Baconsthorpe Castle and Heydon in Norfolk

posted in: East Anglia, Home, Norfolk | 4

We visited Holt on a glorious, summery day in mid-September and afterwards went to explore the nearby Baconsthorpe Castle in Norfolk, intending to visit Heydon which was close to Reepham where we were based.

Baconsthorpe Castle

Baconsthorpe Castle is a moated and fortified 15th Manor House, just a few miles outside Holt. William Baxter was a farmer who bought the land in the early 1400s. His son John (d.1479), a successful lawyer and supporter of William de la Pole, 1st Duke of Suffolk, built the inner gatehouse.1 He also changed the family name to ‘Heydon’. And his son, Sir Henry Heydon (d.1504) and knighted by Henry VII, extended the castle and the park.

Baconsthorpe Castle
The Inner and Outer Gatehouses of Baconsthorpe Castle
The moat at Baconsthorpe Castle
The remains of the moat at Baconsthorpe Castle

Wool and Baconsthorpe Castle

The estate soon turned to wool production. Sir John Heydon (1470-1550) set up a weaving workshop in the castle which produced cloth for the domestic market and exported to Europe. It is thought there were perhaps 20,000-30,000 sheep on the estate and the family accumulated a fortune as one of the major wool producers in East Anglia.2 Sadly, over the centuries, the family accumulated debt and demolished the castle themselves. In 1920 the outer gatehouse, which had been occupied until then, was abandoned.

Outer gatehouse of Baconsthorpe Castle
Outer gatehouse of Baconsthorpe Castle

The mere

In the 16th century-17th century the Heydon built the Mere and the formal garden alongside the Mere. The Mere is very atmospheric, but the formal garden has disappeared.

The Mere at Baconsthorpe Castle
Baconsthorpe Castle ruins and the Mere
The Mere at Baconsthorpe Castle
Cruising on the Mere


I read about the ‘Heydon’ family at Baconsthorpe and thought they might have a connection with ‘Heydon’, but of course I was quite wrong! The estate was established in the late 1500s and in the mid-1700s came into the Bulwer family through marriage.3 ‘Bulwer’ is name familiar to South Africans and it was quite a surprise to find it in the Church.

Church of St Peter and St Paul in Heydon

The excellent Simon Knott talks about the 15th century church in considerable detail.

Church of St Peter and St Paul in Heydon
Standing on Heydon Green and looking at the Church
The Church of St Peter and St Paul in Heydon
Inside the Church of St Peter and St Paul

Sir Henry Bulwer

Sir Henry (1836-1914) was a British Diplomat and Administrator and from 1875-80 he was the Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Natal in South Africa.4 The British annexed Natal to the Cape Colony in 1844, and in 1856 it became a separate Colony. It is history which does not read well in 2021.5 While Sir Henry was the Lieutenant-Governor the writer Rider Haggard was on his staff,6 and when Rider Haggard settled in England it was in Ditchingham, just north of Bungay in Suffolk.

Memorial to Sir Henry Bulwer
Memorial to Sir Henry Bulwer

Baconsthorpe Castle and Heydon in North Norfolk are well worth visiting and I would happily return to both.



4 Responses

  1. Cara Jones

    Hello Candy, Cara here. I was interested in your piece on Sir Henry Bulwer. We have a Bulwer Road in Durban and a small town named Bulwer near Underberg in the Southern Drakensberg. I often wondered where the name came from, now I know!

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