History of Swafield Hall

 Lime washed Georgian South elevation of Swafield Hall

The History of Swafield Hall can be traced back to 1466 when it was mentioned in the will of William Burgey, who was lord of Swafield Hall at that time.

William Burgey stated that Swafield Hall, his only manor, was to be sold by his executors so that a priest might sing for his soul for seven years in the church of St Nicholas at Swafield. He wished to be buried at St Nicholas beside the grave of his wife Alice.

The thirteen poor men who were to attend William Burgey’s funeral were to have gowns and food and drink, and every pauper of Swafield and of five other adjacent town-ships were left a penny. Twenty mark was to be spent on new tabernacles for the images of the Blessed Virgin and of St Nicholas church in Swafield, and a hundred masses were to be celebrated for him by the orders of friars at Norwich.

 Tudor North facade with traditional Norfolk red brick and flint walls

The existing house was built in Elizabethan times, in the late 16th century. Swafield Hall was altered in the 17th and 19th centuries and as the result the house received two facades in different styles: a Tudor North facade with traditional Norfolk red brick and flint walls and a lime washed Georgian South elevation, with stunning French windows in the ground floor (not so common in Norfolk) and a black glazed pantiles roof.

Part of the map of Swafield dates back to 1839. St. Nicholas Church is on the left, Swafield Hall estate is on the right.

It is interesting that Swafield Hall was built in line with the church of St. Nicholas at Swafield, so parishioners always sat facing the hall during the service. Like the church, the hall is oriented parallel to the West-East axis. Swafield Hall, its Grade II listed barn and the church of St Nicholas, which you can see across the field from the windows of Swafield Hall,  are a part of North Norfolks’ heritage.

St Nicholas church at Swafield dates from the late 15th century. The tower of the church is from the 14th century and the nave has a thatched roof.

Local legend reports that Admiral Nelson stayed in Swafield Hall, and some believe that the house is inhabited by a friendly ghost.

The house is mentioned in “The Buildings of England” by Nicolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson.

In 1836 Swafield was described in the book “History, gazetteer, and directory, of Norfolk, and … the city of Norwich” by William White, as “a parish and small village, on the north side of the canal, between two sources of the river Ant, 1 ½mile N. of North Walsham”.

William White mentioned that Swafield  “has 155 inhabitants, and about 800 acres of land, belonging to a number of proprietors, some of whom have neat houses here”.
Most of the land near Swafield Hall estate belonged to “Charity for the relief of Widows and Orphans of Clergymen” (about 200 acres).

A handicapped army officer and a hero of the Peninsular War, Captain Robert Blake (1795 – 1886) was the owner of Swafield Hall estate at that time.

In 1813 at the age of 17 Robert Blake was an officer in the 3rd Regiment “The Buffs” and served in the Peninsular War under Wellington.  He lost his left leg at the passage of the Nive when in command of a company of the 57th.

Robert was born at Horstead in Norfolk and baptised in Norwich, his father was a barrister. When Captain Robert Blake retired he moved to Swafield. In 1838 at the age of 42 he married Charlotte, the daughter of Colonel Harvey of Thorpe St Andrew (she was 29 years old) and brought his wife to Swafield Hall, where they spent nine happy years and had a lot of children.

Robert Blake lived in Swafield Hall with his family until 1847. Five of his seven children were born in Swafield (Margaret b. 1841, Robert b. 1843, Tomas b. 1844, Eleanor b. 1846 and John b. 1847).

On the right: A fragment of a Map of the parish of Swafield (1839) showing the Swafield Hall Estate when Captain Robert Blake with his wife lived there.  Purple line – a homestead with a lawn and a park, Green line – Agricultural land of Swafield Hall estate. Blue line – Land belonging to the “Charity for the relief of Widows and Orphans of Clergymen”.

In 1847 Robert inherited Wroxham House (from his wife’s relative Rev John Humfrey A.M. who died in June 1847 aged 82). Leaving no issue, Rev John Humfrey bequeathed his mansion in the parish and all his estates in Norfolk, Suffolk, &c. to Robert Blake of Swafield, by his will requesting him “to take the name of Humfrey after and in addition to his own, and bear the arms of Humfrey quarterly with those of Blake”. 

Robert Blake sold the Swafield Hall estate, moved to Wroxham House and did indeed add the name of Humfrey to his own and accepted the arms of Humfrey.

On the right:  Stained glass window with the heraldic arms of Robert Blake Humfrey (left) and wife Charlotte Harvey (right) in the Church of St Mary, Wroxham, Norfolk

The wealthy Dolphin family bought Swafield Hall from Captain Robert Blake-Humfrey and moved there. Dolphins lived before in the middle of Swafield village in a neat Georgian house known as “The Old House”.

In 1854 in the book “Francis White’s History, Gazetteer, and Directory, of Norfolk” Thomas Dolphin, Esq. (1811 – 1866) was mentioned as one of the principal land owners in Swafield. He lived in Swafield Hall with his wife Charlotte (1825 – 1917).

The Dolphins had five children brought up at Swafield Hall –Thomas William (1854 – ?), Katharine Ellen (1855 – 1932), Henry (1856 – 1881), Edgar (1857 – 1889) and Martha Frederica (1864 – 1952).

Georgian South elevation of Swafield Hall, circa 1880. The Dolphin family in front of the house: Charlotte Dolphin (1825 – 1917) in a black dress, and her children Thomas William (1855 – ?), Katharine Ellen (1855 – 1932), Henry (1856 – 1881), Edgar (1857 – 1889), Martha Frederica (1864 – 1952).

Life wasn’t easy for Mrs Dolphin of Swafield Hall. When her husband Thomas Dolphin died at the age of 55, Charlotte’s youngest daughter Martha Frederica was just 2 years old. Three years later her eldest son Thomas William at the age of 15 left the family home. Thomas became a priest after his graduation from Oxford and lived separately from his mother.

Two other sons Henry and Edgar joined the army.
In January 1881 Henry was killed at the Battle of Laing’s Nek during the First Boer War in South Africa. The British lost 84, most of the casualties were in the 58th Regiment. Henry was only 24 years old.

Charlotte’s youngest son Edgar served as a captain of the 2nd Battalion, King’s Own Royal Regiment, in South Africa, India and Pakistan. In September 1889 Edgar accidentally drowned in Norfolk, on Wroxham Broads, at the age of 32.

Charlotte Dolphin become a church warden at St. Nicholas. She donated money to build a magnificent Victorian stained-glass window above the choir stalls, where her sons had sung as choir boys. There is Jesus Christ the shepherd in the middle of the window, St. Cecilia – the patroness of musicians on the left and St. Nicholas with three golden balls on the right.

On the right: Stained glass window in the church of St. Nicholas in Swafield. Written in the bottom: “For the glory of God and in loving memory of Henry Dolphin who was killed at Laing’s Nek in Jan 28 1891 & Edgar Dolphin accidentally drowned Sept 21 1889 This window is erected by their Mother”.

The Dolphin family on the Main lawn in front of Swafield Hall (South Elevation).

Memorial to Captain Edgar Dolphin, Second Battalion the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, erected by his brother officers in Lancaster Priory (St Mary Churchyard), 1889

Charlotte Dolphin, the mistress of Swafield Hall until 1917.

Charlotte’s youngest daughter Martha Federica, lived at Swafield Hall until 1947

Beryl and James Packard – Martha’s children who were brought up at Swafield Hall.

Charlotte’s daughter Katharine Ellen was responsible for teaching village children at Sunday School in the Village School building. Every Christmas there was a party at Swafield Hall for the village children and there was an enormous Christmas Tree standing in the middle with a gift for each child. 

Charlotte Dolphin died in 1917 at the age of 92. She was berried beside her husband Thomas at the entrance to Swafield church.

Her youngest daughter Martha Frederica (married John Harrison Packard (1859 -?) on 6th August 1885 in St-Nicholas church) become a new mistress of Swafield Hall. Martha Frederica Packard lived in Swafield Hall with her family almost all her life, until 1947.

Her son James Ernest Edgar Packard  followed in the footsteps of his uncle Edgar Dolphin and served as an officer of the King’s Own Royal Regiment, the same 2nd battalion. He spent a lot of time in China and India.

An interesting picture can be found in the museum of King’s Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster): “The wedding of Captain James Ernest Edgar Packard,  the son of Mrs Packard of Swafield Hall, Norfolk, to Miss Joan Worship, daughter of Hugh Worship, the well known former Ceylon Planter, of Earsham Lodge, Suffolk. January 1925”. Packard (MC, an officer of the King’s Own Royal Regiment) was at the time at the Staff College, Quetta, India.  The bridesmaid at his wedding was Miss M C Packard, the groom’s sister, also from Swafield Hall.

The Dolphins were owners of Swafield Hall for 100 years. From 1920 to 1947 Swafield Hall belonged to Martha Frederica Packard, her sister Katharine Ellen Dolphin (she lived in Swafield Hall until her death in 1932), brother Rev. Thomas William (lived in Lincolnshire) and to Harry Edmund Dolphin.

In the Second World War Swafield Hall was used by the army. During the recent renovation we found under the floor boards army uniform buttons, cigarette boxes and old glass medicine bottles from that time.

In 1947 Swafield Hall was sold by auction through Harrods (London) and W. Vincent & sons (Norwich). The catalogue from that auction with all Swafield Hall particulars can be seen at the bottom of the page. The Barratt family became the new owners of Swafield Hall after the auction.

The new master of Swafield Hall Mr James Stanley Knevett Barratt (1885 – 1955) earned his fortune in the 1930’s and 1940’s managing shipping business between America and England. He retired at the age about 60, moved from Manchester to Norfolk sea cost area and bought Swafield Hall for his big family with tree sons and two daughters. His sons received agricultural education. Peter lived separately in Bedfordshire but Brian  (1926 – 2005) and Desmond (1921 – 2013) wanted to do farming at parent’s  estate.

Barratt family in the Drawing room at Swafield Hall. The end of the 1940’s – early 50’s.
Bottom line from right:  Julia Lyndel Flint (now Richards), Betty Robinson (maiden name Barratt) and her daughter Susan, Eva Grace Barratt (1890 – 1975), her husband and master of Swafield Hall James Stanley Knevett Barratt (1885 – 1955), Andrew Barratt, Daphne Flint (maiden name Barratt), Tina Flint. Top line: Angela Flint, Peter Lockwood Barratt, his son David, Brian Knevett Barratt (1926 – 2005), Desmond Bridgeman Barratt (1921 – 2013), Arthur Flint, Mr Robinson,  Sylvia Barratt (Peter’s wife), Philippa Flint.

James Barratt spent only 8 happy years living with his wife Eva in Swafield Hall. For her James made “a dell”-  a tiny valley in a wooded area of Swafield Hall estate, tucked away from the rest of civilisation, starting up near the Morning room and ending in the forest meadow.  Around this romantic forest path  James put a lot of snowdrops, daffodils, hyacinths, blue bells, primulas and cyclamens. Even now you can see this flowers coming every spring.

James Barratt became a warden of St Nicholas Church and joined Swafield parish consul. He contributed a lot to village life, and after his death in 1955 the commemorating plaque dedicated to him was placed inside the new bus stop in Swafield.

In 1955 Swafield Hall received Grade II listed status. For centuries Swafield Hall hosted village fairs and other events, and the Barratt family continued this tradition.

Each year Swafield Village fete was held in the grounds of Swafield Hall (early 1950s pictures).

The large Barratt family lived happily in Swafield Hall for 27 years. Eva’s and James’s grand children remember fun family gathering, festive Christmas celebrations with wonderful presents and a lot of games around the house.

In 1974 the Barratts sold Swafield Hall, because the old mansion became increasingly expensive to maintain. It was a difficult change for Eva Grace Barratt. She moved to the Muse (a converted old coach house which used to be a part of Swafield Hall estate) and died one year later after selling the Hall. Her and James Barratt grave is on St. Nicholas church yard, next to Thomas and Charlotte Dolphin’s greave stone.

The Barratts could not imagine a life away from their favourite Swafield Hall estate. Eva’s sons Desmond, Brian and his wife Elizabeth built a new small “Park house”, (which slightly resembled some aspects of Swafield Hall) on the land next door where Swafield Hall Park used to be. Elizabeth was a church warden at St Nicholas. They lived together and they rest in peace together in the north part of St. Nicholas churchyard.

The Park house was completely demolished by the new owners in 2016.

On the right: Christmas party at Swafield Hall, in the Drawing Room. 1950’s.

Retired diplomat John Gabriel Tahourdin (1913-2007) become the new owner of Swafield Hall after the Barratts, in 1974. In the 60’s John Tahourdin was British ambassador to Senegal, Mauritania, Mali and Guinea, in the 70’s – to Bolivia, he travelled assiduously throughout West Africa and South America and earned much respect. He finished his career in the British Embassy in 1973 and in 1974 moved to North Norfolk with his wife Margaret Michie (married in 1957), his son and daughter.
Perhaps rural Norfolk after Africa and South America was too calm for John Tahourdin. He lived separately from community life, and the tradition of holding village fairs at Swafield Hall ceased. Educated at St. John’s College in Oxford, John Tahourdin always wanted to return to the land of his jolly student youth, and at the age of 71 he downsized – sold Swafield Hall and started another chapter of his life in Oxfordshire.

In 1984 Brian Victor De Savoie-Carignan De Soissons (1929–2009) bought the estate from John Tahourdin. Brian moved here from London with his wife Daphne Evelyn (they married in 1955 and had 6 children).
Brian’s father Louis Emanuel Jean Guy de Savoie-Carignan de Soissons was the well-known London architect, the younger son of Charles, the Count de Soissons.

The De Soissons family had connections to Norfolk for over 100 years.  Brian’s sister Jeanne (married capt. Arthur Neville Rolfe) lived not far from Kings Lynn at Heacham Hall estate, the Rolfe family home. Heacham was very popular as a seaside resort, and during the 1960’s – 70’s the de Soissons enjoyed many summer holydays at the West Norfolk coast. At the age of 55 Brian sold his house in Noting Hill, London, and moved with his family to Swafield near North Walsham. Swafield Hall is 50 miles East of the Heacham Hall estate, but De Soissons felt in love with the beautiful old house, its location and wonderful sandy beaches nearby.

On the right: Swafield Hall estate at the time when De Soissons family lived there.

Brian de Soissons lived at the hall until 1999. Swafield villagers remember Brian as a very warm and friendly person. His wife Daphne passed away in 1995, their children grew up and lived separately, and in the late 1990’s Brian moved to Norwich.

His eldest son, real estate specialist Louis Thomas de Soissons with his wife Anna and three sons moved to his father’s country estate and developed the property.

The interiors of Swafield Hall were redecorated, and in front of the South elevation de Soissons created a box framed parterre, which was put in place by Norfolk garden designer Martin Perry.

Brian de Soissons died in 2009 in Norwich, but according to his wishes, he was buried at St. Nicholas Church of Swafield next to his wife Daphne. From that place on the church hill you can see beautiful fields and their favorite Swafield Hall.

On the right: Parterre at the South facade of Swafield Hall, 2003

In 2002 the estate was sold to John Charles Augustus David Buchan of Auchmacoy (b. 1963) and his wife Sharon J Buchan (married in 1998).

As Buchan clan chief Charles Buchan is a member of the Standing Committee of Scottish Chiefs. The Buchan’s family history and its connections with Auchmacoy in Aberdeenshire go back to the 15th century. Although Charles Buchan spent most of his time in the south, he is an avid supporter of the clan and a defiantly loyal Scot.  His family has a fascinating genealogy. His grand mother, Lady Olivia Buchan, was the eldest daughter of the 18th Earl of Caithness. Lord Caithness, born Sinclair, took the surname of Buchan in 1911, after inheriting the Auchmacoy estate from his cousin, Louisa Buchan, 15th of Auchmacoy.

With their four children George (b. 1994), twins William & Olivia (b. 1999) and Charlotte Rose (b. 2001). Charles and Sharon Buchan spent a lot of happy time in Swafield Hall.

On the right: George, William, Olivia and Charlotte Buchan at Swafield Hall.
An art work commissioned in 2004 to Brian Lewis, one of Norfolk’s best-loved, working artists.

In 2002 – 2004 keen gardener Sharon Buchan created at Swafield Hall the stunning Summer Garden, Secret Islamic garden, Autumn Garden, Duck pond, Pear Tunnel and Apollo Promenade.

Summer Garden and the beginning of the Pear Tunnel, 2003.

Summer Garden (right) and the Pear Tunnel (left) in Autumn 2018.

Formal hedging in 2003 (Apollo Promenade).

Formal hedging in 2018 (Apollo Promenade).

The Buchan’s moved to another larger house in North Norfolk in 2012. Swafield Hall was sold to the current owners in 2014. The renovation of Swafield Hall started in May 2015 and finished in 2017.