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Stately homes - a historic overview

Written by Georgia Dawson on

Holkham Hall, Norfolk

Norfolk is renowned for its grand stately homes. Due to its history of rich landowners, stately homes are scattered over the county with many open to the public. With impressive architecture and large walled gardens, take a visit to a stately home and appreciate the real beauty of Norfolk. 

Below are a few coastal stately homes to visit during your trip to the stunning Norfolk Coast.

1. Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall, located on the North Norfolk Coast, is a magnificent 18th century Palladian style house, surrounded by 25,000 acres of land. The Hall is a member of the Treasure Houses group, which represents 10 of the most sensational houses and castles all over England. The Hall is also part of the Historic Houses Association, which holds the nation's largest collection of independently owned historic houses and gardens. Although open to visitors, the Hall is home to the Earls of Leicester and is still lived in. 

The Hall was built between 1734 and 1764 by Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester. The Palladian style of the mansion represents Thomas Coke’s love for classical art which developed during his 6-year Grand Tour of Europe. When Coke returned to Norfolk in 1718, he had bought various valuable manuscripts, books, statuary and artworks. 

The Coke family has lived at Holkham since 1609. Thomas lived here with his parents until 1707, when they passed away. After returning to Norfolk from his Grand Tour, Thomas employed architect Matthew Brettingham to oversee the work of enforcing the designs for the new house. These designs were drawn up by himself and William Kent, with whom he had met in Rome.

The first foundations were dug in 1734 and 30 years later, in 1764, the house was finished. Unfortunately, Thomas died 5 years before the house was complete. His widow Lady Margaret Tufton was left to complete the house. She ruled Holkham for the next 17 years.

As it stands today, the house has not been altered or changed much from when it was first built in 1764. Central heating was installed by the 2nd Earl of Leicester during the 1850s. He also installed plate glass windows and furnishings. His successor, the third Earl, installed electric light and renovated the bathrooms and heating. The 7th Earl corrected the windows by installing 18th century glazing and returned the state rooms to their original appearance as much as possible.

2. Sandringham Estate

Sandringham Estate is The Queen's private estate. At the start of Her Majesty's reign in 1952, The Duke of Edinburgh took on responsibility for the management of the Estate. Conservation has always been a vital Estate management practice and therefore over 5000 trees and several miles of hedges are planted every year. Alongside this, 10 wetland areas have been made, encouraging many different species of wildlife to live there. All food waste, glass, metals, plastic, cardboard and paper are recycled. The Estate has created more than 200 jobs, from farmers to gamekeepers to the visitor centre and the apple juice factory.

Sandringham, as found in the Domesday Book of 1086, used to be called “Sant Dersingham”, (the sandy part of Dersingham). This then got shortened to Sandringham. It is believed there was a residence to the current site of Sheringham Estate from as early as 1296. This is because prehistoric flint tools have been discovered around the area. Remains of a Roman villa have also been found near Appleton Farm, just 1.5 miles from Sandringham Estate.

From the 16th century the area was owned by two families; the Cobbes held the land from 1517 and the Hostes followed in 1686. The Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) found a basic Georgian structure with a white stucco exterior at Sandringham. In spring 1862, Sandringham House and Estate (which at the time was almost 7000 hectares) was bought as a country home for Albert Edward, Prince of Wales.

The Prince made the house inhabitable and moved in with his wife, Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Shortly after moving in, it became apparent that the house was too small for the Prince’s expanding family. Therefore, it was demolished, and a new house was designed by a Norwich architect, AJ Humbert and then built by Goggs Brothers of Swaffham. The new house was finished in 1870, a ballroom was added in 1881 and a new guest accommodation wing in the 1890s.

Sandringham House was opened to the public at Her Majesty The Queen's wish in her Silver Jubilee year of 1977. The large 59-acre garden of Sandringham Estate was opened to the public by King Edward VII in 1908, and the Sandringham Museum by King George V in 1930.

It has been passed down through 4 generations of British monarchs and is currently the country retreat of Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh. The luxurious decor remains very similar to how it would have been in the Edwardian times. 

3. Felbrigg Hall

One of the most elegant country houses in East Anglia, the house has remained a balance of luxury and homeliness. With copper pans in the kitchen, stained glass windows in the great hall and 520 acres of land to explore, Felbrigg Hall is full of character and charm.

The de Felbrigg family owned the estate up until the mid-15th century, when they passed it over to the Norfolk Windhams. However, the Somerset section of the Wyndham family took over when their Norfolk line died out in 1599. In 1621-4 Sir John Wyndham and his son Thomas built the south front out of what was a shell of an old Tudor building. They also took on the Norfolk spelling of Windham.

In the 1680s, William Windham I built the west wing with architect William Samwell. Amazingly, some of the rooms at Felbrigg still have the same plaster as it was built with back in 1600s. The drawing room ceiling even has ‘1687’ carved into it, along with the initials ‘WW’ for William Windham. In 1669, William married Katherine Ashe. Katherine's cookbook from 1707 has survived and lives in the Norfolk Records Office. The Windham family owned the estate up until 1824.

William Lukin, son of Felbrigg rector George Lukin, took over the estate in 1824, following the death of William Windham III’s window. The next heir to the estate, William Frederick Windham (nicknamed Mad Windham), took over the estate once he came of age in 1861. However, in 1863, the estate was bought by John Ketton, a Norwich Merchant, for what is equivalent to £7.7m today. Although, a private valuation of the estate, dated 5 March 1862, valued the house and estate at the equivalent of £12m today. The Ketton family lived happily in the house for many years.

Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer (also known as the Last Squire) inherited Felbrigg estate from his father. After dedicating his life to preserving and upkeeping Felbrigg, Ketton-Cremer left the estate to the National Trust after his death in 1969.

Nowadays at Felbrigg, the Dining Room is set for a dinner party hosted by the Ketton family, with Mrs Ketton’s diaries informing us of what food would have been eaten during the evening.

The Drawing Room (the main reception and dining room) was remodelled in 1751 by James Paine – the original ceiling was retained, and the plasterwork represents the initial purpose of the room (it used to be called the Great Parlour).

The original Drawing Room of the 1680’s wing, now called the Cabinet Room, was square up until the bay window was added in 1751. William Windham II made the room the setting for the Italian pictures he acquired on his Grand Tour. To this day, these pictures still hang as he originally intended.

The library was installed by William Windham II between 1752 and 1755. The library contains roughly 5000 books, the oldest book dating back to 1509. It is thought by the National Trust that all the books were read as they were not purchased by the yard.

The Chinese Bedroom was originally 2 rooms; however, it was made 1 in 1751 when the bay window was installed. The wallpaper was block printed/hand painted in China and was ordered through the East India Company. The wallpaper was hung by a specialist and this would have cost today’s equivalent of 17.5p a day and 2.5p per mile travelling.

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SALT Journal