Weeting Hall

Location   Weeting   Weeting Hall
Gallery
County   Norfolk  
Year demolished   1954  
Reason   Surplus to requirements and probably in poor condition  

The area around Weeting was, until the building of Weeting Hall, largely devoid of features. In 1745 it was described as "...an ocean of sand. Scarce a tree to be seen in miles, or a house, except here and there a warren house on eminences. When you come to an eminence you have a boundless prospect, but it looks at the horizon like a sea prospect". Into this rather unpromising landscape came the Irish peer, the 7th Earl of Mountrath, Charles Henry Coote (b.1725 - d.1802) who by 1756 had bought a house in Weeting and further estates at Bromhill and West Dereham Abbey. Determined to possess a significant estate he quickly bought further land to amass, by 1770, 4,844 acres freehold with a further 966 acres leasehold.

It is likely that Lord Mountrath initially made changes to his existing house; documents in the National Archives listing letters from John(?) Daniell on interior fittings for Weeting in 1775 with a design for an 'elbow chair' and William Hopkins of Soho on despatch of chimney piece and weathercock for West Dereham Abbey. However, the original house was obviously now not commensurate with such a large estate. Correspondence from around 1780 records the sending down of craftsmen from London to the finish the great house. The sale particulars of 1804 describe the house as 'a noble, modern built, freehold mansion' which was originally built in an Italianate style in local white bricks (another fine local example being Sheringham Hall). The architect is unknown but considering the number of eminient architects working in Norfolk and the confident, well-proportioned design it is unlikely to be just the work of the owner or a provincial builder/architect.

The 7th Earl was also the last and after his death in 1802 he left Weeting Hall to the son of his first cousin, Orlando Bridgeman (b.1762 - d.1825) who, in 1815, became the 1st Earl of Bradford (of the second creation). Lord Bradford's main seat was Weston Park in Staffordshire, which, along with Shropshire, was where most of his land holdings were. This meant that Weeting Hall was not only a lesser subsidiary seat but was also inconvenient for visiting or to manage. The decision was quickly taken to sell and Weeting Hall along with the Broomhill and Mundford Estates - in total, some 7,500 acres - was first offered in November 1804. On this occasion it failed to sell but was successfully sold when offered again in February 1805.

The house and estate was bought by John Julius Angerstein (b.1735 - d.1823). Angerstein had been born in St Petersburg but had moved to London, becoming an important figure in Lloyds of London and making a fortune in the process. The actual process of purchasing Weeting Hall was very slow with the sale taking until 1808 to complete by which time Angerstein was nearly seventy years old. Interestingly there was some doubt as to the future of the Hall; documents from the period 1805-1808 refer to the proposed demolition of the Hall but perhaps due to Angerstein's age he decided against this. It's not known why demolition was proposed, whether due to fashion or to create a more manageable house, but either way he left the house as it was. He spent most of his time at 'Woodlands' in Greenwich, London, but he was actively involved in the management of the estate, overseeing further purchases of land in Norfolk and Suffolk, including the nearby Brandon Hall estate.

John Julius died in 1823 and his son, John (b.? - d.? ) inherited the estate. The house had been let as a sporting concern to Sir Richard Sutton but it's listed that John Angerstein spent Christmas 1823 at Weeting Hall, obviously enjoying his new country residence. Whether to pay for improvements or just raise money, in 1824 part of the superb picture collection built up by John Julius was sold. John Julius had started collecting paintings as soon as his wealth allowed, with one of his early purchases being Ruben's masterpiece 'The Rape of the Sabine Women'. Later purchases included works by Rembrandt, Velázquez, Titian, Raphael, Correggio and Hogarth, plus early drawings by J.M.W. Turner and, from the famous sale of the Orleans collection, 'The Raising of Lazarus' by Sebastiano del Piombo. Thirty five pictures were bought by the Government for £58,000 (approx. £4m - 2007 value) and was one of the collections which formed the basis for the National Gallery. John Angerstein had obviously made Weeting his main home as by 1831 he had been appointed High Sheriff of Norfolk. Unfortunately little is known about the improvements made to the house during the century it was owned by the Angersteins, however, at some point it was enlarged and refaced in red brick giving the house a more classical appearance.

Weeting Hall passed through the Angersteins by inheritance until 1897 - William Angerstein (b.1811 - d.1897) was the last of the family to live there. The expense of keeping up a large estate and many staff, combined with the agricultural depression at the end of the nineteenth century meant that William had been forced to heavily mortgage the estate to the Norwich Union. On his death, they took control of both the Weeting and Brandon estates and quickly arranged for them to be put up for sale. The Brandon estate was soon sold for £18,500 but Weeting was unsold at it's initial price of £45,000. The house remained empty until late 1898/early 1899 when it was finally sold to Thomas Skarratt Hall who, having made his fortune in Australia, had returned home to retire to the country. Skarratt Hall had been born in England but became a branch manager of the Queensland National Bank in Rockhampton, where he had the good fortune to be offered a share in a mining syndicate, which he subsequently increased, which owned the rights to the particularly rich and prosperous Mount Morgan gold mine.

Weeting Hall was by now somewhat neglected having been vacant since 1897 so Skarratt Hall renovated the house to make it suitable for his wife and sons. Unfortunately he was not to enjoy his estate for long as he died in 1903 but the family remained in the house until 1917 when it was offered for sale as an estate of 5,930 acres by Knight, Frank and Rutley. This was the last time Weeting was to be used as a family home and the sales marked the beginning of the decline.

Weeting Hall was offered as Lot One, of five, which included the house, park, 3 lodges and 118 acres, and was valued at £22,000. The other Lots comprised three farms and 2,610 acres (Lot 2 - £22,000), 1,814 acres including the famous Grime's Graves (Lot 3 - £10,000), and further farms and land (Lots 4 & 5 - £9,000). With the First World War engulfing Europe, 1918 was not a good time to be selling but as much of the Weeting estate was wooded (over 1,000 acres of which had been planted by John Julius Angerstein) it attracted a timber merchant, Sir James Calder, who bought the whole estate with a view to selling the timber through a massive programme of tree-felling. By 1925 he had sold 4,000 acres of trees to the Forestry Commission, but had kept the hall and the rights to the remaining trees. However, Sir James did not live in Weeting Hall, using nearby Lynford Hall (now a hotel) instead, leaving the house vacant.

In 1926 the house was sold to the Ministry of Labour for use as a residential work camp to train and condition, via heavy manual labour, some of the many unemployed men for a new life in agriculture in the Commonwealth, usually in Canada or Australia. Weeting Hall had capacity for 200 men and up to 50 admin staff as it was also the administrative centre of the efforts. However, by 1929, high unemployment in the destination countries meant that demand for the trainees collapsed and the centre was redesignated as an Instructional Centre but the work remained largely the same. With the threat of war and the need for able-bodied men to enlist or otherwise be employed by the war effort, Weeting and 35 other such camps were closed or turned to other uses. During World War II Weeting Hall became a hospital for wounded Indian and Gurkha soldiers and was also a holding camp for the 1st Bn. The Rifle Brigade of the 7th Armoured Division in the lead up to the Normandy landings. Following the war, the house and grounds were used to accomodate people displaced by the war. This role ended in the early 1950s, and, with no further use for the house it was demolished in 1954.

So what remains today? In truth, almost nothing. The site of the hall and the immediate parkland were built over with a large housing estate - a small cul-de-sac just off Cromwell Road sits on the footprint of the mansion. Rarely has such a large house and grounds been so comprehensively removed, leaving no reminder of yet another sad loss for Norfolk.