Walk along Cromwell Road in the Norfolk village of Weeting, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re on a housing estate just like thousands of others in the UK.

But behind the modern brick houses and quiet cul-de-sacs is a tragic tale of one of the most significant losses to East Anglia’s heritage of the past 100 years.

East Anglian Daily Times: Cromwell Road in the Norfolk village of Weeting was once home to one of East Anglia's grandest manor homesCromwell Road in the Norfolk village of Weeting was once home to one of East Anglia's grandest manor homes (Image: Google)

Weeting Hall, an 18th century stately home which was once a jewel in the crown of the region’s collection, used to stand here.

As successive owners failed to afford its upkeep, the estate gradually decayed, and like hundreds of other homes in similar states, was eventually converted into a makeshift military hospital at the outbreak of the First World War.

East Anglian Daily Times: Weeting Hall before it was demolished in the 1950sWeeting Hall before it was demolished in the 1950s (Image: Newsquest)

But with nobody willing - or able - to take on the property after the war, it deteriorated beyond repair, and was eventually demolished without a trace in the mid-1950s.

This journey from grandeur to ruin is far from unusual.

Norfolk and Suffolk have lost the equivalent of one stately home a year since 1920, and with the cost of maintaining such salubrious and historic properties only set to rise, this trend is likely to continue.

Historic Houses - an organisation which supports owners of UK stately homes - estimated that its members had around £1.4bn of outstanding repairs to make in 2019, £400m of which were urgent.

It is expected that this number "shot up" even more during the pandemic, when estates up and down the country were forced to close to the public, cutting off their primary sources of revenue.

For owners, this has meant coming up with new ways to further monetise their homes in an increasingly competitive market.

And with dwindling interest from the general public, they say creativity is key to making an estate viable in 2024.

‘NOBODY CARES ABOUT STATELY HOMES’

One man who understands the struggle better than most is Hugh Crossley - Lord Somerleyton - whose family has owned Somerleyton Hall, near Lowestoft, since the 1860s.

Lord Somerleyton took over the running of the 5,000-acre estate in 2001, and along with his wife, Lara Somerleyton, has continued his grandparents’ legacy.

East Anglian Daily Times: Hugh Crossley, Lord SomerleytonHugh Crossley, Lord Somerleyton (Image: Newsquest)

He said: “They opened the house to the public in 1959, much like many other stately homes, as a way to raise funds to keep the estate going.

“Back in the 1950s that was a big deal - apart from the people who worked there they were totally off limits to most people, so there was a real air of mystique and intrigue.

“But now, so many have opened their doors it's as if they’ve all had their trousers pulled down.

“Everyone who wants to see inside those treasure houses has already done so.”

Lord Somerleyton said visitor numbers had dropped significantly since their peak in 2000, when they hit 25,000.

East Anglian Daily Times: Somerleyton Hall, near LowestoftSomerleyton Hall, near Lowestoft (Image: Newsquest)

In 2022 just 14,500 people visited the estate - a worrying low for the family.

In an effort to get people through the gates, the couple put together a programme of events, aimed at local families, as a way to “add value” to its offering.

From Halloween parties and Easter egg hunts to plant and artisan craft fairs, the Somerleyton Estate has been reinvented as a striking venue for several annual events. 

And the numbers suggest it's working.

More than 17,500 people visited the estate in 2023 - an impressive 35pc increase on the previous year.

East Anglian Daily Times: The maze at Someleyton HallThe maze at Someleyton Hall (Image: Newsquest)

Lord Somerleyton said that ticketed events now account for around half of Somerleyton Hall’s annual visitors, with local people making up a strong majority of that.

He said: “A lot of local people have been several times so don't feel compelled to come back, which is why you have to support the experience with carefully curated events.

“We’re not doing anything particularly original, but it's about pitching it right for your audience and then capitalising on that.”

‘IT’S A HOME FIRST’

Of course, not all stately homes are inherited.

Some, like Hindringham Hall, near Wells, have long been removed from aristocratic ownership, snapped up by 'normal families' looking to own a piece of history.

Surrounded by a 12th century moat, the red brick manor house is nestled within sprawling flower gardens lovingly restored by its current owners, and oozes story-book charm.

East Anglian Daily Times: Lynda and Charles Tucker purchased Hindringham Hall in the mid 1990sLynda and Charles Tucker purchased Hindringham Hall in the mid 1990s (Image: Hindringham Hall)

But this fairy-tale perfect exterior belies a home in need of constant work, and ongoing investment - as Lynda and Charles Tucker discovered when they purchased the estate in the mid-1990s.

Mrs Tucker said: “It's hugely expensive to run a place like this.

“When we first bought it the property needed restoring, to have central heating added - it had been on the market for two years and the home really needs to be lived in otherwise it quickly falls into a state.

“We’ve had to reroof which cost an absolute fortune and of course heating it is very expensive.

“You have to get clever.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Hindringham Hall, near Wells, opens to the public for special house tours a few times a yearHindringham Hall, near Wells, opens to the public for special house tours a few times a year (Image: Hindringham Hall)

The Tuckers have implemented a three-pronged approach to keep up with Hindringham Hall’s many demands on their finances. 

A few years ago they opened their gardens to the public, offering paid-for guided tours which Mrs Tucker said had helped offset the cost of maintaining them, and converted three outbuildings into self catering holiday cottages, which have been a hit with visitors.

They also offer occasional tours of the house, although the couple said they’ve worked hard to ensure it still feels like a private family space rather than a business.

East Anglian Daily Times: Hindringham Hall, near Wells, opens to the public for special house tours a few times a yearHindringham Hall, near Wells, opens to the public for special house tours a few times a year (Image: Hindringham Hall)

Mrs Tucker said: “First and foremost it's a home, but you do have to find a way to turn it into a business.

“The council tax is huge and most of us have to employ teams, so there’s a lot to pay out in wages.

“If you look at stately homes across the UK they’re turning to all kinds of things - weddings, festivals, tours, holiday accommodation.

“It's tough. But for us, it's never been a chore. It's non-stop work but it gives us a huge amount of pleasure to live here.

“You can't help but feel it's all worthwhile.”