Last man alive to be born at country home celebrates 100th birthday

David Holmes and Norman Rayner

David Holmes (driving, left) takes Norman Rayner (right) for a drive in a Bentley car. - Credit: John Paige

The only man alive to have been born in Houghton Hall celebrated his 100th birthday on Wednesday - and was joined by the lord of the manor. 

Norman Rayner was born at the lavish Norfolk country manor, which lies a few miles west of Fakenham, on July 21 1921. 

Mr Rayner’s father was responsible for the upkeep of the estate, including its electricity supply, and his family had quarters in the house. 

Graced with a card from the Queen and a badge reading ‘I am 100 today’, Mr Rayner enjoyed a small surprise gathering of family and friends on Wednesday, who met for cake and drinks at the Crown Inn in East Rudham.

The pub was specially selected as Mr Rayner stayed in lodgings there after the war.  

In attendance was Lord David Cholmondeley, whose ancestral home is Houghton Hall, and he presented Mr Rayner with an intricate model of the house as a gift.

Daughter Sylvia Hadley explained that her father had helped Lord Cholmondeley fill in the gaps in a work of family history.

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“My dad grew up knowing all of the Chomondeleys,” said Ms Hadley. 

“He helped Lord Cholmondeley write bits of a book, which were missing.”

After the celebration, friend David Holmes then took Mr Rayner for a drive around Houghton Hall in a classic Bentley car. 

At the start of the Second World War, Mr Rayner signed up to join the RAF and worked as an engineer on their Lancaster bombers.

“He used to mend all the aircraft, and then he was in the desert,” said Ms Hadley. 

Aside from the war, he has lived in or around East Rudham all his life. 

After the war, he followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming an electrician, plumber and handyman, as well as buying a grocery shop business.

The veteran also constructed several village signs in the area over a period of many years.

A major exhibition of sculptures by Sir Tony Cragg opens at Houghton Hall.

A major exhibition of sculptures by Sir Tony Cragg opens at Houghton Hall. - Credit: Kate Wolstenholme

About Houghton Hall

Houghton Hall was commissioned by Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole, in 1722. 

A Grade-1 listed building, it is surrounded by 1000 acres of parkland.

Parts of the house, including its walled garden and stables, are open to the public during the summer months.