Holkham was built by 1st Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke, who was born in 1697. A cultivated and wealthy man, Coke made the Grand Tour in his youth and was away from England for six years between 1712 and 1718. It is likely he met both Burlington—the aristocratic architect at the forefront of the Palladian revival movement in England—and William Kent in Italy in 1715, and that in the home of Palladianism the idea of the mansion at Holkham was conceived. Coke returned to England, not only with a newly acquired library, but also an art and sculpture collection with which to furnish his planned new mansion. However, after his return, he lived a feckless life, preoccupying himself with drinking, gambling and hunting, and being a leading supporter of cockfighting. He made a disastrous investment in the South Sea Company and when the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720, the resultant losses delayed the building of Coke's planned new country estate for over ten years. Coke, who had been made Earl of Leicester in 1744, died in 1759, five years before the completion of Holkham, having never fully recovered his financial losses. Thomas's wife, Lady Margaret Tufton, Countess of Leicester (1700–1775), would oversee the finishing and furnishing of the house
Although Colen Campbell was employed by Thomas Coke in the early 1720s, the oldest existing working and construction plans for Holkham were drawn by Matthew Brettingham, under the supervision of Thomas Coke, in 1726. These followed the guidelines and ideals for the house as defined by Kent and Burlington. The Palladian revival style chosen was at this time making its return in England. The style made a brief appearance in England before the Civil War, when it was introduced by Inigo Jones. However, following the Restoration it was replaced in popular favour by the Baroque style. The "Palladian revival", popular in the 18th century, was loosely based on the appearance of the works of the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. However it did not adhere to Palladio's strict rules of proportion. The style eventually evolved into what is generally referred to as Georgian, still popular in England today. It was the chosen style for numerous houses in both town and country, although Holkham is exceptional for both its severity of design and for being closer than most in its adherence to Palladio's ideals.
Inside the house, the Palladian form reaches a height and grandeur seldom seen in any other house in England. It has, in fact, been described as "The finest Palladian interior in England." The grandeur of the interior is obtained with an absence of excessive ornament, and reflects Kent's career-long taste for "the eloquence of a plain surface". Work on the interiors ran from 1739 to 1773. The first habitable rooms were in the family wing and were in use from 1740, the Long Library being the first major interior completed in 1741. Among the last to be completed and entirely under Lady Leicester's supervision is the Chapel with its alabaster reredos. The house is entered through the Marble Hall (though the chief building fabric is in fact pink Derbyshire alabaster), modelled by Kent on a Roman basilica. The room is over 50 feet from floor to ceiling and is dominated by the broad white marble flight of steps leading to the surrounding gallery, or peristyle: here alabaster Ionic columns support the coffered, gilded ceiling, copied from a design by Inigo Jones, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. The fluted columns are thought to be replicas of those in the Temple of Fortuna Virilis, also in Rome. Around the hall are statues in niches; these are predominantly plaster copies of classical deities.
Under Coke of Norfolk, the great-nephew and heir of the builder, extensive improvements were made to the park and by his death in 1842 it had grown to its present extent of over 3,000 acres. As well as planting over a million trees on the estate Coke employed the architect Samuel Wyatt to design a number of buildings, including a series of farm buildings and farmhouses in a simplified neo-classical style and, in the 1780s, the new walled kitchen gardens covering 6 acres. The gardens stand to the west of the lake and include: A fig house, a peach house, a vinery, and other greenhouses. Wyatt's designs culminated in c. 1790 with the Great Barn, located in the park half a mile south-east of the obelisk. The lake to the west of the house, originally a marshy inlet or creek off the North Sea, was created in 1801–03 by the landscape gardener William Eames. After his death, Coke was commemorated by the Coke Monument, designed by William Donthorne and erected in 1845–8. The monument consists of a Corinthian column 120 feet high, surmounted by a drum supporting a wheatsheaf and a plinth decorated with bas-reliefs carved by John Henning, Jr. The corners of the plinth support sculptures of an ox, sheep, plough and seed-drill. Coke's work to increase farm yields had resulted in the rental income of the estate rising between 1776 and 1816 from £2,200 to £20,000, and had considerable influence on agricultural methods in Britain.
The main entrance can be accessed by an all-weather metal ramp. Once inside visitors are able to gain access to the first floor State Rooms by using an innovative new stair lift. Assisted by hall staff, the ‘Jolly Stairclimber’ can take most types of manual wheelchair up the staircase in the Marble Hall. The equipment, which works like a mini-tank, climbs up the stairs using a self-propelled mechanism and rubber tracks. Once you have visited the state rooms, you will be brought back down to the Marble Hall using the same process. Elsewhere in the hall there is full access. An accessible lavatory is available in the park lavatory complex. The terrain is variable, from gravel outside the hall, to parkland and hardcore paths and roadways. Accessible parking is available at the walled garden. The terrain is accessible but is uneven in places. There are lavatories (portable-style) at the walled garden. An accessible lavatory is available in the courtyard lavatory complex. For the visually impaired there are both a large print transcript and a transcript in Braille. Assistance dogs are welcome. There is a Field to Fork Farming Exhibition and a Children’s Woodland Adventure Play area. Private guided tours available when the Hall is closed to the public; £21.00 per person with a minimum of 12 people.
Location : Holkham Hall, Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk, NR23 1AB.
Transport: Kings Lynn (National Rail) then bus - 23 miles. Bus Routes : Norfolk Coasthopper stops 0.7 miles away.
Opening Times Hall: Sunday, Monday, Thursday 12:00 to 16:00
Opening Times Walled Garden/Grounds/Exhibition: Daily 10:00 to 17:00
Tickets : Free
Tickets Whole Property : Adults £15.00; Children (5 - 16) £7.50
Tickets Grounds / Exhibition : Adults £8.00; Children (5 - 16) £4.00
Tel: 01328 710227