architecture, Bell tower, country house, eyecatcher, Folly, garden history, landscape garden, Norfolk

The Clock Tower, Little Ellingham Hall, Norfolk

In the 1850s John Tingey, a Norfolk merchant with a passion for agriculture, began to develop a small estate in the village of Little Ellingham near Attleborough, in Norfolk. Despite investing heavily in new buildings and technology, he was not the owner of the land, and claimed his vast complex of farm buildings was the largest range ‘ever erected by a tenant farmer in England’. But the practical Tingey wasn’t averse to a little bit of ornament, as this clock tower/cottage curiosity attests.

In around 1855 Tingey (c.1810-1874) commissioned the London-based architect Daniel Cubitt Nichols (1825-1895) to design his model farm. Nichols is not a well-known architect, and it is not clear how Tingey was introduced to his work, or how much input Tingey himself had in the design of such a quirky structure. The design for the ‘cottages and clock tower’ was published in The Civil Engineer and Architect’s Journal in 1857. From that publication we learn that Nichols had also designed a new house for Tingey which at that date was ‘not yet finished’.

The floor plan shows the two cottages which Nichols cleverly divided on the diagonal so that each has its own front and back doors, with the tower rising above.

The cottages were designed to house a gardener and a groom, and the finishing touch was to be a ‘very valuable’ clock. The article hints that the clock and chimes may have been rescued from elsewhere, as the architect was ‘not allowed’ to make any alterations to the bell-chamber, but simply to ‘re-erect’ it.

Little Ellingham Hall from an undated early 20th century postcard. Unfortunately ‘red and white bricks’ are not easily seen in sepia.

The hall and clock tower cottages were constructed using bricks and tiles fired on the estate, with stone only making an appearance for doorsteps. Gault bricks of a pale yellow/buff colour are the principal material, with dressings in red brick, and in 1883 the completed ‘handsome mansion of red and white brick’ was noted in a gazetteer, as was the clock tower in its ‘pleasure grounds’. By the time the estate was offered for sale in 1905 the planting was maturing, and the house stood at the end of an avenue drive through a ‘heavily timbered miniature park’.

In 1974 Barbara Jones described the clock tower (it appears never to have been called anything else) as ‘one of the most charming and surprising things anywhere’, and the Folly Flâneuse confesses to a yelp of delight upon catching a first glimpse through the trees. The clock face was in sound condition when Jones saw it in the early 1970s, but it is a little the worse for wear today, although the tower and cottages are in good repair.

The tower, listed at grade II, is a private residence, but can be seen from the roadside. The village is rightly proud of its unique clock tower.

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4 thoughts on “The Clock Tower, Little Ellingham Hall, Norfolk”

  1. Adrian Fisher says:

    I thought that a ziggurat had to have a path that sloped upwards, typically a spiral, though also on a square base. The modern ziggurat you show in the photo looks like it has regular level layers. Its notion is more like that of a pyramid.

    1. Editor says:

      Good morning Adrian. You have made me think. Dictionary definitions vary: whilst some add that a ziggurat has an external stair, most simply describe a ziggurat as a ‘stepped tower or mound, or a ‘tiered temple’, and after a quick search online I see that some surviving ziggurats have no obvious means of ascent. Thank you for raising this question.

  2. Edmund (Ed) Stone says:

    Thanks for that ‘Folly’. That clock tower reminded me of the one in Malvern, where I had lived until moving to Canada in 1974. It had previously been a water tower.

    1. Editor says:

      Good evening Ed, although I’m not sure what time it is in Canada. Clock towers are a fascinating subject, and I could easily get sidetracked, but I include this one in particular for the unique combination of diagonally-divided cottages with a tower on top. At least I think it’s unique, unless anyone corrects me!

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