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Holkham lies on the North Norfolk coast between Burnham Overy Staithe and Wells-next-the-Sea.

Holkham Hall is a stunning Palladian style country house located close to the sea. It was built between 1734 and 1762 by the Norwich architect Matthew Brettingham using plans by William Kent and Thomas Coke. Thomas Coke had previously travelled extensively in Italy, France and Germany absorbing elements of European architecture and culture.

Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall

Holkham Bay

Holkham Bay (from Wells)

The hall was built on a rather bleak, treeless stretch of the North Norfolk coast and Coke once said about it: 'It is a melancholy thing to stand alone in one's own country. I look around, not a house to be seen but my own. I am Giant of Giant Castle, and have ate up all my neighbours - my nearest neighbour is the King of Denmark.'

William Roscoe (1753-1831), who wrote the following poem, was the librarian at Holkham Hall. The poem is a eulogy - no doubt written to impress his employer.

Holkham Hall

Where Holkham rears in graceful pride
     Her marble halls and crested towers,
And stretches o'er the champaign wide
     Her lengthened suite of social bowers;

Where, led by Leicester's forming hand,
     To Nature Art her succour gives,
Touches the desert with her wand,
     And sculpture breathes and painting lives;

Sheltered beneath this friendly dome,
     Far from the world's tumultuous rage,
I ope the venerated tome,
     And read, and glow along the page.

But happier far the moments fly
     When, resting from my lengthened toil,
I meet with Coke's benignant eye,
     And share his kind approving smile;

Friend of the country and mankind,
     To more than titled honours born;
Who looks with independent mind
     On all the venal tribes with scorn.

His the firm soul to freedom true,
     The open heart, the liberal hand
That from the rock the waters drew,
     The glow of life and happiness:

Not with scant hand the pittance small
     To starving industry to give;
But grant their general rights to all,
     And as he lives, let others live.

And sees, with all a parent's pride,
     His healthful village train display'd,
To heal the wounds in nature's side,
     By tyrants and by heroes made.

The village of Holkham was relocated to make way for the estate but the original church - St. Withburga's - was kept within the walls of the park. Over the years it has served as the personal chapel of the Coke family and features many memorials - both inside and out. The church was extensively rebuilt in 1870 by James K. Colling.

Today the hall is a well known tourist attraction and also a popular film set for historical dramas - such as The Duchess starring Keira Knightley. (See Norfolk Film and TV Locations) The beautiful beach at Holkham has also been used to great effect in Shakespeare in Love  and in Stephen Fry's ITV drama Kingdom. Each year the Household Cavalry bring their horses to the beach to exercise them - an event which featured in one of the episodes of Kingdom.

The nature writer Roger Deakin visited Holkham beach as part of his 'swimmer's journey through Britain' in Waterlog (1999) and provides a delightfully 'English' description of the approach:

'You arrive at Holkham beach as you would at Glyndebourne, Epidaurus or Newmarket races; there is a sense of occasion, as befits a visit to one of our most impressive stretches of wild coastline. Opposite the entrance to the Holkham estate you turn into a dramatic wide boulevard of poplars called Lady Anne's Walk and pay the Viscount Coke's amiable gatekeepers a modest sum to park. We felt we should be showing our passports. Even at this hour there were a couple of parked horseboxes with the ramps down, and a few Volvos with 'A dog is for life not just for Christmas' stickers in the back. This elegant cul-de-sac leads half a mile across the grazing marshes to a narrow gap in the Holkham Meals, the strip of mixed pine and holm-oak that runs along the dunes west to Burnham Overy Staithe and east to Wells.'

In W.G. Sebald's collected poems Across the Land and the Water there is also a moving poem entitled Holkham Gap. The poems in this collection, which were published posthumously in 2011, were translated by Iain Galbraith.


More Holkham photographs





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