In the kitchen of Timothy Easton’s moated home, strange symbols are scattered across the kitchen ceiling and beside doorways, windows and fireplaces.

Four centuries ago, people living in beautiful Bedfield Hall, between East Anglia's Waveney and Deben valleys, believed the daisy-like patterns would protect them against the evil lurking outside.

It was a time when plague swept the land and exceptionally cold weather destroyed harvests. Those looking for something or someone to blame alighted on the supernatural.

The king himself, James I, told people to protect their doors and windows from evil spirits.

Timothy, an artist and architectural historian, found the symbols after moving in to the hall 40 years ago. He knew what they were because he had already seen similar inscriptions in his previous home in nearby Debenham.

"When things went wrong people searched around for someone to blame,” said Timothy. “But I never ever call them witchcraft symbols. I discovered most of these and it was me that first talked about them and published them and it’s been picked up all over the world. I am still writing about them.”

Now they are part of the history of the hall, which he shows visitors on the Invitation to View tours he has been leading for more than 15 years.

He and his wife, Christine, first saw the hall on a summer cycle ride and picnic with their children. Later, visiting a neighbouring friend, they discovered it was empty and for sale.

As they renovated it, replacing the roof and restoring the moat, they learned about its history.

There was a house here in Saxon times, which William the Conqueror gave to one of his Norman supporters after 1066. Rented out, its income helped fund the new abbey at Eye.

Generations of dairy farmers paid their rent to Eye Abbey until, in 1620, Bedfield was bought by former tenant Thomas Dunston.

The site had been moated since around 1300 and the oldest parts of the present building date back to 1423, but it was Thomas who oversaw two new wings, and a redecoration of the entire hall – with the paint scheme still visible in almost every room.

“Pretty much all the rooms have paint from the 1620s and 30s. It’s the only house in Britain with these decorative qualities,” said Timothy.

Thomas’ insecurities are visible too – and perhaps they were justified as there are archive records, written 110 years after the events are said to have taken place, of an epic run-in with the devil himself.

The story goes that Thomas challenged the devil to a mowing match – and cheated by putting metal spikes in the grass the devil needed to cut.

Many of the symbols at Bedfield are circles with six daisy-like petals inside, known as hexafoils.

“When I first spoke about these at a conference in London 25 or 30 years ago, nobody had thought about them before,” said Timothy. “I first discovered them in Debenham in 1972 and started looking and found this particular pattern on other fireplaces and around doors and windows, anywhere which was considered vulnerable to ingress of bad fortune or malevolence.”

They are particularly evident in Bedfield’s kitchen. “Our kitchen was the only room in the house which had windows without glass, there were shutters, that made it more vulnerable, with air coming in from the shutters and down the chimney,” said Timothy.

And so Thomas had the dark painted ceiling covered with circular symbols, arranged in a star pattern, designed to protect them from evil.

The skeletons of chickens, a child’s shoe and tools were also placed in the chimney to ward off malevolent spirits. Personal items were thought to guard against evil coming down the chimney, diverting bad fortune to the object and stopping it reaching the living person inside the house,

Timothy begins his tours of Bedfield in the1,000-year-old neighbouring church, “There are lots of clues in the church about the people who lived in the community and in the hall,” he said.

He then leads guests into the gardens of Bedfield Hall, pointing out the way a section of the moat was enlarged so that the hall is reflected in it.

Inside he fills the house with the stories of people who once lived here. “I like to give people not just a picture of the building but also of life as it was lived,” said Timothy.

“A house like this in the past would always have been quite open and full of people. They get to see most of the rooms in the house, although I draw the line at my own bedroom!”

Visitors also see the two-acre gardens and particularly love the topiary and borders, and the ‘rooms’ formed by box and yew hedges. Refreshments have been served in the garden throughout the long hot summer.

Timothy’s favourite part of Bedfield is the island garden, beside the house and surrounded by the moat.

There are pretty stories too. In 1325 the manor was given, for life, to Sir Robert Weylond, in exchange for a rose, each midsummer’s day.

Inside the walls are full of Timothy’s paintings – many of them of the hall and its gardens. They sell around the world, and are used as illustrations for cards, prints and books. Timothy also writes and lectures about historic buildings and was an advisor when Shakespeare’s Globe was reconstructed. Christine is an art restorer, with projects including cleaning Bedfield church screen.

Together they have researched and restored their home and shared the results with Historic Houses members via Invitation to View.

Wonderful Wolterton

Wolterton Hall, near Aylsham, was built for the brother of Britain’s first, and fabulously wealthy, prime minister Rober Walpole.

Horatio Walpole was a politician too and godfather to Britain’s most famous Horatio – naval hero Horatio Nelson, who was a frequent visitor.

The mansion remained in the Walpole family for more than 250 years until it was sold, six years ago, to Peter Sheppard and Keith Day.

“I think Peter and Keith’s first impression of Wolterton was awakening a sleeping beauty, as the house had been shut up and not lived in for such a long time,” said Laura Foster of Wolterton Park.

“Offering Invitation to View gives us an opportunity to show this private home to like-minded members and we enjoy the feedback we get from visitors. We are also extremely appreciative of the work Historic Houses does.”

Peter and Keith lead the tours, which include the chance to see the parkland and gardens as well as the splendid interiors of the 300-year-old hall.

They bought Wolterton with many of its historic fixtures and fittings, including paintings, tapestries given by Louis XIV’s foreign minister, and the contents of the library.

They had long wanted a Palladian house and fell in love with the peaceful setting as well as the beauty of the hall and gardens.

With a design agency in London they had a lot of experience of refurbishing historic houses, including Norfolk’s Hales Hall and Hales Hall Barn, near Loddon.

Visitors approach the hall along a half-mile drive lined with beech trees as views across the parkland give way to the handsome hall.

Once inside, tours start with hot drinks and biscuits, and finish with Champagne and canapés. In between, Peter and Keith are expert and enthusiastic guides to one of Norfolk’s most impressive homes.

Lavish double-height formal rooms have intricately moulded cornices and ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and original marble fireplaces. There is also a marble hall, a dining room complete with royal portraits, and the wood for the American walnut doors was a gift from Geroge II’s wife Queen Caroline to Horatio. In the Portrait Room pictures of generations of Walpoles line the panelled walls and the view from the saloon over the lake considered one of the finest in Norfolk.

The estate includes a parkland, woodland, grazing meadow, a lake, a ruined round-towered church and one of the biggest walled gardens in the country.

But Peter and Keith grew up in a very different environment, in the suburbs of London.

Their restorations are continuing with the stable block, coach house, piggeries, greenhouses and peach house next on the list. And for visitors who want more than a tour there is the chance to move in – for a few days at least as both the east wing and some estate cottages have been turned into luxury holiday accommodation.

How to join a tour

Invitation to View began as a collective of Suffolk and Norfolk houses, and is now part of the national Historic Houses Association. Members show visitors around their remarkable homes. Most owners have decades or even generations of accumulated knowledge about the art and architecture of the house and residents and relatives from previous centuries. Tours include refreshments ranging from tea and cake to a champagne lunch.

All tours must be booked through the Historic Houses Association at

Bedfield Hall will be open for Invitation to View guests on October 12 and 27.

Check the website for Wolterton Hall’s next Invitation to View tours in 2023.

Other fabulous and fascinating Invitation to View homes in Norfolk and Suffolk this autumn include Earsham Hall near Bungay on December 1, Glemham Hall near Saxmundham on October 12, 16, 25, and West Stow Hall near Bury St Edmunds on December 11.