Swaffham is one of the small Brecks market towns which grew during Norfolk’s wealthy medieval agricultural past. Dominated by a huge church, most of the Georgian and Victorian facades hide medieval houses. In its heyday there were theatres, assembly rooms, pleasure gardens and a racecourse and Lady Hamilton preferred to live here because Burnham was too quiet! The town itself sits on a slight rise, elevating Swaffham’s two wind turbines and giving visitors a glimpse from afar.
Historically the town was a stopping point for pilgrims going to Walsingham and a funnel for travellers going south from the Norfolk coast. It was also the main market for goods and travellers east and west. Today, you no longer need to hire a guide to take you west through the Fenland landscape but the old drove roads remain giving unique access to quiet countryside. Peddars Way, the old Roman road, runs north to south through Swaffham linking up the Icknield Way and is now a long distance footpath to the coast. Both the theatre and race course closed in the 1840’s but it is now possible to enjoy a new theatre at West Acre and the racecourse at Fakenham.
The Breckland landscape and the area to the North have been more densely populated in the past, so have left us a legacy of abandoned villages, hidden castles, remote round barrows and an excess of churches. The area is rich in wildlife including rare species like the stone curlew, which can be viewed at Weeting Heath.
The towns famous eclectic Saturday market reveals treasures among the bric-a-brac and book stalls, fresh local produce and greengrocery, a wide variety of cheese and eggs and the popular auction opposite the market cross, itself adorned with the statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of the harvest.
The Brecks area is a truly unique landscape, which contains some unusual features whose origins go back to the Ice Ages, like Pingo ponds. After Neolithic man cleared the natural forest with axes fashioned from flints mined in the area, heath land developed. In the past the Brecks was an open landscape of sheep walk, rabbit warren and breck-temporary fields allowed to revert back to heath-abounding with heath land wildlife.
The heaths developed on areas of poor soil with fragile fertility. Burning, grazing, arable farming, turf cutting and harvesting of furze and bracken have helped create and maintain them. On these ancient heaths rabbits were farmed from medieval times, for several centuries, in warrens until they became a major pest. Two minutes outside the town on the old drove road over Swaffham Heath leads you to Beachamwell Warren, one of the many warrens in the vicinity that reflects this historical association with rabbits and offers great walking opportunities. On the same stroll or jog you will see deer-red, roe, fallow muntjak-and hares.
Today the Brecks is mostly a landscape of forestry and farming. Thetford forest, which is spread across an area of about 80 square miles, is the largest lowland pine forest in Britain. It was started in the 1920’s as a strategic timber reserve and is now home for endangered wildlife such as red squirrel, woodlark and nightjar and very accessible. By far the most characteristic symbols of this countryside are the hedges and shelter belts of Scots pines planted as wind breaks at the time of Enclosure from 1768 onwards to stop the precious topsoil from blowing away. They line the roads and edges of the fields, their branches and trunks twisted by age and the elements.
Castle Acre Priory
There is much to see at the priory, including the beautiful west end church gable, prior’s lodging and substantial remains of many of the buildings round the cloister. The recreated herb garden grows herbs, which the monks would have used for medicinal, culinary and decorative purposes. Visitors can find out more about this beautiful priory from our exhibition, display of artefacts and audio tour. Walk the ruins of the church including the Cloister and Chapter House before entering the Prior’s Lodgings and exploring the rooms inside.
Swaffham is an attractive, family friendly Norfolk market town which sits at the very northern point of the Brecks. There is a bustling Saturday Market and it’s a great base to explore Norfolk, including the North Norfolk Coast, the Norfolk Broads and Norwich.
Visit the Green Britain centre and climb up the 300 steps inside the wind turbine to enjoy the superb views as far as Ely Cathedral and enjoy their organic gardens. Take a look at the giant ‘solar tracker’ and discover how it makes electricity as it follows the Sun. Get a good look at the Green bird, while it’s parked. It’s the planet’s fastest wind powered vehicle.
Norfolk, on the mid-east coast of England, is a great holiday or short break destination that also hosts fantastic events and days out in Norfolk at any time. Norfolk’s not just open for 12 weeks in the summer, it’s open 12 MONTHS of the year! Choose from miles of unspoilt coastline, beautiful countryside, forests and heathland, internationally-important nature reserves, amazing birdwatching, easy-going walking and cycling.
This popular reserve on the north Norfolk coast has something for everyone. A walk from the visitor centre down to the sandy beach takes you past reedbeds and shallow lagoons, which are often full of birds. You can sit on benches or watch from spacious, wheelchair-accessible hides. In summer, marsh harriers float over the reeds, where bearded tits nest. On the lagoons are avocets, gulls and terns. In autumn and winter you can see up to 20 species of wading birds and lots of ducks and geese.
Taking you through fantastic scenery including a Roman Road, the unique Brecks, low cliffs and extensive sandy beaches and dunes this Trail offers something for everyone from a gentle stroll to a 93 mile (150Km) walk. From fabulous walking festivals to local farmers markets and village fetes, there’s always something happening.
Fakenham Race Course
A day’s racing is an exciting day out for people of all ages and from all walks of life. Fakenham Racecourse prides itself on its friendly, casual atmosphere and it has no formal dress code. The Racecourse is committed to welcoming all visitors, and has dedicated car-parking and viewing areas for the less-abled.
A small, independent social history museum for Swaffham and the surrounding villages. Annual exhibitions plus displays from the Stone Age to the modern. Visit the gift shop for souvenirs, craftwork and collectables. Explore the history and walk the town trail with your own audio guide.
Enjoy a forest adventure at High Lodge Thetford Forest. Unwind with beautiful forest trails or try the excitement of our bike trails, Go Ape and adventure play. Take a picnic, drop in the cafe or watch a live concert in the Forest, maybe Adele, Rudimental, James Bay or Simply Red!
Days out with Go Ape are about living life a little more adventurously, having fun with friends and family on the Zip Trekking Adventure or Segway experience exploring the forest on the latest in green technology – a self-balancing electric segway.
Bike Thetford Forest
Breathe in the natural beauty of the unique Brecks landscape in Thetford Forest. Explore by bike on 40 miles of traffic free marked trails, providing safe cycling for families and access to more challenging terrain for experts. Located at High Lodge Forest Centre just off the B1107 Brandon Road, near Thetford High Lodge Forest Centre offers a welcoming atmosphere with restaurant, large play area, souvenir shopping, “Go Ape” tree walk and summer concerts. There are a range of cycle trails in Thetford Forest to suit all ages and abilities. We hire the bikes to enable you to enjoy the trails.
Church Farm, Stow Bardolph
Church Farm is fantastic family friendly farm yard attraction, located within the picturesque village of Stow Bardolph. This farm specialises in Rare Breed animals and this is what makes the farm so special and different from others within the area. There is a range of fun-filled activities which allow children to really interact and get involved with the animals, whilst learning something new about them too.
There is three separate play areas for the children to choose from, two internal and one larger outside one, so there is a great variety for families to experience here at this attraction.
Bewilderwood is a bundle of excitement where children are really able to let their imaginations run free. The establishment was inspired by the fabulous childrens book ‘A Boggle at BerWILDerwood’ written by a great local author Tom Blofeld. The park consists of magical tree houses, weird and wonderful creature characters and mysterious walks and boat rides.
This attraction really encourages the parents to join in and play alongside the children, and it truly is a place that the whole family can get stuck in and have some WILD fun!
Built in 1482, during the Wars of the Roses, this special place has many stories to tell. Discover its royal connection and how the National Trust came to care for it. On first sight, Oxburgh Hall looks to be an imposing castle, reflected in its impressive Tudor gatehouse and surrounding moat.
Gooderstone Water Gardens
A unique attraction for all garden lovers, naturalists, artists and photographers – or those who simply want a restful break. What could be nicer than to stroll through an enchanting garden, explore the nature trail, perhaps spot a kingfisher and enjoy delicious homemade cakes.
St. Mary’s Church
You can find the Church of St Mary on top of the hill in Houghton, on the outskirts of North Pickenham near Swaffham. Of the small hamlet once described as Houghton Town, only the church and Houghton Farm remain intact. The last two surviving cottages were demolished in 1994; the remainder of the village is visible only as bumps in the field just to the north of the church.
Norwich Puppet Theatre
Norwich Puppet Theatre is an excellent introduction to the magic of theatre with original shows, activities, workshops and masterclasses for all ages.
Situated inside a converted medieval church, the Theatre is one of only three building-based puppet theatres in England. Home to a family of puppets spanning over 30 years, we produce new shows for families and children which play in Norwich before touring the UK and internationally.
Kings Lynn is a market town located in the ceremonial county of Norfolk. There are weekly markets and annual fairs as well as annual music festivals and concerts. Located 25 minutes from Swaffham (15.5miles) along the A47.
Norwich is Norfolk’s thriving capital with a year-round calendar of events and festivals, from culture to cuisine; take in the history and heritage, experience some of the best shopping in the UK or relax with a river cruise and a stroll around the city’s beautiful Norwich Cathedral Quarter.
North Norfolk must be the birdwatching capital of the UK, and you can even take a boat trip to see the seal colony at Blakeney Point. North Norfolk is blessed with some of the most beautiful beaches in Britain and can be seen in many films and TV shows including ‘Shakespeare in Love’.
Nick Ford Photography
Nick Ford is a brilliant local artist who is passionate about portraying the beauty of the Norfolk Countryside through photography. His work is available in a range of prints, canvases or cards. Nick is also responsible for most of our fantastic website photography, particularly the bedroom images and local area.
History of Strattons
Strattons is the family home of Les and Vanessa Scott who met at art college in the late 70’s. Art is an important ingredient in the development of the hotel. The building itself is on a constant rolling maintenance programme. Extensive renovation has taken place over the last 17 years using period and conservation materials, working with local skilled artisans who have the craftsmanship, sensitivity and sympathy for old buildings. There is an emphasis on regional building techniques and materials used in this part of the Brecks and incorporating the owner’s passion for the environment.
Les and Vanessa feel they are caretakers rather than owners of this unique listed building, maintaining and ensuring its longevity for future generations to enjoy.
Art is a strong theme from the murals in the rooms, mosaics, painted canvasses through to sculptures both inside and outside the building; the interior design is created by the art team at Strattons.
The huge stag that greets you when you first arrive at the hotel by local sculptress Rachael Long, is symbolic of the Brecks natural habitat, the use of recycled agricultural iron re-endorses the hotels environmental policy.
The earliest record of Strattons is on the 1797 Faden’s map. It clearly shows a T shape and a driveway straight up to the front door. This supports the conclusions which can be drawn from the evidence of the existing building. The house appears to have begun life as an adaptation of a building on a north south alignment, (possibly a malting barn) used as the central Portico, with two wings added to create a vernacular ‘Palladian Villa’. The added wings are built of a similar size brick to the existing centre but are not bonded to it. There is also evidence behind the internal plaster of brick arches at levels not consistent with the current floor levels. The Venetian windows were originally of stone (only the stone cills with marks of stone mullions remain) and have been replaced with wooden ones of late c18 date. There is evidence inside that the principal rooms may have been wood panelled (two patterns of cornicing were found reused as packing in old roof repairs). During re-pointing work on the brickwork, there were found to be over painting marks, consistent with there having been at some point a canopy over the main door and windows. The dormer window on the right hand side has a beautifully inscribed name and date of ‘Z. Bryant July 26th 1792’ in original lead, probably indicating the date when major work of refurbishment was carried out on the original Queen Anne house. There is a late Victorian (after 1882) extension on three floors which provided a master bedroom, bathroom and drawing room or music room. The semi basement part of the main house was also either refurbished or created at the same time.
If Strattons was indeed a Villa, it may have been privately owned by someone in Norwich or the surrounding countryside who would have used it as a base when enjoying Swaffham’s social activities. It may equally have been a commercial enterprise, comprising of the Villa set in pleasure gardens also containing a bowling green, a cockpit and billiard rooms.
The first noted owner of the Villa was the Rev William Yonge who moved here from Barnstaple, Devon in 1779. He had a large family of eight daughters and one son. Rev Yonge died in 1845 at the old age of 92. His sister in law married Admiral Lord Nelson’s brother who was rector of Hillborough to the south of Swaffham. Upon Nelson’s death, his title passed to his brother who enjoyed the limelight and the association with Lady Hamilton.
The newspapers noted that “in 1806 The Earl and Countess Nelson with their daughter, Lady Charlotte Bolton visited D Fisher’s Theatre in Swaffham (the site opposite Netto’s Supermarket). Miss Horatia Nelson Thompson and Lady Hamilton stayed at the Villa and the Earl bespoke the play ‘She Stoops to Conquer’. The day previous Lady Hamilton entertained at the Crown inn, some of the most considerable families of the town”.
It is very likely that Rev Yonge was responsible for upgrading and enlarging the original building, including the conversion of the roof into habitable rooms and extending the rear.
There is a reference in 1836 to the house being as an academy run by Matilda Cooper.
Strattons then appears to have been used like a dower house for the next sixty or seventy years with several of the Yonge children spending their remaining years here. The 1881 census lists Louisa Yonge aged 84 with the remaining inhabitants as nurses or servants.
In 1883 Emily Augusta Reynolds Dolignon, one of Rev Yonge’s granddaughters inherited the house and is most likely responsible for building the Victorian extension which provided modern amenities for her and a refurbishment of the older part for servants.
The First World War changed the servant master relationship in large houses forever. And the Villa, no exception, was sold to Surridges, the cricket bat manufactures. They used the land at the back for a sawmill and to stack roughly cut bats prior to shipment down to Witham for finishing. ‘Razor’ Smith the famous slow bowler from the early 1900’s lived at Strattons and worked as a salesman for Surridges.
His daughter Gertrude would have been in her twenties and would have met and married Herbert Stratton whose family had farmed in Swaffham for centuries.
In 1922 Surridges moved their operation down to Essex and the Villa was purchased by Henry Lee Warner a London Barrister and member of an old Norfolk family. He moved from the Paddocks (now a Nursing home on the Cley road), probably as a retirement downsize. Henry famously defended some of Swaffham’s citizens, free of charge when they were prosecuted for trespassing after a local farmer attempted to close off the right of way down Silver Drift on Westacre road.
Henry’s widow died in 1938 and James Warnes, a local farmer purchased the house for the grand sum of £675. It may not have been the investment James was looking for because with Hitler menacing Europe, not many people were willing to give him a profit. Gertrude Stratton, not one to worry about Hitler, used her late father’s inheritance and a deal was struck for £650. Mrs Stratton changed the name from the Villa to the Farmhouse because she thought it sounded too grand. Her husband Bertie earned a living as a gentleman farmer and she ran the house rather like a guest house, taking in officers during and after the war. Children from Hammonds Grammar School were also boarded. Many people have memories of taking holidays at the farmhouse and being taken out by Bertie on his horse and trap down to his farm. Later as Gertrude got older and Bertie died, the house was turned into flats and bed sits. Mrs Stratton died in 1985 and having no children, the estate was sold and shared out to distant family, some of whom were Morses, the old brewing family of Swaffham.
The farmhouse became Strattons in 1990 when Les and Vanessa Scott bought it and turned it into a Hotel.