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  • Writer's pictureThomas Sheils

Norfolk's largest landowners revealed

Updated: May 28

Who are Norfolk's largest landowners? This ancient county's biggest property holders include the British Royal Family, well-heeled aristocrats, Norman nobility, Middle Eastern royals, the heirs to a German cigarette dynasty, several Italian counts, hedge fund managers, and more. Counting down from the largest Norfolk landowner, Who Owns Norfolk has, for the first time since the 19th century, publicly revealed the people and organisations that really own the county.



Norfolk's Largest Landowners - Summary Table

Including all those Norfolk landowners who own more than ~5,000 acres

Note: Who Owns Norfolk has mapped 40% of Norfolk's land area. The largest landowner figures below could change as coverage increases. The figures below are based on the best available data, but in some cases this out of date or incomplete.

Landowner

Landowner Category (Definitions) Landowner and aristocracy categories have been defined here and here

Area (acres)

1. Crown Estate

Government

33,700

2. Forestry Commission

Government

29,500

3. Thomas Coke, 8th Earl of Leicester, b. 1965 - via Holkham Estate

Aristocracy - Old Peerage

25,000

4. Ministry of Defence

Government

24,200

5. King Charles III, b. 1948 - via Sandringham Estate

Aristocracy - British Monarchy

20,100

6. Norfolk County Council

Government

16,800 confirmed (but likely more)

7. National Trust

Charity/NGO

15,900

8. Count Luca Padulli di Vighignolo, b. 1955 - via a number of estates, including Barton Bendish and Gunthorpe & Saxlingham

Modern Italian Super Rich

14,100

9. Alexander Birkbeck, b. 1979, and family - via West Acre Estate

Aristocracy - Middle Gentry

8,850

10. Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Charity/NGO

8,500

11. Bernhard Reemtsma, b. 1965 (heir of the German Reemtsma cigarette company) - via Eaubrink Farms in West Norfolk

Modern German Super Rich

8,400

12. Charles Temple-Richards (heir to the Thomas Cook fortune) - via Sennowe Park Estate

Modern Gentry

8,300

13. South Yorkshire Pension Authority

Investor

8,050

14. Tan Sri Arumugam (Malaysian Tycoon and Billionaire) - via South Pickenham Estate

Modern Malaysian Super Rich

7,450

15. The Al Maktoum family (Dubai Royal Family) - Via the Shadwell Estate

Modern Dubai Super Rich

6,250

​16. Francesco Baggi Sisini, b. 1949 (Italian aristocrat and investor) - via three estates (Wormegay, Saham Grove and Woodrising)

Modern Italian Super Rich

6,200

17. Michael Le Strange Meakin, b. 1942 - via the Le Strange Estate, Hunstanton

Aristocracy - Old Gentry

6,200

18. Sir Rupert Mann, 3rd Baronet, b. 1945 - via Thelveton Estate

Late Gentry

5,700

​19. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

Charity/NGO

5,450

​20. Sir Nicholas Bacon, 14th and 15th Baronet, b. 1953 - via Raveningham Estate

Aristocracy - Old Gentry

5,300

21. Charles Fountaine, b. 1989 - via Narford Hall Estate

Aristocracy - Old Gentry

5,230

​22. Melton Harrold, b. 1964 and family - via Barwick Hall Farm and numerous other farms

Farmer

5,200

​23. William John Clovis Meath Baker, b. 1959 (descendent of the Gurney banking family) and wife Elizabeth Meath Baker, b. 1959 - via Walsingham Abbey Estate

Aristocracy - Old Gentry

5,120

24. Michael Trafford, b. 1953 (descendent of the ancient Trafford gentry family of Manchester) - via the Trafford / Wroxham Estate

Aristocracy - Old Gentry

5,100

25. Charles Townshend, 8th Marquess Townshend, b. 1945 - via Raynham Estate

Aristocracy - Old Peerage

4,900

Norfolk's Largest Landowners - Further Information


1. Crown Estate

Size: 33,700 acres

Landowner Type: Government

The Crown Estate is Norfolk's biggest landowner, owning much of the beaches and foreshore surrounding the county, alongside swathes of farmland surrounding Kings Lynn and Breydon Water - a large lake in the Broads. Historically the property of the British monarch, it is now a quasi-government run entity, technically owned by the Royal Family, but de facto run by the government with 75% of profits going to the British Treasury and 25% going to the royals.


2. The Forestry Commission

Size: 29,500 acres

Landowner Type: Government

Norfolk's 2nd largest landowner is the Forestry Commission, a non-ministerial government department responsible for the management of publicly owned forests. The vast majority of this body's estates are held around Thetford Forest, the largest lowland pine forest in Britain, though it also owns smaller forests throughout Norfolk.


3. Lord Thomas Coke, 8th Earl of Leicester, of Holkham Estate

Size: 25,000 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Old Peerage

The largest private landowner in Norfolk is Thomas Coke, the 8th Earl of Leicester. His family have owned Holkham Estate since the early 1600s. The origins of the family's success dates to Sir Edward Coke, a famous 16th Century lawyer and MP, who according to Wikipedia is considered the greatest jurist of the Elizabethan and Jacobean eras. Sir Edward was himself of even older stock, with several sources stating the Cokes have held lordships and landholdings in Norfolk as far back as 1206 (source).


Purportedly, Edward Coke put his legal skills to good use, making a fortune from purchasing estates with clouded titles at a discount and then, through his knowledge of the intricacies of property law, clearing the titles on the acquired properties to his favour.


Holkham Estate includes a vast swathe of prime North Norfolk agricultural land and real estate surrounding Wells-next-the-sea and a healthy 2,000 acres surrounding Castle Acre. With significant power over a broad portion of Norfolk and a seat in the House of Lords, the present Lord Coke remains a prestigious aristocrat, Norfolk's preeminent landowner and is arguably one of the county's most powerful men.


Holkham Hall, home of Lord Coke


4. The Ministry of Defence Size: 24,000 acres

Landowner Type: Government

Britain's Ministry of Defence owns a series of significant military sites across Norfolk, including training grounds, barracks and airfields. The majority of the MoD's Norfolk land is held at the Stanford Training Area, near Thetford.


5. King Charles III, via Sandringham Estate

Size: 20,000 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Monarchy

Sitting at the peak of Britain's still extant aristocracy sits the Royal Family. The 20,000 acre Sandringham Estate is one of the Queen's private estates, alongside the vast 60,000 Balmoral Estate. The estate and approximately 8,000 acres were purchased by King Edward VII in 1862, and the royals have been hoovering up local landholdings ever since, making them Norfolk's 2nd largest private landowner as of the 2020s (and 5th largest when you include government bodies).


6. Norfolk County Council

Size: 16,790 acres

Landowner Type: Government

Norfolk County Council is a significant landowner in Norfolk - via its County Farms Estate its owns fields dotted around the county, and significant estates west of Downham Market and the previous Burlingham Green estate. County farm estates are let to farmers at below-market rates, providing new farmers with an affordable first rung on the ladder in an era of prohibitively high agricultural rent prices.


The full Norfolk County Council landed estate could in reality be larger - potentially up to 20,080 acres. WON's research into the council's landownership profile can be found by following this link (click here).


7. The National Trust

Size: 15,900 acres

Landowner Type: Conservation Charity

The National Trust, Britain's best-known and largest heritage charity, is Norfolk's 7th largest landowner. The Trust owns some of the most iconic aspects of Norfolk's natural and cultural heritage, including Scolt Head Island, the saltmarshes at Blakeney and the Blickling Hall Estate (bequeathed to the Trust in 1940 by its last private owner, Philip Henry Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian).


8. Count Padulli di Vighignolo

Size: 14,050 acres

Landowner Type: Modern Italian Super Rich

The enigmatic Count Padulli is a more modern addition to Norfolk's landowning set; he has been buying up country houses and estates in the county since the early 1990s, starting with the 16th century moated manor at Barton Bendish, and its associated farmland. He now owns several estates around the county, including the sizeable Saxlingham and Gunthorpe Estate near Holt, smaller farms in North Norfolk and Dunham Lodge near Dereham, a relatively modest but tasteful country house.


Who Owns Norfolk has explored the Count's landholdings in detail in a separate article.


Beyond Norfolk, Count Padulli has also bought up whole villages in Yorkshire and a large estate in Ireland. He is thought to be one of Britain's richest men and largest landowners.


The origins of Padulli's wealth lie in finance; according to the Times he chose finance as a career, and obtained a doctorate in economics. He worked for Chase Manhattan Bank and Paribas, before moving to the UK in 1978 and setting up his own investment firm in London. He co-founded the Camomille Associates hedge fund, which reportedly once had assets of £2bn.


He has since become a property magnate, buying up the freehold titles to leasehold properties around the country and making a steady income by charging the owners ground rents, on top of buying up old Norfolk estates. Padulli's ventures have catapulted himself to the top of Norfolk's landed elite; in 2021 he was the county's third largest private landowner and now owns more acres than the vast majority of Norfolk's historic landed gentry and aristocracy.


9. The Birkbeck Family of West Acre Estate

Size: 8,800 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Middle Gentry

Norfolk's fourth largest private landowner is the Birkbeck family of West Acre Estate, near Swaffham in West Norfolk. Purchased by the family over 100 years ago in 1898, the Birkbecks made their money as agricultural bankers in the 18th and 19th centuries, forming a formidable banking partnership with the Gurney family of Norwich. Eventually, their East Anglian banking partnership was one of the main regional banks that became part of Barclays. The Birkbecks have managed to weather much of the decline witnessed by other major Norfolk estates since the gentry's heyday in the late 19th century.


WON has detailed the history of this family in a research article (which can be found via this hyperlink).


West Acre Estate used to be centred on the grand manor of High House, though this was sold to Anthony Gormley (the famous sculptor) in 2010 for GBP 3 million.


West Acre's High House, replete with Anthony Gormley statues


In 2019, the estate launched Norfolk's largest rewilding project, one of the county's most exciting conservation initiatives.


10. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust

Size: 8,500 acres

Landowner Type: Charity (Conservation Charity)

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT) is one of 46 wildlife trusts covering Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Alderney. Founded in 1926, it is the oldest of all the trusts. Since its foundation, the trust has been busy buying up land for the conservation and protection of nature and in 2021 it was Norfolk's 10th biggest overall landowner and 2nd biggest charitable owner.


11. Bernhard Reemtsma, b. 1965 (German Industrial Heir), via Eaubrink Farms, a collection of agricultural landholdings in the Norfolk fens

Size: 8,340 acres

Landowner Type: Modern Affluent German Buyer

Little online information is available regarding Bernhard Reemtsma. However, over his lifetime he has quietly gone about becoming one of Norfolk's largest landowners, and now owns over 8,000 acres via his company Eaubrink Farms Ltd.


Available evidence indicates that Bernhard is an heir to the Reemtsma cigarette manufacturing fortune. Reemtsma Cigarettenfabriken GmbH was founded in 1910 and by the 1930s purportedly produced two thirds of Germany's cigarettes (source link). It flourished during World War II, with online reports stating the business utilized forced labour from German occupied areas in Eastern Europe (source link).


An online article states that Bernhard's father, Hermann-Hinrich Reemtsma, bought a farm in eastern England in 1968. His son has continued to add landholdings and now owns much of the land west of the River Ouse, which flows into the Wash at Kings Lynn in West Norfolk. According to Wikipedia, Bernhard's father was worth EUR 800 million in 2005 and EUR 500 million in 2011, having presumably lost wealth in the 2008 crash (source link).


12. Charlie Temple-Richards (heir of the Thomas Cook fortune), via the Sennowe Park Estate

Size: 8,300 acres

Landowner Type: Modern Gentry

Charlie Temple-Richards, stock broker and heir to the Thomas Cook travel agent fortune, is Norfolk's sixth biggest private landowner, with over 8,000 acres centred around the grand Sennowe Park country house, near Fakenham. The estate was bought by his great-grandfather, Thomas Albert Cook, in 1898. This Thomas Cook is in turn a grandson of the Thomas Cook who founded the wildly successful and eponymous travel agency in 1841.



Charlie Temple-Richards' Sennowe Park (sometimes known as Sennowe Hall)


13. The South Yorkshire Pension Authority, via various farms in Southwest Norfolk

Size: 8,050 acres

Landowner Type: Investor

The South Yorkshire Pension Authority (SYPA) is a slightly esoteric organization, describing itself as both a pension fund investor and a local government authority. This entity is effectively the pension fund investor for a membership including most local authority employees and pensioners employed in the districts of Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield, and certain other organizations.


The fund invests across asset classes, including fixed income, private equity and, most importantly for this article, property. The fund started buying land in Norfolk in the 80s. It now owns a series of farms and estates in the far south west of Norfolk via the legal entity Waldersey Farms Ltd. Its holdings are largely prime agricultural fenland, near the Cambridgeshire border.


14. Tan Sri Arumugam (Malaysian Businessman), via the South Pickenham Estate

Size: 7,500 acres

Landowner Type: Modern Malaysian Super Rich

Norfolk's seventh largest private landowner is another international plutocrat. In the mid-1990s, South Pickenham Hall and its large 7,500 acre estate (surrounding Swaffham) was bought by Tan Sri Arumugam, apparently a self-made Malaysian tycoon who has been linked to one of the UK's biggest aid scandals (the Pergau Dam affair). The estate has passed hands through a large number of owners during its history, including the slave owning Applewhaite family.


15. The Dubai Royal Family, via the Shadwell Estate

Size: 6,200 acres

Landowner Type: Modern Dubai Super Rich

Dubai's Royal Family, the Al Maktoums, flush with riches from their emirate's vast oil reserves, purchased the sizeable Shadwell Estate in 1984. The estate includes the grandly gothic (but deteriorating) Victorian country house - Shadwell Court.


Online sources indicate the specific buyer was Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the 2nd son of Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai who helped to found the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with the rulers of 6 other neighboring emirates (small city states) between 1971 and 1972. Shadwell Estate became the namesake for Shadwell Racing, Sheikh Hamdan's internationally-renowned and globally spread thoroughbred horse racing operation.


Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum died in 2021. According to reports, his daughter Sheikha Hissa Hamdan Al Maktoum took over operations at Shadwell Racing; she could now be the official owner of Shadwell Estate. However, the specific details of who within Dubai's Royal Family owns the estate are not, at this stage, fully known.


Shadwell's acreage makes the Al Maktoum family Norfolk's eight largest private landowner.


Note: The UAE was formed almost immediately after Britain ended the treaties that established the emirates as British protectorates (i.e., informally part of the British Empire, allowing for British companies to tap into newly discovered oil resources in return for protection) in 1971. This withdrawal was peaceful and voluntary on the part of Britain, as it took steps to end its imperial activities across much of its former empire.


16. Francesco Baggi Sisini (b. 1949), via several estates held via Tharros Limited and Bithia Limited

Size; 6,180 acres

Landowner Type: Modern Italian Super Rich

The 2nd Italian count on the list of Norfolk's largest landowners is one Francesco Baggi Sisini. Francesco is the nephew of a Sardinian count - Giorgio Sisini, Count of Sant'Andrea, who set up the popular weekly Italian word puzzle and word search magazine La Settimana Enigmistica in 1932 (source). Francesco took over this magazine and has clearly become very rich, spinning out other publications and becoming involved in real estate investing and insurance (source).


Via his companies Tharros Ltd and Bithia Ltd, Sisini owns the 2,000 acre Saham Grove Hall Estate / Farm (bought in 2010 for GBP 15 million) and the 2,300 acre Wormegay Estate (date of purchase unknown, but it seems likely it took place in the 1990s). In 2018, Sisini acquired the 2,000 acre Woodrising Estate from the 7th Earl of Verulam for GBP 17 million, which took him to over 6,000 Norfolk acres and made him one of the county's largest landowners.


17. George Meakin le Strange, via the le Strange Estate of Hunstanton

Size; 6,170 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Medieval Gentry

The le Strange family, of Hunstanton on the North Norfolk coast, boast one of the oldest pedigrees of any landowning family in Norfolk. Historical records indicate their Breton ancestors joined William the Conqueror's invasion of England in 1066 and were granted lands at Hunstanton as a reward. Remarkably, the estate has stayed in their family through to the modern day, meaning they have owned this prime rural asset for almost 1,000 years, and they remain one of Norfolk's largest private landowners.


Through a historical anomaly the le Stranges own much of the beach and seabed surrounding Hunstanton, land that would traditionally be owned by the Crown Estate, and even a stretch of Hunstanton's world famous cliffs.


18. Sir Rupert Mann, 3rd Baronet, via Thelveton Hall Estate

Size: 5,700 acres

Landowner Type: Modern Gentr9

The Mann family bought the impressive Thelveton Hall in 1863 with the proceeds of their profitable brewing company Mann, Crossman & Paulin Ltd, which was based in London's then industrial East End. Edward Mann was granted a baronetcy in 1905 for reasons that are unclear, presumably as he was very rich. His grandson, Sir Rupert Mann (the 3rd baronet) still owns Thelveton to this day; he was recently fined for ploughing over a protected Roman monument on his land.


19. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

Size: 5,400 acres

Landowner Type: Charity (Conservation Charity)

The RSPB owns a number of holdings across the county - it buys land and then restores it to a state that can support populations of priority bird species, setting up de facto or de jure nature reserves. This is augmented by entering into long-term leases with neighbouring landowners, with a similar objective.


20. Sir Nicholas Bacon, 14th and 15th Baronet (b. 1953), via the Raveningham Estate

Size: 5,300 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Medieval Gentry

The Bacon Baronets have been operating in the South Norfolk area for a fair chunk of time - available information suggests Raveningham has been in the family since 1320 (source link). The Bacon baronetcy is known as "the premier baronetcy" (i.e., the oldest) and was created in 1611 for the son of Sir Nicholas Bacon, a prominent Elizabethan politician and "Lord Keeper of the Great Seal" (source link).


The present Baronet, Sir Nicholas (born in 1953) has received a number of honours - including an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) and Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO). He is also President of the Norfolk Beekeepers Association, described as his greatest passion (source link).


Sir Bacon's Raveningham Hall


21. Charles Fountaine (b. 1989) and the Fountaine family via various family trusts that own the Narford Estate

Size: 5,230 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Medieval Gentry

Another long-term Norfolk landowning family are the Fountaines of the 5,000 acre Narford Hall Estate. This dynasty originated with one John de Fonte, who lived in the latter end of Henry the Third's time (1216 - 1220) - John was apparently much in favour with Roger Bigot a powerful medieval Earl of Norfolk, who gifted him lands at Briston in Norfolk (source link). An article from Kings Lynn magazine indicates the family has owned land at Narford since the 1300s.


The estate was previously owned by Andrew Fountaine (1918 - 1997) - a prominent member of the British far right and a founding member of the National Front in 1967 (source link).


22. Melton Harrold (b. 1964) of Barwick Hall Farm

Size: 5,160 acres

Landowner Type: Farmer

The only true farmer to enter the list of Norfolk's top landowners is Melton Harrold. Based at Barwick Hall Farm, near Hunstanton in Northwest Norfolk, Melton and family now own five sizeable farms across West and North Norfolk, including a large section of the former Melton Constable Estate, part of the former Thurning Estate and Church Farm in Heacham.


Much of these extensive landholdings appear to have been built up by Melton's father, Geoffrey William Harrold, a third generation farmer who, over the 1940s and 1950s, went on an impressive buying spree, buying up not only farms but often the country houses associated with them. In 1947 he bought the impressive Thurning Hall and attached farmland from the Gay gentry family. In 1959 he bought Melton Constable Hall (one time home of the Baron Hastings). As his interests were primarily agricultural, he left the hall to decay - in 1985, under threat of a compulsory purchase order, he sold the hall (retaining much of the farmland).


Melton's brother and cousins also 0wn farms across North Norfolk.


23. William John Clovis Meath Baker, b. 1959 via Walsingham Abbey Estate

Size: 5,160 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Medieval Gentry

Walsingham Abbey Estate is one of Norfolk's largest remaining country estates. The Lee Warner family bought this estate in 1650, and owned it until 1921, when it was sold to one John Gurney, one of the many heirs to the vast Gurney banking fortune. As we noted for West Acre Estate above, the Norfolk banking enterprises set up by the Birkbeck, Gurney and Buxton families were merged with other national Quaker banks in 1896 to create the formidable Barclay banking empire.


John Gurney's mother was actually a Lee Warner. His grandchild, William Meath Baker, still owns the estate, meaning the present owners are direct descendants of the family who owned it in 1650. The Gurneys themselves are descended from the De Gournay family, members of the Norman nobility who joined William the Conqueror's invasion of England, received lands in Norfolk as a reward and have been part of Norfolk's landowning elite ever since.


24. Michael Trafford, b. 1953 via the Wroxham Estate

Size: 5,090 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Medieval Gentry

The Wroxham Estate is located just outside of Norwich, in the heart of the Broads, and includes Wroxham Broad, one of the largest lakes in Norfolk. The estate was first bought by the Trafford family in 1811, however the Trafford's lineage has a much more ancient landed pedigree - purportedly descended from the Trafford gentry family of Trafford, in Manchester (and from which the Old Trafford stadium derives it name). Legend says this family pre-dates the Norman invasion, and were originally part of the Viking invasions that conquered England in the 11th Century.


Wroxham Hall was knocked down during the heyday of country house demolitions in 1960 - Michael Trafford now resides at a farmhouse on the estate.


25. Charles Townshend, 8th Marquess Townshend, b. 1945 via the Raynham Estate

Size: 4,940 acres

Landowner Type: Aristocracy - Medieval Peerage

The Townsheds, currently led by the 8th Marquess, are arguably one of the more colourful remnants of Norfolk's landowning aristocracy. Rumours abound of their continued flirts with financial precipice - in 2012, they were forced to sell 1,000 acres of farmland for GBP 8 million, while historian David Cannadine notes them as in dire straits in the 19th Century in his study, Decline and Fall.


The 6th Marquess (who lived from 1866 to 1921), having inherited a bankrupt estate in 1899, was forced to sell many of his possessions. To try and resolve his family's financial woes, he decided to move to the USA to (unsuccessfully) find a rich heiress (source link). Happily for the 6th Marquess, on his return to England he met a wealthy barrister who agreed to pay off his debts, if the Marquess agreed to marry his daughter. Unhappily, his new father in law attempted to have Lord Townshend declared insane shortly after the wedding (source link). As a result of these legal proceedings, Townshend's new wife ended up managing his affairs.


A map of Raynham Estate is available on the Who Owns Norfolk website.


In 1883, Raynham Estate was over 18,000 acres. Today, it is a much diminished, though still sizeable, 5,000 acres. According to the estate's website, the Townshends have owned land at Raynham since the 1100s.



Raynham Hall Source: John Fielding from Norwich, UK, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=105388287



Further information on Norfolk's largest landowners can be found in this publicly available Google Sheets; the WON West Norfolk map can be seen below:





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Jop Gerrits
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Dear Who Ones Norfolk,

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