The Approach to Felbrigg Hall
Felbrigg Hall is situated amidst vast parklands in North Norfolk and is one of the finest houses in East Anglia. Originally the home of the Felbrigg family, the land and house was acquired in the fifteenth century by the Wyndham’s. Its Jacobean facade hides elegant Georgian interiors that speak of the Wyndham/Windham’s tastes and fancies over the centuries.
Although the last Wyndham died over 200 years ago and the home has been in the hands of the National Trust since the 1960’s, not all of its past residents seem eager to quit their former home.
Detail from Felbrigg Churchyard
One such tale tells of an elderly woman, once a parlour made in the Hall, recounting how she and other maids would find that their candles were mysteriously extinguished when ever they passed by a particular door. A female voice would beckon them to enter the chamber but the room was always found to be uninhabited…
By far the most famous spirit inhabiting the hall is that of William Windham III (1750 – 1810) known as ‘the fighting Windham’ for his sporting prowess.
William Windham III, image by Joshua Reynolds
William Windham was a noted orator and a prominent statesman for much of his life. His career spanned the American War of Independence, the French Revolution and the Colonial Wars of the early 19th Century; but the over-riding passion of his life, and the cause of his tragic death, was his love of books. The wonderful Gothic library at Felbrigg, designed by James Paine in the 1750’s, was filled with books both William II and William III each brought back from their Grand Tour.
The Gothic Library, Felbrigg; © National Trust Images/Nadia Mackenzie
William was to meet his fate one summer evening in 1809. As he returned to his home in Pall Mall, he noticed a fire had taken hold in a house on Conduit Street very close to the residence of his friend Robert North. Windham knew that his friend had a very valuable library and he immediately set about the rescue operation. He and three others succeeded in rescuing most of the valuable manuscripts. The rescue was not without its price though as William fell and bruised his hip. The bruise became a tumor and the tumour needed to be operated on. Operations in the early nineteenth century were brutal affairs, and William died as a result. His final words, addressed to his physician were:
Felbrigg Church, resting place of the Windham family
“I thank you; this is the last trouble I shall give you. You fight the battle well, but it will not do.”
His body was buried in the family vaults at Felbrigg Church a stones throw from the Hall…and the spectre of William Windham can occasionally be encountered in the dark and shadowy Gothic Library. He has oft been found standing by a table when his favourite volumes were laid out; or ensconced in an easy chair, by a roaring fire, engrossed in some favourite book. It would seem like a pleasant way to spend eternity.
Leaving the hall and walking about the grounds you soon find yourself amidst the dark woods of Felbrigg where oaks, sweet chestnuts and conifers hold sway. Here you may cross paths with ‘Mad Windham’ driving his phantom coach through the trees. And a spectral wind rising out of nowhere and disappearing as suddenly as it arose, may cause more than a whisper amongst the leaves….
National Trust, http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/felbrigg-hall/