Prince Frederick Victor Duleep Singh
Prince Frederick was born on the 23 January 1868, at Rutland Gate, Knightsbridge. He was baptised four months later at Elveden church on the 2 May 1868 as Frederick Victor Jay Duleep Singh, being named after the German crown prince, later Emperor Frederick. But all his interests had to be put on hold, as he had to leave for India at his father’s persistence. On his return from that exhaustive journey, Prince Frederick’s first task was to complete his education, going first to Eton and then to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he gained a masters degree in history in 1890. He was allotted an allowance of £2,000 from the India Office, so he could live a considerably noble life, but not an extravagant one as his father’s. In 1897, Prince Frederick purchased the Georgian country house, Old Buckenham Hall, but by 1906 he was house hunting again, putting the sporting country estate on the market with the auctioneers ‘Messrs. Lumleys’, who advertised it as a ‘A Miniature Mansion in a Miniature Park’,[i] and boasted ‘for its size the property affords some really excellent shooting and adjoins some of the best shootings in the county, and a large extent of sporting adjoining may be hired’. After the sale of Old Buckenham Hall, Prince Frederick took temporary residence at ‘Breckles Cottage’ as a tenant of Charles Bateman Hanbury, and renamed it ‘Breckles House’. It was a modest house in the tiny Norfolk village of Breckles, north of Thetford, compared to the grandeur of Elveden, which he had been accustomed to. In 1909, Prince Frederick finally found the home of his dreams; the sixteenth-century moated Blo Norton Hall, off the main road from Thetford to Diss. His love for his beloved Blo Norton Hall inspired him to write a lengthy article in the Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society Journal,[ii] of which he was an avid member. He made a chapel at the end of the attic wing at Blo Norton Hall and furnished it with old benches, hangings and other suitable ornaments, placing ancient stained glass in its windows and had it dedicated ‘to the blessed martyr, King Charles the first’. As well as being a keen collector, he was an enthusiastic archaeologist and historian. After his military career he had much time to pursue his interests, re-listing only during the First World War. He belonged to many historical societies and organisations, but was best associated with the ‘Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society’. As years passed he added to his collections, including old books, china, glass, stained glass, deeds and coins.[iii] On the 4 February 1897 he was elected member of the ‘Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society’ paying his years subscription of 7s 6d. On the 27 May 1903 he was elected vice-president, a post that he held also in 1905 and 1909, and finally became the president in 1924 being re-elected in June 1926.[iv] He wrote articles for the Burlington Magazine[v] and Connoisseur, [vi] and another seven Norfolk publications. Interested in all things ‘East Anglian’, he placed his names on many committees. He was vice-president for the ‘Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History’; ‘Fellow of the Society of Arts’; ‘Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association’ and ‘Norfolk Archaeological Trust.’ He was one of the founders of the ‘Pre-Historic Society of East Anglia’, president of the ‘London Society of East Anglians’, and a committee member of the ‘Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings’, including the local ‘Advisory Committees for the Protection of Churches’. The Prince also put his name to the newly formed ‘Operatic Society’ in 1925 as a vice-president, and was governor of the Thetford Grammar School. Socially he was a member of London’s exclusive ‘Whites’ and ‘Carlton Club,’ and was a ‘Fellow of Society of Antiquaries (FSA)’.
While in the country and travelling through small villages, Prince Frederick would visit local parishes and churches, strongly urging them to preserve their buildings. He was wholly against the closure of places of worship, and encouraged the restoration of many neglected churches, such as the restoration of the old church at Thompson where he was largely responsible for persuading the Bishop of Norwich against its closure. He saved Bury town hall, a fine example of ‘Adam’ architecture from mutilation, and took a generous interest in the repairs of the churches at Wymondham and Bradley. These being just some of the many buildings he saved. Prince Frederick was a good churchman, and a rather obstinate Protestant who disliked discussions on religion. He was a great lover of music, having a charming tenor voice. In dressing gown and slippers, he would walk about his garden long before his guests were up and then proceed upstairs to the drawing room and play the piano and sing to himself, while in the evening he would slip away and play soft music. The local folk affectionately called him ‘Prince Freddy’ and in some cases he inherited his father’s name tag of ‘The Black Prince’. His generosity was second to none, as one villager recalled, ‘Prince Frederick was a charming man, I had the pleasure in speaking to him on many occasions, he was a frequent visitor to my aunt’s shop on 144 Victoria Road in Diss. The reasons for his visit was because my cousin was in a spinal chair, the Prince was very kind and interested in him, in fact he made the arrangements for him to go to the orthopaedic hospital for which he paid the expenses.’[vii] As his old friend Walter Rye quoted ‘He was never happier than when helping others.’[viii]
[i] Country Life, 12 May 1906
[ii] Prince F. Duleep Singh, ‘Blo Norton Hall’, Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society Journal, Volume XVIII, Part 3 (19) pp. 211-261
[iii] The Book Collection was donated to Thetford library.
[iv] Barbara Green, from the Norfolk & Norwich Archaeological Society
[v] F. Duleep Singh, Burlington Magazine, Volume XI, (1907)
[vi] F. Duleep Singh, ‘A County Collection’, Connoisseur, September (1905)
[vii] Letter from Mrs E Ward to Author (1997)
[viii] Norfolk Chronicle, ‘An Appreciation by Walter Rye’, 20 August 1926