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PECKOVER HOUSE

Baron Peckover of Wisbech was the first member of the Society of Friends (Quaker) to become elevated to Peerage in 1907. His library at Bank House was renowned for its valuable collection of early bibles, atlases and early printed books"
 
-The National Trust

This jewel of a house was built in 1722, bought by Henry Southwell in 1752 and finally by Jonathan Peckover in 1794. It then remained in the possession of the Peckover family until 1943, when it was given to the National Trust by the Honourable Alexandrina Peckover, the last of the family line. However, she continued to live there until her death in 1948.

If you have just come in from the garden, you will have approached the house from across the croquet lawn. So you will appreciate that this rear elevation is even more elaborate and attractive than the plainer elevation looking onto the Brink. However, you will more probably have entered by the front door. So look to the left into the darkened dining room which is roped off probably to preserve the Florentine stitch needlework carpet of the late eighteenth century. Very little of the furniture in the house is original to the Peckover family as this was bequeathed to the Penrose nephews. The furniture you see has been acquired by the National Trust and is of the appropriate period. The decorations and fittings, however, are original. All the rooms are panelled and have fine Georgian fireplaces and carved overmantels. The original door furniture has been preserved throughout. In the drawing room, opposite the dining room, is the most outstanding piece of decorative work, a rococo framework to the mirror over the fireplace with its fine carved eagle.

Beyond the dining room on the left is the small breakfast room in which are hung eighteenth century watercolours of the Norwich School. Now back past the magnificent staircase to the ante-room, which contains a fine oil painting of Thurloe's Mansion, by an unknown artist, so unfortunately demolished by Medworth in order to build the present 'Castle'.

The ante-room leads to the library, a nineteenth century addition, designed not as was once supposed by Algernon Peckover,but by the Norwich architect, Edward Boardman, who also designed Barclays Bank. Both the books and the original bookshelves were removed long ago, but now the room has been excellently restored to its earlier status as a library. Thanks to a generous bequest from the late Mr Basil Lambert, it has been possible to redecorate with a copy of the original wallpaper by Cole & Son and to install replica bookcases of Canadian maple. The cabinet-maker who did this work was a local boy, Benedict Gillick, who learnt his craft at the Isle College.

Now go up the fine staircase. The first room on the left has been well furnished as bedroom, and beyond that is a larger room in which an exhibition explaining the life of the family, has been mounted.

PECKOVER GARDENS

Through the entrance hall of the house and then down the flight of stone steps, that so enhances the rear view, you are faced with the croquet lawn. It is probably set out for a game complete with balls and mallets. Anyone so inclined may play, but if you want to see the gardens, turn immediately right down the gravel path with shrubs on either side. Before long you will see on your left a very old tree with a thick trunk. This is a Tulip Tree, quite a rarity in England, although there is also one at Harecroft House, now the Grammar School. A little further on, against the wall, is a sculpture representing a boy and a dog. Turn to your left at this point and you will see another very old tree. This is the Ginkgo, a native of China, and said to be the oldest specimen in this country. A younger one has been planted not far away in the lawn.

You now emerge into the daylight, and you will soon see, close to the south-facing wall, a delightful border of low-growing cushion-like flowering plants. Continue along the gravel path, which leads up to the orangery. Notice the Chusan Palm on your left, surrounded by its flowerbed. The orangery is heated and houses delicate plants as well as three orange trees laden with fruit and reputed to have come from Hagbeach Hall in Emneth over two hundred years ago, when that great house was demolished. Beyond are two other heated glass houses, one of them devoted entirely to ferns.

Retrace your steps a little to the orangery and then turn towards a path with flower borders either side. At one time this was a 'white' garden and it still contains white roses. You soon come to a pair of pieces of topiary, which look rather odd from this angle, but look back when you have gone through and you will see that they are two peacocks. In front of you now is a charming oval goldfish pond in an oval lawn and with a small fountain in the middle. Ahead is a summerhouse or belvedere. You are probably tired now, so sit down in it and admire this piece of garden from the other direction. Now turn to your left through a fine wrought-iron gateway and turn around to admire the pool, and the round arched gateway beyond it from this angle.

Now you have reached another lawn with flower borders on the sunny sides, and shrubs where it is shady. Hidden in the shrubbery is another enchanting little summerhouse, surrounded by luxuriant ferns, while beyond the 'red' border is the delightful gardener's cottage.

Among the shrubs you will find the shaft of an old Norman or 'White Cross'. The Peckovers rescued it from the bed of the river in the middle of the last century, where it had probably been thrown during the Cromwellian period. This Cross originally stood on the Low, at the junction of Chapel Road and North Brink.

Climb a few steps with a handrail and you will find a little graveyard for cats. They were the pets of Alexander Peckover's three daughters, Josephine, Alexandrina and Anna Jane. As you walk round the garden you might even meet their successors, the cats 'Medlar'and 'Mulberry'!

Finally take advantage of the restoration of the Barn which now houses an attractive restaurant.

Peckover House website

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