Elveden – Gateway to the Land of Nod

So why Elveden? And why east of it? Obviously there’s the name itself – E(lve)den, close enough to Eden for a cheesy pun – and let us remember that in Biblical terms the territory that lies ‘on the east’ of Eden is the Land of Nod, where Cain was exiled after murdering his brother. Of course, as well as a place of banishment for betraying siblings the Land of Nod also has connotations as a mythical place of sleep. Given Elveden’s real life position at the western end of the Suffolk-Norfolk border perhaps one of the Snorings (Little Snoring or Great Snoring – take your pick) forty miles or so to the north in West Norfolk could substitute for the aforementioned slumberland? (A real-life Land of Nod actually does exist in the East Riding of Yorkshire – it’s a tiny hamlet apparently).

Elveden itself is not without interest. The Suffolk village straddles the A11 just south of Thetford. There are traffic lights there these days and it has subsequently become quite a well known spot for traffic delays. In the bad old days, though – before the traffic lights and imposed speed limit – the stretch of single carriageway here was an infamous accident black spot. Norfolk-knockers like that nice Jeremy Clarkson have always been quick to point out that Norfolk is one of the few counties in the country that does not have a motorway leading to it and for many years there has been a strong campaign to get the whole of the A11 dual-carriagewayed right up to Norwich. As things currently stand, the A11 between Mildenhall and Thetford is one of the few remaining stretches of single carriageway. However, now that the powers that be have finally agreed to allow road widening to go ahead around Elveden, it looks as if a continuous dual carriageway will become a reality in the near future. No doubt the five minutes that will be knocked off the current London to Norfolk journey time will quickly elevate Norwich’s currently modest economy to Shanghai-like heights.

Those whizzing past the village in the future might want to consider a little of Elveden’s, frankly strange, history as it flashes past in an automotive blur. Here’s a brief extract from my Slow Norfolk and Suffolk book:

Elveden

Situated astride a busy road just beyond the Little Ouse in Suffolk, to most people this is little more a sign on the A11 and an inconvenient bottleneck for traffic. It used to be an accident black spot too before traffic-calming measures were introduced. Some will tell you that there have been more people killed on the A11 since World War II than there are names on the obelisk-like war memorial south of the village. Elveden is a small estate village centred upon Elveden Hall, a somewhat bizarre private residence. The estate, which has the largest arable farm in the country, is in the possession of the Earl of Iveagh but the hall itself was emptied of its contents in 1984 and stands empty.                                                   

Elveden Hall is best known as the home of Maharajah Duleep Singh, a deposed Sikh prince from the Punjab who was exiled to England for his part in the Sikh Wars during Queen Victoria’s reign. The Maharajah purchased the estate in 1863 and refurbished the Georgian hall in lavish Moghul style using Italian craftsmen – a North Indian tradition apparently. He also built an aviary where he kept exotic birds and in an unselfconscious effort to outdo the English squirearchy he took up the habits of English country life with a passion, leading parties that shot thousands of pheasants on his estate on an almost daily basis. Naturally, if you have a 17,000-acre estate and a vast private fortune, you can do that sort of thing without worrying too much about the cost of it all. The Maharajah was always keen to impress the inhabitants of his adopted home and tended not to do things by halves. He was even good enough to hand over the Koh-i-Noor diamond to QueenVictoria and to cheerfully convert to the Anglican Church such was his willingness to fit in. An equestrian statue of the Maharajah stands in Thetford and, although he died in Paris in 1893, his surprisingly modest grave lies in the churchyard of Elveden’s St Andrew and St Patrick Church.

Elveden Hall passed into the hands of the Guinness family after Duleep Singh’s death and the first Earl of Iveagh went even further, building a new wing and adding a replica Taj Mahal to the complex. If the hall sounds as if it it would make a perfect film set then you are quite right as, since its interior was emptied in 1984, Elveden Hall has been used as a location for films such as Tomb Raider, the Bond movie The Living Daylights and Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. The bad news is that the hall is not open to the public. You might try getting a job as a film extra here, as a friend of mine did on Eyes Wide Shut. He reports that he didn’t see much of the interior but did learn that Tom Cruise was unable to find any suitable accommodation in the area and had to be helicoptered in each day from afar for filming. You can just about get a glimpse of the hall from the rear of the village churchyard and make out its green dome.

NB: The photograph at the top of this post does not represent Elveden. It was taken east of it though – at Brockdish in the Waveney Valley. I just liked its ‘fish out of water’ feel.

About East of Elveden

Hidden places, secret histories and unsung geography from the east of England and beyond
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9 Responses to Elveden – Gateway to the Land of Nod

  1. Another fascinating post, Laurence. Many thanks. My parents once lived in Thetford, so I’d already heard about the Maharajah. Always fascinated me as a child. As you know, I now live in Vienna. Parts of 007’s “Living Daylights” were filmed here, too. Best wishes – Duncan

  2. Many thanks for your interest, Duncan. The so-called ‘orgy scene’ in Eyes Wide Shut was shot inside Elveden Hall. It did look really sumptious (the decor that is) – sort of Victorian Gothic – Mughal style.

  3. In case you are ever in the Land of Elveden; a few things have happened that hopefully in time will make Elveden increasingly known as a lively village, rather than the place of A11 hold-ups!! The Elveden Inn (on Brandon Road, just off the A11) has just re-opened, with four bedrooms and Guinness that tastes as good as it does in Ireland, as well as a full menu centered around locally sourced ingredients. Plus, the Elveden Courtyard is now open seven days per week, 9.30am – 5.00pm, with a Food Hall, Cafe Restaurant, Home, Garden and Gift Shops, as well as a dog walk and horse course. There are also regular events at the Inn and Courtyard.

  4. Thank you, Frances, for dropping by and helping to put Elveden on the map – and thanks also for the Elveden Estate link.

  5. Carl Grove says:

    Elveden sounds fascinating, but there is another reason for my interest in it. I am doing some research into a local Bury mystery, the ghost houses of Rougham. After I appealed for help in the Bury Free Press a lady named Gillian Cooper reported sighting such a house opposite the Elveden War Memorial. I haven’t been able to make contact with her, so if you know anything about this case or any similar occurrences in that area, or if there is evidence that a house ever existed at that place, I would be very grateful!

    • Thanks for dropping by, Carl. I am sorry I cannot help you. The story of the ghost houses of Rougham is a fascinating one but I cannot add anything to what you already know. I have no knowledge of a house ever existing opposite the war memorial – it seems unlikely to me. All I know is that the memorial occupies the intersecting point of the three parishes whose dead it commemorates.
      Good luck with the research,
      Laurence

  6. Great to find this blog. I lived in Elveden for about 10yrs as a child, and it was wonderful.

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