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  • Writer's pictureOverstrand Life

Thursday 25th April 2024 - Overstrand Hall

Shrouded, for the most part, by trees it is nigh on impossible to appreciate the architecture of Overstrand Hall.  However, on Sunday, Kingswood, who operate a residential outdoor and activity centre in and from the Hall, opened the gates for a Fun Day.  We went along, not for the activities available, (although we did ‘throw a wellie’ and have a couple of ‘lucky dips’) but for the guided house tour. 

 

I thought it would be useful to provide, some historical details about Overstrand Hall.  In the following, the information was provided by our tour guide, plus local historians, both no longer with us, Terence Richards and David Thornton (author of Echoes of History, Poppyland 1883-1914).  I have interspersed the information with photo’s I took on Sunday.



There is not much in the way of early data about this area of Overstrand, apart from maps.  Faden’s map of 1794 and Bryants dated 1826, show a building clearing marked on the land where the current Overstrand Hall stands. 



Following his marriage in 1866 to Alice, one of Lord Suffield’s daughters, William Charles Mills, a partner in London’s merchant bank Glyn Mills & Co, was gifted the land, then known as Hillingdon Park.   At the time, records indicate there was a large farmhouse within the grounds of the park (possibly the one shown on the early maps).  In 1898 William Mills became the second Baron/Lord Hillingdon and in the same year he commissioned Sir Edwin Lutyens to design a summer house, in the grounds of Hillingdon Park.  This was constructed in two years between 1899 and 1901 using stone, largely not available in Norfolk, along with locally available clay and flints.  Lutyens had not worked with any of these materials before.  Overstrand Hall was not Lord and Lady Hillingdon’s only holiday home!



Lady Hillingdon welcomed Princess Victoria, the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra to the Hall.  The latter two taught Lady Hillingdon to play golf in the extensive grounds.  Today the estate is smaller, after a portion was sold, now a small housing estate named Hillingdon Park, while the remainder of the land is now referred to as, Overstrand Hall. 



 

During World War 1, Lady Hillingdon allowed the Hall to be used as an auxiliary military hospital, appointing her sister, Lady Bridget Keppel as the Hospital Commandant. 

 

During our tour, we were told, the house was later sold by Lord & Lady Hillingdon but with no name provided of the new owner.  However, Terence Richards’ research indicates it remained in the family with Lord Hillingdon’s son, selling the property to the Leicester & County Convalescent Home in 1932.  We know of one ex-serviceman, at the time a Leicester resident, who served in World War ll and who spent time recuperating in the Hall.  Building a strong relationship with the area, he and his wife later bought a holiday home in the village before finally purchasing a house and moving to Overstrand.  We meet others from Leicester, when they’re visiting or staying in the village.  It has been said they have come to the area because they had relations convalescing at the Hall and as a result a strong bond developed with the area, one which has survived through future generations.



In 1999, Kingswood took over the Hall, running it as a residential, educational and outdoor activity centre.

 

We were amazed that such a grand house could be built in just two years and questioned whether this would be achievable today?  Although we did not see it all, the Hall’s interior design was impressive with a painted ceiling (in Lord & Lady Hillingdon’s bedroom, later Matron’s), an internal courtyard (perfect for afternoon tea or a pre-dinner drink), hand painted tiles (we tried but couldn’t find two exactly the same) and an array of various designed doors (these impressed me the most). Another piece of information, not related to the Hall’s history; a long table in one of the rooms was used in a Harry Potter film and later donated to the centre.  We both agreed our grandsons would have loved trying out the activities, especially the huge activity climbing frame, in the grounds.



Finally, I would like to thank Kingswood for opening the Hall on Sunday and add, although Terence Richards and David Thornton have both passed away, the village history is now in the capable and dedicated hands of Tim Bennett who through his continuing researches may have more to add to Overstrand Hall’s past.



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