Friday, 28 October 2011

I have been to … Holkham Hall

As I wrote in a recent blog entry, my wife and I spent an all too short time recently in North West Norfolk. We stayed in one of our favourite hotels, the ‘Le Strange Arms Hotel’, Old Hunstanton.

We have been going there for regular long weekends away for many years, and have found the ambience, the location, and the food very reviving, especially whenever our spirits have been flagging and our batteries have been in need of recharging.

For years we have driven past the gates of Holkham Hall, but have never ventured in. This time we decided to take the plunge and pay a proper visit to the Hall … and we are very pleased that we did.

Holkham Hall was built by Thomas Coke, the 1st Earl of Leicester, and it is located near the north coast of Norfolk. It is built of brick and is an excellent example of the Palladian style of architecture. It was designed by William Kent and built between 1734 and 1764.

Holkham Hall’s owners – the Coke family – are responsible for a well-known sartorial ‘invention’, the ‘Billycock (or Billy Coke) Hat’. This is probably better known as the ‘Bowler’. The design came about because the nephew of the Earl of Leicester – William Coke – asked the hatters Lock & Company of St James’s to make a tight-fitting, low-crowned hard felt hat that estate workers – particularly the gamekeepers – could wear. Lock & Company subcontracted the manufacture of the hats to hatmakers Thomas and William Bowler – who later sold the design under their own name – hence the two names for the single style of hat. During the latter part of the nineteenth century and early half of the twentieth century the hat became the headwear of choice for junior Civil Servants, office workers, and tradesmen.

Amongst the attractions visitors can visit at Holkham Hall is the ‘Bygones Museum’. This includes an extensive collection of old vehicles …

… and steam-powered machinery …

… that is displayed in part of the Hall’s stable block.

Amongst the vehicles on display was a steam-powered cart …

… and a fire engine that was a Leyland chassis fitted with bodywork supplied by the Merryweather & Co. of Greenwich, London.

The Hall has a magnificent lake nearby …

… and an obelisk.

Unusually, the front of the Hall is guarded by statues of both a lion …

… and a lioness.

The Hall is built of yellow stock bricks, and unlike most other brick-built houses of its era, these have been left unrendered. Because of the lack of air pollution the bricks are still very clean and as a result the building does not appear to be as old as it actually is.

The entrance hall is magnificent. It is lined in marble and has a staircase that leads up to the first pillared floor.

The ceiling is also a sight to behold, and the whole effect very impressive.

Incidentally, Holkham Hall – and the pillared gallery above the entrance in particular – are featured in Alan Hunter’s 1957 crime novel, LANDED GENTLY.

The interior of the Hall is well worth seeing. During our visit we saw:
We did not have time to walk around the 3,000 acre park, but in addition to the ‘Bygones Museum’ and the Hall itself we did manage to visit the ‘History of Farming’ exhibition, the gift shop, and the café. We felt that Holkham Hall was well worth visiting and we are very pleased that we finally went there.


  1. Chris,

    Unlike Houghton Hall (which is quite close to Holkham Hall) there is nothing remotely military on show anywhere in the Hall or grounds.

    All the best,


  2. I rather like the steam powered cart. I wonder when it was built? Just the thing for a bit a bit of not too outlandish VSF-ish flair to a 19thC game.

  3. Ross Mac,

    The vehicle is a Soame Steam Cart built in 1897 by Sidney George Soame of the Persevernce Works in the village of Marsham, Norfolk.

    Soame was the originator of the steam powered fairground ride, although it was Frederick Savage of Hevingham, Norfolk who developed the concept and turned it into an international business based at the St Nicholas Works in King's Lynn, Norfolk.

    All the best,


  4. Seems like just the place for a bit of VSF/steampunk adventure, too.

  5. Fitz-Badger,

    It would be very suitable, and maps and plans of the house and estate are available on the Internet for anyone thinking of using it as such.

    All the best,


  6. Conrad Kinch,

    Do I take it that you liked the lion?

    All the best,



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