The Heydons: Their home was their Castle




            Heydon with Gurney             Heydon with Boleyn          Heydon quartered with ?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

All of these window panels in the St. Mary's Baconsthorpe Church used to be in and part of the Heydon's Baconsthorpe Manor home. Below: The Heydon Norfolk Arms as a stained glass window in St. Mary’s Church in Baconsthorpe. The Heydon of Norfolk family crest over the blue knights helm/helmet is the “spotted dog,” a Dalmatian.




Picture below Top Center:  Arms (left half) of Sir Henry Heydon, Knight of Baconsthorpe with wife Ann Boleyn (right half), mid 1400’s. Also see leaded glass church window immediate left.  She was the aunt to Anne Boleyn who was the 2nd wife of Henry VIII.
Below right) Arms of Gurney (wife’s father’s arms) impaling Heydon late 1400’s to 1500. (Bottom) Other families as they intermarry add a fraction called “impaling”.


This entire left half is Heydon, but I have no idea which family is represented in  marriage by the right half. This window is also in  the St. Mary's Church in  Baconsthorpe.

From a Norfolk News Article:

Tucked down a North Norfolk back lane, through a working farmyard, are the evocative fragments of a little-known castle whose ruins mirror the fortunes of the family who built it. We wandered around Baconsthorpe Castle, near Holt, then set off in search of its past.

Two towering but shattered gatehouses are the gray stone monuments to a once grand and thriving family home. The moated and fortified manor house at Baconsthorpe was built by a 15th century unscrupulous lawyer, became a busy woolen factory, and then crumbled into disrepair as the family fortunes failed.
Its outer gatehouse was lived in until as recently as 1920, but 20 years later it was given to the nation and is now a free attraction cared for by English Heritage.
Casual visitors will just enjoy the ruins as a peaceful backwater that is ideal for a picnic venue and somewhere for the children to explore.

The remote spot reached down a farm road teems with wildlife. A large lake is dotted with ducks and geese. Frogs speckle the bottom of the ancient moat.  As we approached during a family visit, 11 deer trotted across the road to the amazement of the children.

The youngsters enjoyed peering through the gun slots in the walls, and clambering around the walls and towers,     as their imagination ran riot about fighting off the enemy, and “was that hole in the floor really a toilet?” The remains of vaulted rooms and big fireplaces rekindle memories of what a showpiece “des res” this would have been in its heyday. 

Out in the grounds ancient trees stand sentinel in the boggy ground.   If only they could talk about what has happened under their gaze and that of their ancestors. 

Instead, visitors have to rely on a display board at the entrance, which only touches on the history within walls built stoutly during turbulent times.  The headlines show that John Heydon began the manor house around 1480, and it began to decline at the end of the 16th century.
But a deeper delve reveals details of a family, with royal connections, who were feared – then revered. Sir John was a lawyer and MP for Norfolk in 1445, but he was also an unscrupulous opportunist, who was hated but had a gift for survival.  He is credited with building the main inner gatehouse tower, and probably had need of defense having made plenty of enemies.
The spring sun shines on the stones as it has done for centuries.
He incited Lord Moleynes to lay claim to the Paston estate at Gresham, resulting in Margaret Paston and a dozen retainers being attacked by a 1000-strong mob.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Sir John is not spoken of warmly in the famous Paston Letters – Norfolk’s unique insight into life and times in the 15th century.  John is linked with craftiness, duplicity and extortion, and is even likened to Pontius Pilate.  But he was a survivor. While at least two of his cohorts were beheaded, Heydon went from strength to strength and bought large amounts of land at Baconsthorpe.

The towering inner gatehouse is reached across a wooden bridge, which used to be a drawbridge, whose chains and counterweights would have run in shafts, which are still visible. This miniature fort would have been the place to hide when the going got tough.
Sir John’s son, Henry (1480-1504), married Ann Boleyn, whose namesake and great niece was to be Henry VIII’s second queen. He was a less formidable figure, but when he inherited the castle he set about finishing it.

When Henry VII outlawed private fortification, Henry switched his building efforts to churches, including a rebuild of Salthouse – where the masonry is similar to his father’s work on the Baconsthope gatehouse.

During Tudor times, later Heydons built Baconsthorpe up on the back of a busy sheep and wool industry – evidence of which has been found in the east side of the castle. Two long rooms against the east wall, with some 16th century oak-mullioned windows still intact, mark the part of the castle, which was adapted for use as a textile factory.
The nearby tower has a sunken tank. Traces of a turnstile, maybe for sheep, have been found against the north long room. 

 The wool wealth of the Heydons is charted through Sir Christopher (1551-1579), who is recorded as entertaining 30 head shepherds of his flocks at Christmas. He added the outer gatehouse – for show rather than defense.

But the good times were starting to wane and he died in debt, leaving his son, Sir William (1579-1593), having to sell off some of the lands. In turn, William’s son, Sir Christopher II (1593-1623), had little interest in business and was preoccupied with astrology, writing pamphlets helped by his chaplain, William Bredon, who – apparently – used to smoke the bell ropes of his church instead of tobacco.

Christopher narrowed the moat, which no longer served any military purpose, and rebuilt parts of the castle. 

His sons both followed military careers – one dying on an expedition in 1627, while the other was a Lieutenant General of Ordnance to Charles I. 

Victorious Roundheads grabbed his estates, which he was allowed to buy back, but before he died in 1657 he tried to recoup his losses by demolishing most of the castle and selling the materials.  Records show much of it went to Felbrigg Hall, but it is unclear for what it was used. Read Hayday of the Heydons of Norfolk re: Felbrigg Hall and photo.  

A generation later, the Heydons sold all their Norfolk estates to a London merchant. Baconsthorpe later passed to a doctor called Zurishaddair Lang, who lived in the modest gatehouse that was left.  So did others after him until it was ruined by gales in 1921.

Around 1800 the estate had been bought by John Thruston Mott, of Barningham Hall, whose descendant, Sir Charles Mott-Radclyffe, put the ruins in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works, who began peeling back the layers of ivy to reveal the history underneath. 

Archive guide books admit that because so much of the castle has been lost, much of its reconstruction has to be guesswork – which can lead to urban, or perhaps rural, myths.
One legend of a secret underground passage running under the moat turned out to be a sewer. 

Reports of Queen Victoria’s coronation include tales of locals playing “camping”, a forerunner of football, on the green meadows around the hall, in a party where locals feasted on roast beef and plum puddings.  Today, Baconsthorpe Castle still has twin towers that easily predate Wembley stadium – but the sport in their shadow is more likely to be a children’s kick-about, and the feast a family picnic.


This was not a castle in the Hollywood movie sense.

It was actually a fortified manor home with a moat and a gatehouse

“The ruins viewed in 1887, of the old Baconsthorpe Castle lie about ¾ of a mile from Baconsthorpe Church in a beautiful grove or clump of trees.  The building covered about an acre of ground, and was surrounded by a moat, crossed at the entrance by a bridge.  The outer wall, to the height of some fifteen or twenty feet, is still standing in its whole circuit.  The square enclosure is occupied as a garden. The lower story of each of the four corner towers is left, though in ruins.  The large front tower is standing to the height of two stories, the lower rooms being used as a Woodhouse and tool room.”   See comparison photos of 1883 and 2001.


Two pictures above are from 1883 and show the standing right hand portion
wrapped in ivy before it was rebuilt below.

Old photo from the 1887/88 Hayden Genealogy of the Connecticut Line:  “The gateway of the old hall, of imposing structure, flanked by two lofty towers, and situated about fifty yards in advance of the tower and bridge, has been converted into a spacious farm-house, and kept in perfect repair.  It is now the property of John Thomas Mott, Esq., and is called Baconsthorpe Hall.”

And from another document: “In 1888, the gatehouse still held an elegant manor that had been ‘modernized and was being lived in.”  The left tower and structure eventually collapsed, tearing away much of the structure. See two top pictures of ivy covered ruins.

The bottom left doorway picture was taken in 1883 and the right color picture was taken in 2001,