‘Taste, expense, state and parade’: Lord Hervey to the Prince of Wales, 14 July, 1731.
The story of the building of Sir Robert Walpole’s palace in the countryside in the 1720s was the cause of celebration, and some notoriety, due to the extraordinary cost of creating both the house and the collection of Old Master paintings. These were gathered first at 10 Downing Street in London and then shipped to Houghton Hall on Walpole’s retirement. House and collection together provided a powerful statement of taste and prestige for Walpole, England’s first ‘prime’ minister. Some thirty years after his death, his grandson notoriously sold the collection to Catherine the Great for display in her Hermitage in 1779. Today the house is once again filled with magnificent works of art and remains in private ownership.
All four houses are near neighbours. Raynham Hall was renovated in the 1720s by Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend and Sir Robert’s brother-in-law, and Secretary of State for the Northern Department (Foreign Affairs) and is still in the ownership of the Townshend family; Holkham Hall and Park, was developed over some thirty years by Walpole’s Postmaster General, Thomas Coke, later 1 st Earl of Leicester. Together with Houghton these houses feature the key influence of William Kent: as interior designer at Houghton and Raynham; as architect, landscape and interior designer at Holkham.
The comparatively little known Wolterton Hall was built on behalf of Robert Walpole’s brother Horatio, who served as Minister Plenipotentiary to The Hague. Horatio’s architect was Thomas Ripley, who also was responsible for modernising Raynham and completing Houghton.
This is an astonishing group of early eighteenth-century, Whig-dominated powerhouses of taste and parade, a little visited group of great Norfolk neighbouring houses. All four houses present some of the most important intact Neo-Palladian architectural ensembles in Britain and feature original furnishings and collections, while bringing their architectural heritage triumphantly into the 21st century.
Wolterton Hall. The coach leaves Norwich railway station at 2.00pm. Built in the 1720s for Sir Robert Walpole’s brother, Horatio, Wolterton is arguably Ripley’s finest creation, its Neo-Palladian architecture admirably answering the modern requirement for ‘commodious’ architecture.
Houghton. The grandest monument of English Palladianism, Houghton Hall was built for Sir Robert Walpole. There are outstanding artworks, a spectacular walled garden and an extensive park.
Holkham. With Holkham Hall (1730s) the English country house reached a moment of perfection, the serene Palladian edifice contrasting with the ‘natural’ layout of the deer park. Within are magnificent classical halls and a collection of paintings, sculpture and furniture of staggering richness.
Raynham. One of the finest houses in Norfolk, Raynham Hall is still very much a private home with a wonderful collection of a family with strong historical links with Britain and the USA. The coach takes you to Norwich railway station by 2.45pm.
Dr Andrew Moore
Writer, curator, and specialist in the study of country houses and their art collections. Formerly Keeper of Art, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Andrew is Programme Director for the Attingham Trust, for the study of the English Country House. In partnership with the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, he co-authored a reassessment of Sir Robert Walpole’s art collection at Houghton Hall and is co-author of Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House, Rizzoli 2014. He is currently writing a book on the impact of Thomas Coke’s European Grand Tour on Holkham Hall, Norfolk.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £1,470. Single occupancy: £1,590.
Hotel accommodation as described below; private coach throughout; breakfasts, 1 lunch and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; admission to houses; all tips for waiters, drivers, guides; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
The Hoste Arms: located in the attractive village of Burnham Market in north Norfolk, The Hoste Arms is housed in a former coaching inn and assorted outbuildings. Bedrooms have a largely traditional décor with contemporary twists and contain all mod cons. There is an excellent restaurant and a spa. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking on this tour and it would not be suitable for anyone with difficulties with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Coaches can rarely park near the houses, and gardens are extensive. Average distance by coach per day: c. 41 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.