Orchard Wyndham has been home to the Wyndhams and their ancestors for over seven hundred years. Its history is as complex as its architecture, and as tricky to unravel.
We know from surviving documents that the house was already built in part by 1287, the property of Thomas de Horcherd who lived there at that time. But the history of the place likely goes back much further. During excavations in the 1970s, we discovered the remains of ancient drains formed from hollowed out oak trees rammed together – the remains of much earlier occupation.
During the 14th Century, the family, its name now anglicised to “Orchard”, extended the house with a second range, and joined this to the first with curtain walls to form a central courtyard.
The house passed through the female line to the Sydenham family in the 15th Century, whereupon it was known as Orchard Sydenham. Our Sydenham ancestors built another great hall – the one we still use – and other major rooms around a second courtyard.
In the 1520s, the house again passed through the female line to the Wyndham family from Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk, and became known as Orchard Wyndham. The Wyndhams modernised again, opening up new windows to the outside, and building a very large wing, which has since been destroyed by fire.
The last major additions were by Sir William Wyndham, Chancellor of the Exchequer to Queen Anne, who even found a place in Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”. Sir William, a Jacobite, after his arrest and a spell in The Tower, was required by the new King to remain on his estates. And here, in the words of John Gay, he amused himself “with some real improvements and a great many visionary castles”.
These included the roofing over of the medieval courtyard and a fine new Drawing Room behind a new façade, as well as the laying out of extensive and very practical gardens to feed his many guests. The design of these can be observed from several paintings of the time, and we hope one day to restore them to their former usefulness.
Over time, Orchard Wyndham became the parent house for other houses in Southern England, such as Dinton (now called Phillips House) and Norrington in Wiltshire, Silverton and Blackborough in Devon, and Petworth in Sussex. It is also the origin of branches of the family in Chile, Australia, and the United States.
The house has gone through past periods of neglect and rediscovery, each generation leaving its mark (some more positive than others); and this cycle is responsible for the fascinatingly diverse architectural styles presented to the visitor today.