Kingdom's realm: Grade II house which featured in ITV legal drama starring Stephen Fry goes on the market for £700,000
Mail on sunday 13 August 2017
When retired engineer Ralph Dixon picked up a note that had been pushed through his letterbox asking if he was interested in his home being used in a television drama, he was rightly suspicious.
‘The message and a telephone number were written in pencil and on a page ripped from a reporter’s notebook. I thought it was a wind-up,’ recalls the 71-year-old.
Not surprisingly, Ralph and his wife Marilyn, 68, a retired NHS nurse, carried out thorough background checks before agreeing to allow their Grade II listed property, Oakleigh House, in the Norfolk market town of Swaffham, to feature in the ITV drama Kingdom.
The programme starred Stephen Fry as lawyer Peter Kingdom, whose work brings him into contact with a number of eccentrics.
The Dixons’ dining room was judged to be perfect for Peter Kingdom’s office, so Ralph sectioned off the front part of the house for the actors and crew, while he and Marilyn confined themselves to the back during filming.
‘The situation worked very well for both parties, says Marilyn.
‘However, I did feel a bit of apprehension when I saw a script and it said there was going to be a scene with squirrels.
'I said, “Are you going to let them loose in the house?” But they said they were going to be on leashes, so it was fine. Squirrels can be very destructive.’
Oakleigh House, which has nine bedrooms, is now on the market for £700,000 with estate agents Fine & Country, as the couple are downsizing.
‘The family will miss it,’ Marilyn admits. ‘Our grandchildren are that age when they love playing hide-and-seek in the house.’
The couple bought the house in 1994 for £120,000.
‘I’ve always had an interest in old buildings and this was affordable because it was derelict,’ Ralph says.
‘It’s been a labour of love. We weren’t cheque-book restorers. For the first week, we had to use the public toilets in the market place opposite.’
The couple often watched the filming – the series ran from 2007 until 2009 – but tried not to bother the actors.
‘One day Hugh Laurie came to visit Stephen Fry and he brought his huge dog with him. The first thing it did was leap straight into our pond,’ Ralph laughs.
Oakleigh House has a facade that is thought to have been built in about 1755, but there is an older part of the building – probably dating from Elizabethan times – that has a legend associated to it.
It is said that five centuries ago, the owner, John Chapman, travelled to London to seek his fortune, whereupon he was told that there was a oak tree in his home town where he could dig up vast treasure.
Chapman rushed home and found huge quantities of gold coins buried under the oak tree in his garden.
When he opened his doors to a monk seeking alms, he was told the Latin inscription on the pot holding the gold revealed that an even greater treasure had been hidden.
Chapman found it and grew even more wealthy but never let his fortune change him. He contributed prodigious funds to the restoration of the local church.
The ancient oak still stands majestically in the walled gardens at Oakleigh House and there is a plaque at the property referring to this tale. It also boasts that the building has the ‘most stylish 18th Century facade in the town’.
Even though Oakleigh House is Grade II listed, it actually comes with planning permission allowing it to be sub-divided.
‘The market town of Swaffham and its surrounding villages are becoming more popular due to good schools, shopping facilities, and laid-back Norfolk charm,’ says Jan von Draczek, of Fine & Country.
He adds: ‘Houses like Oakleigh House, with sizeable reception rooms and more than six bedrooms, are rare. Oakleigh House is a particularly handsome property.’