Since the early Middle Ages, Kimberley has been in occupation as a manorial site and deer park. The ‘hill’ at Downham upon which the present house stands, overlooking the river Tiffey, was originally the site of Downham Hall. It is recorded that this was sold in 1640 by by Richard Buxton and that the present house was built in 1712 for Sir John Wodehouse (an ancestor of PG Wodehouse) by William Talman. This famous architect was Comptroller of Royal Works for William III and was responsible for the remodelling of Chatsworth in Derbyshire and Uppark in Sussex, amongst other great houses. Whilst Talman’s original design for Kimberley included a central block with four corner towers and wings, the towers were not added until after 1754 by the architect Thomas Prowse (the wings were only later connected to the main block by curved colonnades designed by Salvin in 1835).
Various internal embellishments were carried out in the 1770s, notably some very fine plasterwork and a ‘flying’ spiral staircase beneath a coffered dome by John Sanderson, a pupil of Robert Adam.
During the war, the army occupied the house, after which a further remodelling took place by Fletcher Watson in 1951. This involved the creation of a centrally positioned entrance, double-height hall and sweeping staircase. The substantial park, with its picturesque lake and walled gardens, was laid out in 1762 by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, and has been described as the finest by this landscaper in Norfolk. The extensive woodland is home to some magnificent oak trees, one of which dates back to 1373 (Veteran Tree Association). At one time the park was reputed to contain the largest ash tree in England. Its collecion of ancient oaks was recently commended by Kew Gardens as the finest in Norfolk and of significance in the UK.
The estate features a number of historical sites where houses once stood during the middle ages. Falstoff hall to the south, and Gelham’s Hall to the north, were both moated, as was Kimberley tower, just over the boundary close to the village of Kimberley to the west. The remains of old Downham village are visible only by the contours seen on some grazing land, together with what must have been a carp pond at the site of another old residence to the north-east of the present Kimberley Hall.