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Monday, 28 March 2016

A Day at Holkham Hall (Estate of 8th Earl of Leicester)

We got up early on Easter Sunday 27th March 2016. My wife, Carole, had expressed an interest to go out for the day. She enjoys a drive out into the countryside and is especially keen on the Norfolk coastline around Hunstanton, Wells and Sheringham. To be fair, I enjoy this coastal road too. There are many things to do and see along the way. We have often passed a big walled estate called Holkham Hall and have said we should pay it a visit.

The great house was built by the first Earl of Leicester who inherited the huge estate back in 1707 at the age of ten. The house took thirty years to build. His family had owned the grounds beforehand. They are the Coke family and their founding ancestral fortune goes back to Sir Edward Coke who lived from 1552 to 1634.

At first we went towards a wildlife area by the coast (Holkham Beach.) The nature reserve is on the opposite side of the country road from Holkham village and the grounds to Holkham Hall. We drove along a rough road towards a line of trees where we found a parking spot and paid £3 for two hours. Leaving the car, we ambled along a bridal path with woodland obscuring the vast stretch of sandy beach. This was fortunate because it was a rather blustery day, but the trees on the rise sheltered us. On the other side of the path was a marshy fen. This separated us from the country road we had turned off of. Gradually the walkway pulled further away from the distant country road from where we had driven to Holkham. It was these lake scattered marshlands towards Holkham that were of particular interest to me. I had my camera with me and was searching for birds of prey. I would not be disappointed. The blue sky was by and large clear with odd scattered clouds and there Marsh Harriers were out in numbers. It was a Marsh Harrier’s paradise.

After this walk about we decided to drive across the country road, up into Holkham village and visit the vast estate of the Earl of Leicester. The grounds are spectacular – a giant parkland surrounded by miles of wall. Beyond these grounds are farmlands that also belong to the current 8th Earl of Leicester. How an Earl of Leicester comes to be living in Norfolk and not Leicestershire is beyond me, but this is so and has been for many generations. Perhaps the long line of Earls owned something in Leicestershire too. I’m not too sure how the titles work.

I parked in the car park just outside the grounds near a village where I believe the Earl’s grounds man and other employers live. We approached the great gates onto the estate and began walking along a road into the grounds. We were surrounded by woods and parkland. In the distance was a big lake and herds of deer grazing.

Carole and I were chatting about how vast these grounds were. We supposed the up keep would be colossal in this day and age. Even the wealthiest aristocrat would be hard pushed to run such a huge house and grounds. It also made us wonder what type of income a person might have had to earn, back in the 1600s, to run such a vast establishment. It would take hundreds of people to maintain this beautiful estate. They all needed wages and the Earl would have to meet such a huge cost. It made the mind boggle. Back in the 1600s during times of wide spread servitude the wages may have been very low, but there would be accommodation, warmth and regular food from the kitchen for the army of servants that tended the grounds. The downstairs people, so to speak. Upstairs the nobility of England’s society would be waited upon by these people. Therefore in this day and age the cost would increase because there is a minimum wage and the owners of Holkham would not be able to get the vast amount of servants happy to live under the old conditions.

As we walked along the curving road towards another group of trees we saw another car park inside the grounds and a play area for children. Several cars had passed us along the road inside the grounds. It was then that we realised we could have driven inside the estate and used a visitors car park closer to the stately home. However, the walk was better. It gave us a clearer idea of just how big the surrounding estate within the walls was. That was despite the farmlands beyond, which the Earl also over sees.

The whole place beyond the visitor’s car park was rammed with people visiting the estate. There were hundreds of us, all on a day out. Many families had dogs too. I’ve never seen a visitor attraction geared in such a pet friendly way. There were family dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds enjoying the day out with their owners. All animals seemed in tune and very well behaved. I did not see one pet getting over excited or barking to get near other dogs. Children were in the playground or riding bikes. Bicycles were hired out to families that wanted to explore the grounds without the long walking required. There were also tractor trailer rides for people who did not want to go too far on foot between various areas.

Carole and I love a walk, so we did not make use of such facilities. When we arrived at the cafeteria we saw the ticket office and decided to go for the whole sightseeing event. This was the farm museum, the walled garden and, of course, Holkham Hall itself. I wondered how the Earl of Leicester and the rest of the Coke family felt about hordes of people walking about their house. However, when looking at the sheer size of the place, I realised one could live in one section with its vast rooms and be completely cut off from other parts of the great place.

There must have been hundreds of families – hundreds of dogs on leads – everyone walking about mesmerised by the size of such a house and the surrounding grounds.

In the farm museum the 8thEarl of Leicester was talking on a TV recording about the grounds. It showed him on his estate, talking about the running of the place. He said that 50% of the estate’s income was from farming and the rest was from visitors. With the amount of people there, I could understand how the income from visiting must play an important role to modern day running of Britain’s vast stately homes that are owned by the aristocracy. I paid £30 for the tour. This was for Carole and I £15 each. There was also the coffee and eats, plus the glossy booklet. It was not too bad for the day. It was a whole day out and one can spend more in a pub getting sloshed. A visit to Holkham on a fine day was far better, in my opinion.

As we left the farm museum, we wondered out of the stable area that had been converted into a neat looking cafeteria. We walked around the front of the huge stately home of Holkham Hall. The huge place had just opened its doors for visitors. I was surprised that the vast array of visitors had not charged the doors to enter, but they all seemed intent on walking about and exploring the grounds. Therefore, I suggested to Carole that we might visit the house straight away. We did so. As I entered the front door we were greeted by a man checking our tickets. He politely and cheerfully told us that there were staff in most of the rooms and they would tell us things about the house and the rooms we were in.
  
I was breath taken as I walked into the main entrance hall from the grand lobby. There were marble pillars and a huge staircase. Another member of household staff was here and he gave us some info on the house too. Actually, we were only to see a section of the house which would have been a wing or two of the building. However, the size and splendour left me in awe. The rooms, ceilings, furniture and pictures were something to behold. Some of the chairs in the grand rooms were frayed from age, but the place was so vast. I was clicking away with my camera but even though I could get some of the splendour, a visit is really the only way to take it all in.

Everywhere in the giant house oozed with some form of extravagance. There were paintings of past relatives and friends in every single room. Some of the areas looked like connecting hallways, but even these had fire places, chairs and great paintings of historical aristocrats - huge portraits that hung from walls. Even an on-suite bathroom was lavishly decorated with such portraits. Some of these paintings were of people starring down from the wall upon the toilet and bathroom. I had to laugh. Perhaps they were persons of less favour to be put upon such walls.

In one place I saw a painting of  Pope Leo X. A member of the famous Medici family. I had heard of this pope because young Henry VIII had gained favour from him when he first became King of England. This was when England was still loyal to Rome and before Protestantism came about in the later part of his reign. Pope Leo X ruled from 1513 to 1521. How the portrait came to be in Holkham Hall was strange to me. This is because the Coke family, who own the lands, acquired them via Sir Edward Coke who lived from 1552 to 1634. This would have been during a time of deep suspicion to anyone loyal to the Holy Roman church. I assume the picture was acquired at a latter date when the sectarian feuding was dying away.

It struck me as an interesting picture to have among English aristocrats - evolved from Protestant England. Maybe there are many such pictures in other stately homes too.

Walking to the Gates to Holkham Hall. The estate is surrounded by a nine mile wall.


Wooded area upon entry to the grounds

Walking along the long drive into the grounds

Old farming and baker's tools of trade in the cafeteria

Past members of the 8th Earl's family

Farming equipment of the old days

Holkham Hall
Entrance Hall in all its splendour


The grand ceiling

I loved the pillars and grand doorways

Carole walks the inner balcony leading into the House

All alcoves had some type of sculpture

All walls were adorned with something of interest

The pillared landing led to the inner rooms

This was once a dinning room and is sometimes still used

Even connecting Hallways looked like rooms

Most rooms had several doorways leading to other rooms

Every doorway had lavish gilding

Another connecting Hallway

Every room had portraits

We entered a splendid looking bedroom

The ceilings were wonderful

The bedroom had four connecting doorways
To the right of this photo was the on-suite doorway

It led to this bathroom. The chair to the bottom right of the bath is a toilet.

There was even a seat and desk in the bathroom

I was amused that this portrait stares down at the toilet and bath

I wonder how often this bathroom is used. The guide said the bedroom was on occasion used.

Entrance from bed chamber to bathroom

More friends and former people of the estate

Every doorway or stretch of wall had a portrait.

Above each of the many fire places was a large picture of someone from the past

Every space was donated to something

No area went to waste


Entrance to one of the lounge rooms of the great house
Lounge area 

The embossed wallpaper was so thick it felt like carpet upon the walls.

Each room had its paintings

Every room seemed to have four doors

The views from the window of the grounds were fantastic

This floor leading to the outside is the front part of the house. I think we entered via the back

I wonder if the past dwellers walked about the house looking at such paintings

It was a bit like a splendour overload in some rooms

The portrait of Pope Leo X. This surprised me.

An inner chapel on the ground level overlooked from above.

Another view of Pope Leo X of the Italian Medici family.

The guide told us that some of the wall tapestries were English and others were Flemish from Belgium

I can't help wondering how many staff or servants the grand house needed to keep the place during the past

This was only part of the house that we see

The wall tapestries of this bed chamber were glorious

Carole makes for the door and another room

We came back out at the marbled pillar hallway. We then decided to look at the downstairs servant quarters.

Sir Edward Coke - The Lord Chief Justice who founded the family fortune.

The downstairs quarters where the kitchen staff worked

Holkham Hall's Grand Kitchen

Large spit for roasting with drip tray below. This also had holes for dripping fat to drain to lower trays

Leather jugs

Kitchen sink

Various ovens

When I saw the other side of the grand house, I realised we entered the house via the back lobby.  The front had a big fountain and stairway going down to the garden grounds. It looked a little more grand with outer pillars and apex entrance. I imagined that guests in horse and carriage may have entered the house this way in the old days with balls and other functions etc. I did not notice this until looking at the brochure. The house is so grand that even the back seems like a front. Especially as the grounds entrance has a road leading to the back part.

From here we made our way around the lake. We had been lucky because while inside the great house, it had rained. Now we were leaving, the rain stopped. Carole and I ambled along towards the Walled Garden. The estate was 3,000 hectares in all and the walled garden within these grounds consisted of seven acres. All of this, as mentioned before was within a surrounding nine mile wall.

When we got to the Walled Garden we entered and wondered around the paths. This was not yet in full glory as the spring was only a few days old. However, once all the plants were in full bloom, I'm sure the gardens would make for a very splendid sight. I liked the old walls and the big doorways leading to each section and I could imagine the old walls with the plants in full bloom.



I like old walls and gateways.

The gardens look sparse of plants, but as spring comes I'm sure the flora will look great

I can see the potential with these old walls and greenery when summer comes

The green houses need a little TLC

I just love the idea of the old walls with plants of all variety growing

Work in progress


I can see the bare ground becoming alive with plants and more upon the walls

In a few weeks the veg will be growing

Again old doorways

I can see arched creeping plants over this entrance too


Carole holds an Easter chick

Then puts it back with the others

walking the walled garden

Bleak now but soon to bloom

I'm a glutton for the big entrance

As we wandered back across the estate grounds I saw a bird of prey

Also some visitors of fine colour

We observed the grazing deer

There were about a hundred or so grazing

A young looking stag


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