by Roger Fryatt
There are at least two folk stories about this building. One is that the estate was originally acquired from Richard Lloyd by the Lombe Family
(subsequently known as Evans-Lombe) as the result of a card game, when the Lloyd’s butler drugged his master’s wine. The other is that when the Hall was originally built it had a curse put on it by the Lloyd’s nursemaid to the effect that it would only stand for one hundred years. Whatever the truths involved in these tales, it is certainly the case that within one hundred years of its construction it was, as Sir Niclaus Pevsner described it, “a conspicuous ruin”.
Sir John Lombe died in 1817, and left money to be held in trust with the instruction that a mansion be built on the highest part of the estate. Towards the middle of the century, nothing had been done, and so the Court of Chancery instructed the family to get on with it!
The house was built by Charles Barry jnr. (son of Sir Charles of Houses of Parliament fame) and R.Banks, and is reputed to be one of the first steel framed buildings in Europe. Evidence of this frame is visible today and presumably explains why so much of the house remains. Despite lavishing money on the construction of the Hall, there were still funds remaining which were ultimately spent on the building of three lodge houses (Elsing, Swanton Morley and Bawdeswell ) and some eight miles of estate walls. Regrettably, much of these walls are now in a sad state of repair.
Bylaugh Hall Plan
1. Billiard room
2. Dressing room
3. Business room
5. Drawing room
6. Dining room
By 1883, at 13,343 acres, the Estate was the fourth largest in Norfolk (Holkham with 44,090 acres, Raynham with 18,343 acres and Houghton with 16,995 acres) , but like other landowners at the time, was suffering from the effects of the Agricultural Depression that began about 1875. The Evans-Lombe family finally sold up in 1917, when the house was acquired by the Marsh Family from America, and was last occupied by Mrs Marsh until 1935. Mrs Marsh, nee Wilkinson, originally came from Yorkshire.
During the last war, the house was requisitioned by the RAF. The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) is also known to have been stationed at Bylaugh. In 1940-41, it was also the headquarters for the 18th division of the British Expeditionary Force, and in 1944, it became the headquarters for the 100 (Bomber Support) Group who used the command centre for secret operations. The commanding officer of the 100 Group at Bylaugh was Air Marshal Sir Robert Sunday.
An article of 2004 features an interview with Fred Hoskins who was stationed at Bylaugh Hall:
“We were the first ones to go to Bylaugh Hall at the beginning of 1940. We supplied all the provisions for the 18th division. I have got the defence plans for Bylaugh Hall which shows the gun sites. I always tell people it was like a little Buckingham Palace. It was amazing. The hall was in good condition then. We had a canteen in the courtyard area, by the clock, and the cookhouse in the orangery. The ground floor had stone paving slabs, but the first floor had fitted blue carpet and from the first floor upwards was as it was when the forces came in.” (Source: Eastern Daily Press, February 2004. Hidden Norfolk: ‘Building Towards a Glorious Future’)
President Dwight D Eisenhower is known to have visited the site at the end of World War II, and commended the 100 group for its contribution to the D-Day effort.
There were a substantial number of temporary structures on the site, ranging from Nissen Huts to Air raid shelters to single storey brick structures and water tower. The total number of structures for the whole of the site was close to a hundred. Also on the site was a ring of barriers around the kitchen garden and at roads.
Post-war Bylaugh Hall
Subsequent to its de-requisitioning, the hall was sold to a builder who sold the interior fittings and the lead from the roof in about 1950 – just one hundred years after its construction.
Because of the removal of the roof by the builders, the house was a ruin for fifty years. In the year 2000 it was purchased by local sculptor Steven Vince who raised the money to preserve what remained of this interesting building, and for a while it was popular as a wedding venue and location for concerts and Latin American dance.
Auctioneer’s Particulars of the house and Estate in 1917
Auctioneer’s Estate Map
The little church of St Mary’s, Bylaugh