Nelson's staircase rediscovered in Norfolk
Chris Hill As battle loomed in 1805, Lord Nelson bade farewell to his family before descending the grand oak staircase of his London home for the final time.However, in the years that followed, it was feared that this stair had been lost to history.
As battle loomed in 1805, Lord Nelson bade farewell to his family before descending the grand oak staircase of his London home for the final time.
However, in the years that followed, it was feared that this stair had been lost to history.
But researchers now believe this scene from the final days of Norfolk's naval hero was dismantled and transported back to his home county - 16 years after his tragic triumph at Trafalgar.
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Rosemary Jewers is convinced she has found evidence that the staircase at Brinton Hall, between Fakenham and Holt, was purchased by her ancestors after Merton Place - Nelson's house near Wimbledon - was demolished in 1821.
Mrs Jewers, a descendant of the Brereton family which had owned Brinton Hall since the 17th century, began her investigations after attending an open day at the house, near Melton Constable, last year.
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She was amazed when the current owners, Jeremy and Esme Bagnall-Oakeley, told her the same rumours about the staircase's origins which her father had told her almost 60 years ago.
With her husband Tony, Mrs Jewers set about matching the architecture of the steps and panelling with plans from Merton, and found links between the Brereton family and Nelson's former estate.
“This story has had more ups and downs and twists and turns than any staircase I have ever climbed,” she said.
“My father always told me there was a Nelson staircase at Brinton. We found all these coincidences, and all the technical dimensions appeared to fit with the plans of the original stairs and landings.
“It has been written that Nelson had been upstairs to say goodbye to his daughter Horatia before going down this staircase to be taken off to the Victory, never to be seen again.”
After painstakingly measuring and photographing the steps at Brinton, Mr Jewers deduced that the first three flights of stairs at Merton had been cut and modified to provide one flight at their new home.
But the real breakthrough came in December when Mrs Jewers' cousin Michael Sandford uncovered an 1821 advert in The Times offering parts of Nelson's former home for sale.
It included “a real wainscot staircase complete with dado and wainscotting” - matching the staircase at Brinton and offered a year before Mrs Jewers' great-great-grandfather's brother William Brereton completed his rebuilding of the hall in 1822.
The Breretons also had family links to the man who sold Merton to Nelson, and William's brother Randle was a shipping merchant who could have brought the staircase from the Thames to Blakeney.
“We have found all these coincidences, but until we find a bill of sale or a bill of lading, we can never be 100pc certain,” said Mrs Jewers.
Mrs Bagnall-Oakeley said she also hoped final proof could be found to link her family home to the great seafarer. She said: “It gives you a frisson of excitement as you trip lightly down the stairs thinking about Nelson in his last moments at Merton.”
Mr Jewers dismissed an alternative theory that the Merton staircase had been relocated to nearby Briningham House.
“That is not physically possible,” he said. “The staircase at Briningham turns to the right, but the one at Merton rose to the left. If the house had been built around the staircase, why change it?”