole, making appearances in the hall.

Dorothy is rumoured to have been locked up in the house by her husband - this is why the ghost of "Dolly" Townshend is said to still haunt the staircase of Raynham Hall.

A 1930s photograph of the Lady is one of the most famous ever captured in Britain.

The view from Raynham Hall, Norfolk
The 7000 acre Raynham estate covers the first seven miles of the Wensum

"People said that Dorothy was locked away and badly treated, but in the 1960s we uncovered paperwork and medical reports suggesting she has a happy life and was much loved," said Lord Raynham.

"She isn't there to haunt the house but she is still there, I know she's there and I'm glad she's around," he added.

But what about 'that' photo taken in the 1930s? Lord Raynham and many who are associated with the estate are adamant it isn't a fake.

There's also a royal connection to Raynham Hall in the form of King Charles II.

"King Charles II was a great friend of Sir Roger Townshend's son Horatio. Horatio helped the King come back to England and was very important in the restoration of the monarchy. Charles came to Raynham Hall to thank Horatio and made him a Baron," said Lord Raynham.

St Mary's Church

Also on the estate is St Mary's Church. Laurie Mead is the tower captain of the church's bells and headed up a project for the church to have a full set of eight bells.

"We discovered from the original bell makers that the bell frame was meant to have six or eight bells at the church, instead of the five that were already there," said Lord Raynham.

Through fund raising across the world from people who claim an ancestral link with the Townshend family, Lord Raynham and Laurie Mead were able to install a complete set of eight bells at St Mary's Church in 2002, and even The Queen came for a private viewing.

"The bells are very well regarded as a modern ring of eight bells at Raynham," said Laurie Mead, church tower captain.

BBC Norfolk: A Week On The Wensum
14 May 09 |  TV & Radio



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