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Houghton Hall

Houghton Hall lies 9 miles west of Fakenham. It was the country mansion of Sir Robert Walpole - the first English Prime Minister and was designed by Colen Campbell and Thomas Ripley.

Houghton Hall

 Houghton Hall

The prolific letter writer Sir Horace Walpole (1717-1797) lived at Houghton Hall but was not over enamoured with Norfolk. Here is an extract from a letter addressed to George Montagu written on March 25th, 1761. The 'Gray' referred to in the letter is his friend the poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771) - with whom he was educated at Eton and at Peterhouse, Cambridge - and who wrote the famous poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard. The tone of the letter is somewhat morbid.
 

'....Here I am at Houghton! and alone! in this spot where I have not been in sixteen years! Think what a crowd of reflections! - no Gray, and forty churchyards, could not furbish so many: nay, I know one must feel them with greater indifference than I possess, to have patience to put them into verse. Here I am, probably for the last time in my life, though not for the last time - every clock that strikes tells me I am an hour nearer to yonder church - that church, into which I have not had courage to enter, where lies that Mother on whom I doted, and who doted on me!'

Both Sir Robert and Horace Walpole are buried in the church of St. Martin's which lies within the grounds of the hall; there are no memorials to them.

St. Martin's Church, Houghton Hall

St Martin's Church, Houghton Hall © Jim Rowe


Houghton is another example of a Norfolk deserted village and was moved when the hall was originally being constructed. The new village - begun in 1729 and consisting of ten pairs of cottages - was arranged along opposite sides of a new street.

Some commentators have suggested that it was the 'emparking' here at Houghton which inspired Oliver Goldsmith's famous long poem The Deserted Village. However, Alan Davison - an expert in abandoned communities - claims that the poet's 'Sweet Auburn' was actually based on Nuneham Courtney in Oxfordshire.


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