DiCamillo Companion
DiCamillo Griffin Logo

Holkham Hall (Hill Hall)

  • Earlier Houses: Hill Hall, a medieval house, was demolished by the 1st Lord Leicester to make way for his new house, the current Holkham Hall.

    Built / Designed For: Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester

    House & Family History: The Coke family fortunes were founded by Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634), attorney general to Elizabeth I and lord chief justice to James I. E.N. Williams, writing in "The Penguin Dictionary of English and European History, 1485-1789," says that "His writings contributed massively to the process of molding the traditional Common Law" and that he was a judge whose knowledge of the law was without equal. Sir Edward is best remembered for his dictum "an Englishman's home is his castle." Five generations later his descendant, Thomas Coke (1697-1759; created 1st Earl of Leicester of the first creation in 1744) returned from the Grand Tour and decided that his medieval home, Hill House, was not appropriately impressive enough to house his newly-collected treasures. He wanted to create a temple of the arts in the Norfolk countryside. The design for Holkham was based on Palladio's unbuilt Villa Mocenigo, as illustrated in his "Quattro Libri." Construction began in 1734, with the yellow-gray bricks all being made on the estate, and was completed by his widow in 1764, ultimately costing the immense sum of £92,000 (approximately £167 million in 2016 values using the labour value commodity index). Holkham was designed, in collaboration with Lord Burlington and Lord Leicester (it's believed that the basic design was Leicester's) by William Kent, between 1734 and 1762. Kent was directly responsible only for the exterior, the marble hall, the statue gallery, the family wing (southwest wing), the long library, and the interior of the family wing. The impressive south facade is 11 bays and is topped with corner towers with low pyramidal roofs; the facade's great portico contains 10 giant Corinthian columns, six of which are to the front. The main house was designed for display and was intended primarily for state functions; it's flanked by four tripartite angle pavilions, each of a single story over a rusticated basement; these were for everyday living and comprise the strangers' wing, the kitchen wing, the family wing, and the chapel wing. Each wing is linked to the main house by a single-bay piano nobile. The inspiration for the marble hall was Palladio—modeled on his designs for a temple of justice; the ground level contains walls of pink Derbyshire alabaster with a Greek key pattern below and a wave pattern above. The 18 magnificent fluted pink alabaster Ionic columns on the piano nobile were copied from the 3rd-4th century BC Temple of Fortuna Virilis in Rome (see "Images" section), the coving was modeled after the Roman Pantheon, and the design of the ceiling from an idea by Inigo Jones. Kent based his design for the statue gallery, which contains the finest collection of classical sculpture in the world in private hands, on the famous ruins of the Temple of Venus and Rome in Rome, a design element that was also used in the gallery at Chiswick House and at Spencer House, both in London. The north dining room is a perfect 27-foot cube with an Axminster carpet that reflects the pattern of the ceiling; the bust of Aelius Verus in a wall niche was found during the dredging of the port of Nettuno. The saloon, which contains a fine collection of paintings, has a ceiling to the designs of Desgodetz and contains a pair of gilded tables designed by Kent (most of the state furniture at Holkham was designed by Kent) and carved by Rysbrack that incorporate two magnificent table-top mosaic pavements excavated from Hadrian's Villa Adriana near Tivoli, which date to 123-125 AD. The long library, designed by Kent, contains an exceptionally fine chimneypiece also by Kent (executed by Marsden) of two Ionic pilasters with an overmantel that holds a 1st century AD mosaic of a lion killing a leopard excavated from Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli (purchased by Coke of Norfolk in the 1770s while on his Grand Tour). Both George V (1912) and Queen Victoria (1835) stayed in the green state bedroom. The famous Coke of Norfolk (created 1st Earl of Leicester of the second creation by Queen Victoria in 1837) was a great agricultural reformer (he invented the four course rotation, involving successive rotations of wheat, grass, barley, and turnips) and a fervent supporter of the Americans during the American Revolution; he is quoted as having said "every night during the American War did I drink the health of General Washington as the greatest man on earth." Starting in the early 1800s, and continuing for over 20 years, Coke of Norfolk planted 50,000 trees per year on his estate—over one million trees in total (there is a fine portrait of Coke of Norfolk by Gainsborough in the south dining room). As a young man Coke of Norfolk had an affair in Italy with Bonnie Prince Charlie's wife, Princess Louise. William (Billy) Coke, the nephew of the 1st Earl of Leicester of the second creation (Coke of Norfolk) goes down in history as the inventor of the bowler hat. In 1850, during a visit to his London hat makers, Locks of St. James's (still in business today—James Lock & Co. Ltd., 6 St. James's Street, London SW1), Billy Coke asked the hat makers to design a hard, domed, close-fitting hat for gamekeepers on the Holkham Estate, one that would withstand the sticks of poachers when the keepers were out on night patrol, as well as provide protection from overhanging branches, and be close-fitting enough that it would not easily blow or fall off. The result was the bowler—so-called because Locks then (as they still do today) subcontracted the making of the hat to the firm of Bowler Brothers, hat makers in Southwark. The hat was later adopted by men working in the City of London and became known as the "bowler." The bowler also acquired the nickname of a billycock, after Billy Coke, and if one visits Locks today and asks for a billycock they will know exactly what sort of hat you are referring to. A well-made bowler should withstand the weight of a man standing on it (hardened by the application of shellac), but not jumping on it, as Billy Coke did when it was first presented to him! Holkham's eight gamekeepers still wear bowlers to this day. In America the hat became known as the "derby," from its association with the famous horse race.

    Collections: The statue gallery and tribunes are collectively 105 feet long and contain one of the finest collection of classical sculpture in private hands. The collection was formed by the 1st Earl of Leiceser (of the first creation) and contains the ancient Greek bust of Thucydides, one of the earliest portraits of man (circa 4 BC). In 1764 Matthew Brettingham sent seven cases of marbles from Italy to Holkham Hall; included in that shipment was the ancient Roman mosaic slab (supposedly from the Baths of Titus, Rome) that today forms a tabletop in the landscape room at Holkham. The marble hall contains the marble relief "The Death of Germanicus" by Thomas Banks, circa 1774, commissioned by the 1st Earl, where it was later joined by Chantrey's "Signing of Magna Carta" and Westmacott's "Trial of Socrates." It's been suggested by modern scholars that the grouping of these three sculptures reflected the 1st Earl's support of parliamentary reform (he was a fervent Whig and enthusiastic supporter of Charles James Fox). In addition, there are also marble reliefs by Chantrey, Lorenzi, and Westmacott. The saloon contains many masterpieces, among them "The Return of the Holy Family" by Rubens, and "The Duc d'Arenberg" by van Dyck and also includes a pair of gilded side tables designed by William Kent (most of the state furniture at Holkham was designed by Kent) and carved by Rysbrack that incorporate two magnificent table-top mosaic pavements excavated from Hadrian's Villa Adriana near Tivoli, which date to 123-125 AD. The landscape room contains the largest number of works by Claude Lorraine (seven) in private hands and is also rich in paintings by Gaspar Poussin (five in the collection). In addition, the landscape room contains works by Gaspard Dughet, Salvator Rosa, Vernet, and Mehus, all hung in their 1773 positions. The green state and north state dressing room are rich in paintings of the Italian Renaissance, including "Galatea and Plyphemus" by Carracci, painted on stone and weighing approximately 100 pounds, and Bastiano di Sangallo's copy of Michelangelo's mural cartoon for Florence's Palazzo Vecchio (the original cartoon was maliciously destroyed soon after its completion; Holkham's is the only copy remaining). There is a fine portrait of Coke of Norfolk by Gainsborough in the south dining room. The parrot bedroom contains a portrait of Charles James Fox by Joshua Reynolds; on staircase outside the bedroom hangs van Dyck's painting of the 1st Duke of Richmond. Leonardo da Vinci's Codex Leicester was sold to Armand Hammer for £2.2 million at Christie's on December 12, 1980. Raphael's "Cartoon of the Virgin and Child With Infant St. John the Baptist" was sold for £761,790 in 1986 to the National Gallery of Art, Washington. "Madonna and Child with St. Helen and St. Francis" by Amico Aspertini sold for £345,000 on April 11, 1986 to The National Museum of Wales. On July 2, 1991 sixty-four Old Master drawings sold at Christie's for £3.2 million. The following drawings were sold from the collection at Holkham: Cortona's "Christ on the Cross with the Virgin Mary, St. John and St. Mary Magdalen," went to the Getty Museum for £245,500; Reni's "Head of a Young Woman," which went to the Metropolitan Museum for £145,000; and "Female Figure with a Sceptre and Globe" by Veronese, which was purchased by the National Museum, Stockholm; six other drawings went to foreign private collectors. "View of the Tiber Valley" by Nicolas Poussin was sold to the Ashmolean Museum at Oxford for £156,450 in 1992. Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione's "Head of an Oriental in Profile to the Left" was sold in 1992 to the Victoria & Albert Museum for £210,150. "A Wooded River Landscape, with Cascades and Three Men Dragging a Net" by Pietro da Cortona sold for £268,000 in 1992 to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts and Birmingham City Council jointly. Guercino's "Reclining Nude Woman Lifting a Curtain" sold in 1992 for £106,162 (a Ribera drawing was sold at the same time); both drawings were purchased by the National Museums Liverpool, and are today in the collection of the Walker Art Gallery. "Design for the Tomb of Cardinal Carlo Emanuele Pio da Carpi" by Gian Lorenzo Bernini sold to the National Gallery of Scotland in 1992 for £40,230. Nicolas Poussin's "Wooded Landscape with River God Gathering Fruit" sold to Mr. J.B. Davidson of Chicago in 1992 for £134,000. "St. George and the Dragon" by Francesco de' Rossi, called il Salviati, sold in 1992 for £104,975 to the Cleveland Museum of Art. Guido Reni's "Head of a Woman Looking Up" sold for £145,000 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1992. "Christ on the Cross with the Virgin Mary, St. John and St. Mary Magdalene" by Cortona, sold in 1992 to the Getty Museum for £245,500.

    Comments: Richard Wilson and Alan Mackley, writing in "Creating Paradise: The Building of the English Country House, 1660-1880," call Holkham "the supreme English example of pure neo-Palladian taste on the grand scale." Timothy Mowl, writing in "William Kent: Architect, Designer, Opportunist," states that Kent recycled an early design for the Horse Guards Parade in Whitehall for the exterior of Holkham.

  • Garden & Outbuildings: The great Capability Brown landscaped the park in the 18th century; in the 19th century William Andrews Nesfield designed the formal garden, which features the great fountain that depicts St. George and the Dragon (created between 1849 and 1857 by Charles Raymond Smith). The park includes 3,000 acres, with 600 head of fallow deer and a five-mile beach on the Norfolk coast, and contains many important outbuildings, including the obelisk to the south of the house, constructed in 1730 on the highest ground on the estate; the Temple; and Samuel Wyatt's great barn. The ice house dates from the time of the earlier 17th century house, Hill Hall. The large stables were built in the 1860s; since 1979 they have been home to the Bygones Museum of historic autos, tractors, and steam engines. The model village near the north gate was designed and built in the 19th century. Holkham today comprises a 25,000-acre agricultural estate that employs approximately 160 people.

    Chapel & Church: The chapel, with walls of Derbyshire alabaster, was completed by the first Lady Leicester after her husband's death. Decorated by James Miller, the chapel is hung with Renaissance paintings. St. Withburga's Church on the estate contains a 13th century tower and has been substantially rebuilt over the centuries.

  • Architect: William John Donthorn

    Date: 1845-50
    Designed: Column in memory of Thomas Coke (The Leicester Column)

    View all houses

    Architect: John Webb

    Date: 1801-03
    Designed: Landscaping

    View all houses

    Architect: William Burn

    Date: 1851-55
    Designed: Stables and north and south gates for 2nd Earl of Leicester

    View all houses

    Architect: William Kent

    Date: 1734-65
    Designed: Directly responsible only for the exterior of the house, the marble hall, the family wing, and the long library. In the grounds Kent designed the stone bridge, the obelisk, seat on the mount, arches in the garden, and the triumphal arch.

    View all houses

    Architect: Thomas Coke (Leicester)

    Date: 1734-62
    Designed: Lords Leicester and Burlington together laid out the plan for the house with William Kent

    View all houses

    Architect: Richard Boyle (Burlington)

    Date: 1734-62
    Designed: Lords Leicester and Burlington together laid out the plan for the house with William Kent

    View all houses

    Architect: Samuel Wyatt

    Date: 1780-1807
    Designed: Great barn, lodges, cottages, and farmhouses for 1st Earl of Leicester.

    View all houses

    Architect: William Andrews Nesfield

    Date: 19th century
    Designed: South Formal Garden

    View all houses

    Architect: Matthew Brettingham the Elder

    Date: 1734-59
    Designed: Acted as executant for Lord Leicester and designed north lodges, the temple, arch gate, seat in the orangery, and the bridge at the head of the lake.

    View all houses

    Architect: Lancelot Brown

    Date: 1762
    Designed: Landscaping for Margaret Coke, 1st Countess of Leicester.

    View all houses
  • Vitruvius Britannicus: C. V, pls. 64-69, 1771.

    John Bernard (J.B.) Burke, published under the title of A Visitation of the Seats and Arms of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland, among other titles: 2.S. Vol. I, p. 71, 1854.

    John Preston (J.P.) Neale, published under the title of Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, among other titles: Vol. III, 1820.

    Country Life: xxiii, 822, 870; Liv, 75; Lxvi, 924; cviii, 35; cxxx, 200; cxLv, 467; cLxvii, 214, 298, 359, 427; corr. cLxviii, 481 estate buildings; cLvi, 1554, 1642; gardens, ii, 752; xxiii, 822; cxLiii, 1310; cLxxxii, 31.90; corr. 34.141; 24/91.168; corr. 30/91.110;

  • Title: Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1600-1840, A - HARDBACK
    Author: Colvin, Howard
    Year Published: 2008
    Reference: pgs. 151, 156, 193, 328, 617, 1098, 1195
    Publisher: New Haven: Yale University Press
    ISBN: 9780300125085
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Holkham: The Social, Architectural and Landscape History of a Great English Country House
    Author: Hiskey, Christine
    Year Published: 2016
    Reference: pg. 253
    Publisher: Norfolk: Unicorn Press
    ISBN: 9781910065983
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Treasure Houses of Britain, The - SOFTBACK
    Author: Jackson-Stops, Gervase (Editor)
    Year Published: 1985
    Reference: pg. 303
    Publisher: Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art (New Haven: Yale University Press)
    ISBN: 0300035530
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Britain's Best Museums and Galleries
    Author: Fisher, Mark
    Year Published: 2004
    Reference: pg. 291
    Publisher: London: Allen Lane
    ISBN: 0713995750
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Penguin Dictionary of English and European History, 1485-1789, The
    Author: Williams, E.N.
    Year Published: 1980
    Reference: pg. 97
    Publisher: London: Allen Lane
    ISBN: 0713912391
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: William Kent: Architect, Designer, Opportunist
    Author: Mowl, Timothy
    Year Published: 2006
    Publisher: London: Jonathan Cape
    ISBN: 0224073508
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: British Art Journal, The
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Vol VI, No 3, Winter 2005, pg. 53
    Publisher: London: The British Art Journal
    ISBN: 14672006
    Book Type: Magazine

    Title: Spencer House: Chronicle of a Great London Mansion
    Author: Friedman, Joseph
    Year Published: 1993
    Reference: pg. 102
    Publisher: London: Zwemmer
    ISBN: 0302006176
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Holkham Hall Guidebook - 2004
    Author: Earl of Leicester
    Year Published: 2004
    Reference: pgs. 2, 22, 35
    Publisher: Norfolk: Coke Estates Ltd.
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Holkham Newsletter
    Author: NA
    Year Published: NA
    Reference: Issue No. 6, Summer/Autumn 2003
    Publisher: Norfolk: Holkham Estate
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Kedleston Hall Guidebook - 2001
    Author: Various Authors
    Year Published: 2001
    Reference: pg. 36
    Publisher: London: The National Trust
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Craftsmen and Interior Decoration in England, 1660-1820
    Author: Beard, Geoffrey
    Year Published: 1986
    Reference: pg. 107
    Publisher: London: Bloomsbury Books
    ISBN: 0906223490
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Creating Paradise: The Building of the English Country House, 1660-1880
    Author: Wilson, Richard; Mackley, Alan
    Year Published: 2000
    Reference: pgs. 33, 243
    Publisher: London: Hambledon and London
    ISBN: 1852852526
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Holkham Hall Guidebook - 1996
    Author: McCann, Nick
    Year Published: 1996
    Publisher: Derby: English Life Publications Ltd.
    ISBN: 085101321X
    Book Type: Softback

    Title: Country Life Cumulative Index: Volumes I to CXCIII to December 1999
    Author: NA
    Year Published: 2000
    Publisher: London: IPC Magazines Limited
    ISBN: NA
    Book Type: Light Softback

    Title: Disintegration of a Heritage: Country Houses and their Collections, 1979-1992, The
    Author: Sayer, Michael
    Year Published: 1993
    Reference: pgs. 36, 71, 79, 144, 145
    Publisher: Norfolk: Michael Russell (Publishing)
    ISBN: 0859551970
    Book Type: Hardback

    Title: Burke's and Savills Guide to Country Houses, Volume III: East Anglia
    Author: Kenworthy-Browne, John; Reid, Peter; Sayer, Michael; Watkin, David
    Year Published: 1981
    Reference: pgs. 132-135
    Publisher: London: Burke's Peerage
    ISBN: 0850110351
    Book Type: Hardback

  • House Listed: Grade I

    Park Listed: Grade I

  • "Code Name: Operation Crossbow" (1965 - aka "The Great Spy Mission," using Holkham beach). "Fall of Eagles" (1974 - TV mini series). "Shakespeare in Love" (1999 - the Five-Mile Beach was used for the final scene). "All the King's Men" [aka World War I: The Killing Fields"] (1999 - TV movie). "A History of Britain" (2000 - TV documentary series, shown from an aerial shot). "The Lost Prince" (2002 - TV movie, as staterooms of Buckingham Palace). "The Curious House Guest" (2005 - BBC TV series, episode 2.1). "Buildings That Shaped Britain" (2006 - TV documentary series by Simon Thurley, episode 6, "Countryside Revolution"). "Kingdom" (2007-09 - TV series, Holkham Bay was used for aerial shots of the beach; Wells-next-the-Sea was used for Market Shipborough harbor and quayside). "The Duchess" (2008 - as interiors of Devonshire House). "Queen Victoria's Men" (2008 - TV docu-drama). "Kevin McCloud's Grand Tour of Europe" (2009 - TV mini series). "Shadows in the Sun" (2009). "Princess Kaiulani" (2009). "Victoria & Albert: The Royal Wedding" (2018 - as Buckingham Palace).
  • Current Seat / Home of: Thomas Edward Coke, 8th Earl of Leicester.

    Past Seat / Home of: SEATED AT EARLIER HOUSE: Wheatley family, 17th century. SEATED AT CURRENT HOUSE: Thomas Coke, 1st Baron Lovel and 1st Earl of Leicester (of the fifth creation), 1750-59; Thomas William Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (of the seventh creation), until 1842; Thomas William Coke, 2nd Earl of Leicester, 1842-1909; Thomas William Coke, 3rd Earl of Leicester, 1909-41; Thomas William Coke, 4th Earl of Leicester, 1941-49; Thomas William Edward Coke, 5th Earl of Leicester, 1949-76; Anthony Louis Lovel Coke, 6th Earl of Leicester, 1976-94; Edward Douglas Coke, 7th Earl of Leicester, 1994-2015.

    Current Ownership Type: Individual / Family Trust

    Primary Current Ownership Use: Private Home

  • House Open to Public: Yes

    Phone: 01328-710-227

    Fax: 01328-711-707

    Email: enquiries@holkham.co.uk

    Website: https://www.holkham.co.uk/

    Historic Houses Member: Yes