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Norfolk: Holkham

William White's History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk 1845

[Transcription copyright Paul Beesley]

HOLKHAM, a parish with a pleasant village of neat cottages, &c., on a gentle acclivity above the salt marshes, 2 miles E. of Burnham Market; 2 miles W. of Wells; and 32 miles N.W. of Norwich, has 731 inhabitants, and about 5,208 acres of land, of which 692A. are salt marsh, and 1,100A. woods and plantations, enclosed with 1,700A. of lawn, meadows, &c., in the beautiful park of Holkham House, the splendid seat of the Rt. Hon. Thos. Wm. Coke, Earl of Leicester, whose late venerable father - Thos Wm. Coke, Esq., was long known as one of the wealthiest commoners, and greatest agriculturists in England; but he was raised to the peerage in 1837, and died in 1842, in his 89th year.

For a period of 57 years, he was one of the representatives of Norfolk, in Parliament; and until his elevation to the peerage, he was known under the popular appellation of "Coke of Norfolk." When he succeeded to the Holkham estate, about the year 1778, the rental was then only about 2,200; but in 1819, it had increased to upwards of 20,000 per annum, exclusive of the fall of timber, poles, and underwood, which then averaged about 2,700 yearly.

Holkham is said to have been one of the country seats of Anna, King of the East Angles. It was evidently a port of some consequence in the 4th of Edward the II., who charged it and Burnham Deepdale with the expense of finding one ship to assist in transporting his army from Dublin to Scotland.

Henry III. granted it a weekly market on Monday, and a fair on the decollation of St. John the Baptist, but both have long been obsolete, and no traffic in corn, coal, &c., is now carried on at the Staith, on the verge of the salt marshes; but the harbours of Wells and Burnham lie within a short distance on each side of the parish.

The manor of Holkham-with-Burgh-hall, was held by the Boleyns till 1505, when it passed to Lady Anne Gresham, who had two flocks of sheep, viz:- the Holkham-burgh flock, containing 457, and the South-house flock, containing 460.

A capital messuage at Holkham Staith, with lands in Holkham, and the East Marsh Fouldcourse, were for many generations held by the ancestor of Robert Newgate, who had a grant from Charles I of the salt marshes in Holkham, with power to enclose the same, for 150 paid to the King; and to be held of the manor of East Greenwich, by fealty only, in free and common soccage.

In 1659, Edmund Newgate, for 3,400, sold all his property to John Coke, Esq., fourth son of the famous Lord-Chief Justice - Sir Edward Coke, (vide p.338, [This is the parish of Mileham.]) who had previously purchased the manor and all the other land in the parish, of Lord Berkley, Sir William Withipol, and the Earl of Desmond. He enclosed from the sea, 350 acres of salt marshes; and 400A. more called the New Marshes, were embanked from the ocean in 1722, by his successor - Thomas Coke, who, in 1728, was created Baron Lovel, of Minster-Lovel, Oxfordshire; and in 1744, Viscount Coke, of Holkham, and Earl of Leicester; but dying without issue in 1759, his titles became extinct.

This Earl converted the barren heath of Holkham into an earthly paradise, as is recorded by an inscription over the door of the entrance hall of HOLKHAM HOUSE, which records that - "This Seat, on an open barren estate, was planned, planted, built, decorated, and inhabited in the middle of the eighteenth century, by Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester." He commenced the erection of the mansion in 1734, and it was finished by his Dowager Countess, in 1760.

The central part of the spacious and elegant mansion, built of white brick, is accompanied by four wings, or pavillions, which are connected with it by rectilinear corridors, or galleries; each of the two fronts, therefore, display a centre and two wings.

The south front, (344 feet in length,) presents an air of lightness and elegance, arising from the justness of its proportions. In the centre is a bold portico, with its entablature supported by six Corinthian columns.

The north front, which is also 344 feet in length, is the grand or principal entrance, and exhibits different, though handsome features. The central part measures 114 feet by 62, and contains the principal apartments.

Each wing has its respective destination. One contains the kitchens, servants' hall, and some sleeping rooms. In the chapel wing, is the dairy, laundry, and more sleeping rooms. Another contains a suite of family apartments; and the fourth, called the stranger's wing, is appropriated to visitors.

This grand residence is rendered superior to most other great houses in the kingdom, by its convenience and appropriate arrangement, said to have been borrowed from Palladio's plan of a villa designed for the Cavalier Leonardo Mecenigo, upon the Brenta, with some trifling deviations.

The entrance hall, which measures 46 feet by 70, and is 43 feet in height, has a gallery round it supported by twenty four fluted Ionic columns. Next is the saloon, on each side of which is a drawing-room; and connected to this is the state dressing-room and bedchamber. Another drawing-room communicates with the statue gallery, which connects a number of apartments in a most admirable manner; - for one octagon opens into the private wing, and the other into the strangers', on one side, and into the dining-room on the other. From the recess in the dining-room opens a door on the staircase, which immediately leads to the offices; and in the centre of the wings, by the saloon door, are invisible staircases, which lead to all the rooms and respective offices.

Thus here are four general suites of apartments, all perfectly distinct from each other, with no reciprocal thoroughfares. These severally open into what may be called common rooms - the hall, the statue gallery, and saloon, all which communicate with the dining-room. The whole mansion is now being thoroughly repaired and beautified.

There may be houses larger and more magnificent, and in some, more uniformity and justness of proportion may be visible; - but human genius could not contrive anything in which convenience could be more apparent than it is in this. The fitting up of the interior is in the most splendid style, and, in numerous instances, with the most elegant taste. The ceilings of many of the rooms are of curious gilt, fret, and mosaic work; the Venetian windows are ornamented with handsome pillars, and profusely gilded. The marble chimney pieces are all handsome; but three are peculiarly deserving attention, for their exquisite sculpture. Two are in the dining-room - one ornamented with a sow and pigs, and a wolf; the other has a bear and beehives, finely sculptured in white marble. A third, in the state room, representing two pelicans, is exceedingly chaste and beautiful. The marble side-boards, agate-tables, rich tapestry, silk furniture, beds, &c., are all in the same sumptuous style of elegance.

The Statue Gallery consists of a central part and two octagonal ends. The first is 70 feet long by 22 feet wide, and each octagon, of 22 feet in diameter, opens to the centre by a handsome arch. One end is furnished with books, and the other with statues, &c. Among the latter, the figure of Diana is extremely fine. A Venus, clothed with wet drapery is considered exquisite.

The Library is rich in printed books, and contains an extensive and curious collection of manuscripts, which were renovated under the judicious superintendence of the celebrated Wm. Roscoe, Esq., in 1814.

The Saloon is 40 feet long, 28 feet wide, and 38 in height. This room, appropriated for paintings, contains many by the most eminent masters, and there are a vast number of others, equally valuable, distributed through the other apartments; but a description of them would furnish matter for a volume. Few, if any, collections in the kingdom, contain so many paintings by that inimitable artist - Claude Lorraine.

In a brief statement, it is impossible to give a just and adequate delineation of this princely seat of taste and hospitality, and the beautiful and extensive pleasure grounds, park, and plantations, which surround it, and comprise above 3,200 acres, of which 1,100 are planted, and part of the other is in tillage and pasturage. Within the park is an enchanting ride of seven miles in the midst of a belt of fir and other trees, evergreens and shrubs, whose foliage exhibits a pleasing variety of tints; whilst the interior of the park presents clumps of flourishing trees, gentle hills, corn-waving vales, an extensive lake, 1,056 yards long, with a small island, and finely wooded shore; the parish church, and other picturesque objects.

The principal approach is by a triumphal arch, on the Fakenham road, from which a fine broad vista leads to an obelisk, on a woody eminence, at the distance of a mile and a half. Passing through the obelisk wood, the road branches off to the left, leaving a fine expanse of lawn on the south front of the house, which is here seen to the greatest advantage, and through several charming vistas may be seen the east and west lodges, (both in simple elegance,) the town of Wells, Holkham Staith, and the New Inn on the north-west side of the park, where tourists will find excellent accommodations.

The gardens, hot-houses, &c., are extensive, and the pleasure grounds on the east side of the house are tastefully laid out; a fine gravel walk, winding through clumps of trees and shrubs of various kinds, interspersed with flowers of every hue, cannot fail to attract the admiration of strangers, to whom the house is open for inspection every Tuesday; but foreigners and artists are allowed access on other days.

The family of Coke is very ancient, as we find that one of them, William Coke, of Doddington, held several manors in this county in 1206.

The late Rt. Hon. Thos. Wm. Coke, who was created Earl of Leicester and Viscount Coke of Holkham, in 1837, was born in 1754, but his paternal name was Roberts, his mother being the sister of Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, who founded Holkham House, as already noticed. He married the daughter of Lord Sherborn, by whom he had three daughters; and in 1823, he espoused Lady Anne Amelia Keppel, third daughter of the Earl of Albemarle, by whom he left four sons and one daughter. He died at Longford Hall, Derbyshire, June 30th, 1842, and in the church there, an elegant monument has been erected to his memory.

Another memorial of him is about to be erected in Holkham Park, in the Corinthian style, 137 feet in height, so that it will be a conspicuous land mark to mariners. This testimonial will cost about 4,000 guineas, subscribed by his numerous tenantry and friends. To his spirited exertions and liberality, Norfolk is chiefly indebted for many of its agricultural improvements, during the last fifty years, as has been seen in an early part of this volume.

In 1788, he celebrated the centenary of the glorious revolution by a grand fete - ball, supper, display of fireworks, &c. He afterwards entertained many royal and distinguished personages; and, in September, 1835, the Duchess of Kent and the Princess Victoria (now Queen,) visited him, on their return from their northern tour.

His Countess died July 22nd, 1844, and bequeathed her estate of Longford Hall, Derbyshire, to her second son, the Hon. Edward Wentworth Keppel Coke, of the Scots Fusilier Guards.

The present Earl was born Dec. 26th, 1822, and married Juliana, daughter of Samuel Whitbread, Esq. His other brothers are - the Hon. Henry John Coke, and the Hon. Wenman Clarence Walpole Coke.

Holkham CHURCH, dedicated to St. Withberga, stands east of the village, and about half a mile north of the hall, upon an artificial hill, supposed to have been thrown up by the Saxons; and near it is a large tumulus, in which human bones, and a piece of iron armour, have been found.

The church is a noted sea-mark, standing high above the salt marshes, and having a chancel, nave, aisles, and a broad and lofty embattled tower, with four bells. It was thoroughly repaired at the cost of 1,000, by the Countess Dowager of Leicester, in 1767. It has a large monument to the memory of William Wheatley, Esq., containing small portraitures of himself, his wife, and John Coke and his wife, on their knees, with desks before them.

The benefice is a vicarage, valued in the King's Book at 8 13s. 4d., and augmented in 1792 and 1816, with 400 of Queen Anne's Bounty, vested in land, at Wells. It is consolidated with Egmere, in the patronage of the Earl of Leicester, and incumbency of the Rev. John Ackroyd.

In 1755, the Countess Dowager of Leicester built and endowed, and in 1763, further endowed, ALMSHOUSES, in the village, for the reception of three men and three women, to have 6s. a week each, a chaldron of coals each, yearly, and clothing once in two years; the inmates to be elected by the possessor of Holkham House, out of some parish in which the estates thereto belonging lie. Two additional almspeople have recently been admitted.

The building and furnishing the six dwellings cost her ladyship about 2,300; and the endowment consists of a yearly rent of 50, out of a farm at Holkham Staith, and a farm of 79A. 2R. 20P. at Weasenham, now let for 100 per annum.

In 1821, the late Earl erected two schools, for 33 boys and 30 girls. They are continued by the present Earl, who also supports an Infant School.

New Holkham, a small village of cottages, is about 2 miles south of the hall; and near it is Longlands, the residence of the farm-bailiff; and Brant Hill, an extensive farm.

The New Inn is on the Burnham road, about a mile west of the hall, but adjoining the north-west angle of the park.

	   Earl of Leicester       Holkham House

	Applegate Robert           wheelwright
	Baker     Mr. William      land agent, Garden Cottage
	Buck      Jonathan & Eliz. Free Schools
	Crossley  Sarah            Infant School
	Davidson  Robert           gamekeeper
	Emerson   Edward           farmer
	Emerson   Russell          baker & flour dealer
	Emerson   Stephen          architect & builder
	Girvan    Hugh             gardener
	Gorrie    Archibald        woodman
	Grange    Robert           coachman
	Hadrick   Mrs. Mary        housekeeper
	Hagon     George           bricklayer
	Kerry     Hall William     farm-bailiff
	Lack      John             victualler, Victoria Arms
	Loose     John             glazier, painter, &c.
	Lulman    Augustus         office clerk
	Mann      Richard          blacksmith
	Middleton John             farmer, Brant Hill
	Napier    Rev. Alexander   curate
	Salmond   James            butler
	Seales    Thomas           warrener
	Skoyles   Samuel           victualler, New Inn
	Young     William          grocer and draper

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See also the Holkham parish page.

Copyright Pat Newby.
September 1999