Treasures and Trophies

Posted: March 16th 2018

by Joanne Lewis, Marketing Assistant, with help from Lucy Purvis, Holkham Archivist

The year is 1712 and a young, impressionable Thomas Coke, heir to a great fortune, leaves Holkham to gunfire and a fanfare to set off on his grand tour of epic proportions. Where did he go and what did he see? More importantly, what was an 18th century Grand Tour?

With less than two weeks until Holkham re-opens to the public, preparations for this year’s exhibition in the hall are well underway. The exhibition holds great importance in Holkham’s history as it marks 300 years since Thomas Coke returned from his Grand Tour, inspired to build and Italian villa on the north Norfolk coast. Follow his journey from adolescence to adulthood, as he was educated academically and culturally, amassing a great collection of treasures and trophies as he went.

So what was a Grand Tour? I suppose one could describe it as today’s equivalent of a ‘gap-year’; it was something a young English gentleman would partake before settling down in society, travelling to gain knowledge and experience culture, the young gentleman would broaden his horizons over a number of years and make the transition into adulthood. Unlike a modern day gap-year, one would hop from masque balls to operas to academies as opposed to bars and beaches!

Over the course of his six year tour, Thomas Coke travelled through France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and the Low Countries. He was accompanied by an experienced tour guide, Dr Thomas Hobart and his assistant Dr Domenico Ferrari, an accountant Edward Jarrett, as well as numerous grooms and manservants.

The team at Holkham have had the task of piecing together Coke’s tour by delving into the archives. Catherine Zoll is in charge of the design and execution of the exhibition and has brought Thomas Coke’s story to life for visitors to the hall. Adults and children can walk in the shoes of Thomas and dress up in the costume of the day. Holkham’s archivist, Lucy Purvis, has brought to light some very interesting and noteworthy books, letters and documents.

In particular, one such book gave the team a real insight into the day-to-day life of Thomas on his travels; this was his account book. Lucy, has been insisting that account books can be interesting; well, I think I am coming round to the idea.

Complete with dates, descriptions and costings, we can uncover Thomas Coke’s quotidian purchases of half a barrel of wine, coffees, bread, butter, candles and laundry. We learned that he enjoyed chocolate, and tea but despised garlic! As part of the exhibition, you can discover the food he ate. The accounts also revealed items of historical significance such as the payment to ‘Signor Baartoli for drawing the triple Crown and mitor of the Pope’, along with payments for strong paper for drawing which he used when visiting buildings during his intensive architecture lessons in Rome. This is where his enthusiasm for Palladio and the ancient Vitruvius was ignited. The accounts also detail wages to his staff providing us names and dates of employment of various important people, as well as payment for carriages which tells us his mode of transport at a certain point of his journey.

The accounts also list the purchase of paper and sealing wax, this would be for letter writing to keep in contact with family, particularly his guardians. Lucy has been kind enough to show me the family letter books which have been so well preserved for over 300 years. Below you can see a letter from Thomas’ brother in 1717, and one from Thomas, complete with his signature, addressed to his grandparents.

A letter from Thomas to his grandparents.

Thomas was taught civil law, humanities, French, Italian and mathematics and his love of classical antiquity was particularly encouraged by his guide Dr Hobart. He studied at various academies but also took time to perfect his musical talents, riding, vaulting, fencing and dancing.

One of the most important things to do to portray your transition into adulthood through all of your lessons and experiences on the Grand Tour, was to commission a portrait by a notable artist. Thomas Coke’s most significant portrait was by Francesco Trevisani, whereby he is depicted as a gentleman and as our archivist described him, learned, accomplished and complete. This portrait now hangs in the Manuscript Library of the hall, where during your visit, you can discover a replica of Trevisani’s studio, where the 20 year old Thomas sat for his portrait all those years ago.

In April 1714 whilst in Rome, Thomas met William Kent, an acquaintance who was to have great significance to him once back in England. Kent was a gentleman of humble origins who had travelled to Italy, trained as a painter and later turned into a landscape gardener, interior and furniture designer and architect. The two became very good friends, travelled and purchased manuscripts, books, sculpture and artwork together.

Once Thomas Coke returned from his Grand Tour, it is said he had already formulated plans to create a Temple of the Arts, a building to house and display his epic collection of treasures and trophies. Together with designs from his good friend William Kent, a Palladian style house was created.

The hall took thirty years to build, but sadly Thomas died in 1759, five years before its completion leaving his widow, Lady Margaret to complete the project.

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The Start of a New Season

Posted: March 16th 2018

by Alex Walpole, Beach Café Supervisor

The Start of a New Season

After a cold winter and a snowy start to spring, we are all looking forward to a warm (fingers crossed) and exciting season. There haven’t been too many obvious changes to the Beach Café this year, but for those of you who have not been able visit us over the last 14 months, we did have a renovation in January 2017. It has received a lot of positive comments and we at the café love it as we feel it reflects the quirkiness and brightness that Wells-next-the-Sea has to offer. Do not worry, the fire place is still in full working use!

During the quieter winter months, we have been working hard behind the scenes on our environmental responsibilities. We are trying to become a more sustainable and environmentally friendly business and one step towards that is the increase in local producers who supply us with our food. Not only does this help the local economy, but it also helps us reduce our carbon footprint. The bread we use for our sandwiches is made in Hunstanton and a fresh batch is delivered daily. Our sausages and ham are from local award-winning butcher Arthur Howell. Furthermore, we use Whin Hill Cider who are based in Wells and Norfolk Brewhouse who are based in Hindringham for our cider, lager and ale. We are constantly looking at ways in which we can use and support local businesses. These are just a few of the local producers that we use and if you wish to know more about our suppliers then please do not hesitate in asking a member of staff.

If you tend to grab a cold drink at the Beach Café, there will be one noticeable change. We have stopped stocking Coca-Cola and instead have brought in Karma Cola. Karma Cola is a Fairtrade product which is 100% organic. It also comes in 100% recyclable glass bottles and for every bottle purchased Karma Cola gives 3p back to the farmers who grew the product. There are 4 wonderful flavours, the original Karma Cola, Karma Cola Sugar Free, Lemony Lemonade and last but not least, Gingerella Ginger Beer. We hope you will enjoy them as much as we do!

Remember to check our Facebook and Twitter pages to keep up to date with all of our upcoming events; we are hoping that everything that we have planned will be bigger and better than last year. The season is kicking off on Saturday 24th and Sunday 25th of March with a fun filled Spring Fling style weekend, we will also have events taking place throughout the Easter holidays as well as our BBQ nights, complete with delicious food and live music which will be returning again this summer.

That is all from me for now, we look forward to seeing you all and we wish you all a wonderful summer!

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Winter to Spring in the Walled Garden

Posted: March 06th 2018

by Dene Wood, Head Gardener

Winter was cold and it was wet, but we were busier than ever. They say you ‘should make hay whilst the sun shines’, but we couldn’t wait for mere astronomical events! We didn’t have the time.

Our team were busy right up to Christmas as we cleared autumn leaves and supported the incredible work that goes into creating the winter wonderland at the hall. As we hit the new year, we welcomed a limited window of opportunity, (before the grass starts to grow again) to work on the projects that will help us move forward. It is now we can realise the potential of the walled garden and other key locations across the estate.

Behind the scenes there is a buzz of activity. In our 18th century walled garden we are fastidiously editing and mulching borders, planting fruit trees, moving shrubs, planning vegetable rotations and ordering seeds. We even found some time to create an exciting new hazel archway and dome with hazel wood taken from the estate coppice.

With spring upon us, our thoughts are turning to soil cultivation on the vegetable patch, including warming the soil for early crops where possible
With spring upon us, our thoughts are turning to soil cultivation on the vegetable patch, including warming the soil for early crops where possible.

We installed a huge upgrade to our irrigation system which involved digging up almost half of the paths in the walled garden. This should ensure that we not only have water in all parts of the garden, but will help us in our aim to have a ‘passive’ watering system on our veg patch. Once installed this will require little intervention from our gardeners, very beneficial at busy times.

We’ve had our annual children’s garden bed design competition and ordered the seeds accordingly, this year’s winning designs will be featured in prime real estate, right at the entrance to the walled garden. Some great designs were provided by the students from Burnham Market Primary School. Whilst all were worthy of the coveted planting space, we whittled it down to two well deserved winners.

We have had to admit defeat on one of our perennial beds, the bed wasn’t properly cleared of bindweed when it was originally planted. This was the opening volley in a war of attrition, gallantly fought by our energetic team of volunteers but sadly lost. We have decided to empty this bed and take it out of use for a season so that we can deal with this pernicious (but genius) plant. This should set us up nicely for our new garden planting scheme.

Towards the end of 2017, the decision was taken not to take the Heritage Lottery Fund up on their generous offer of funding. This offer was the culmination of 4 years work and was a difficult but very educational process which armed us will lots of very useful information. This revelation led to the need for a new re-imagined planting plan and restoration scheme for our dilapidated glasshouses. The new plan was submitted to the trustees and is awaiting approval.

We recently had the great news that we had been had been chosen as one of the host gardens for the Historical and Botanical Gardens Trainee Programme, which will allow us to offer an exciting apprenticeship to an aspiring horticulturalist. Apply now by clicking here. Last applications accepted 1st April 2018.

In a couple of weeks, we will be opening the gates to visitors for another season, we aim to make the gardens better each year so we hope you will join us to see for yourself.

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Spring Clean of Holkham Hall

Posted: February 16th 2018

by Jo Lewis, Marketing Assistant

Behind the scenes in Holkham Hall, runs a well-oiled machine which keeps the hall looking its best. Each year, Holkham’s team of housekeepers and housemen, undertake a deep spring clean prior to the start of the visitor season. Due to the enormity of the house and complexity of the rooms, the team run the deep clean on a rotating basis, undertaking to clean 4-5 rooms each year. Of course, work never stops in the hall and each room is regularly attended to, but the deep clean sees no nook, corner, ceiling, fixture or fitting untouched by the fair hands of Hall Manager Jon and his team, Aneta, Sonia, Alice, Claire, Rose, Mark and Lewis.

Today, I left the comfort of my office to take a trip over to the hall to see for myself at what the hall team were up to. Going largely unnoticed to the general public this team forms the backbone of the hall and without them, it would look very different from how you and I are used to seeing it.

This year, the deep clean is carried out in the Green State Bedroom, the Green State Closet, the North State Bedroom and Closet and the North State Sitting Room.

The Green State Bedroom is the most important bedroom in the hall; kings, queens and nobility of all ranks have slept in here over the centuries.

Here we see Aneta tending to the opulent chandelier.
Here we see Aneta cleaning the chandelier.

The North State Bedroom is dominated by a late Regency four-poster bed, whose canopy incorporates the Prince of Wales’ feathers.

Aneta once again ascended the scaffolding to clean the top of the canopy, delicately polishing the feathers and restoring the canopy material.
Aneta once again ascended the scaffolding to clean the top of the canopy, delicately polishing the feathers and restoring the canopy material.

All the tables, furniture and ornaments have been carefully polished, dusted and cleaned.
All the tables, furniture and ornaments have been carefully dusted, cleaned and polished; their attention to detail is second to none. The team also informed me they had been polishing the silverware that morning too.
The team have also been polishing up the marble surrounding the fireplaces; they are gleaming.
The team have been polishing up the marble surrounding the fireplaces; they are gleaming!

Houseman Mark has played an important role in helping the housekeepers maintain the brass fixtures and fittings, predominantly door and window handles. He has painstakingly cut out templates to surround the fixtures to protect the surrounding wooden frames from being damaged by the Brasso used to polish the handles.

Have you ever noticed that most of the window fixtures are heart shaped?
Have you ever noticed that most of the window fixtures are heart shaped? Next time you take a tour of the Hall, see how many you can spot.
No job is too big or two small for the team and they’re certainly not afraid to get their hands dirty. Even the doors were paid attention to as the intricate carvings are prone to collecting dust. Claire was put to work with a paintbrush and the sun certainly helped to make them gleam.
No job is too big or too small for the team and they’re certainly not afraid to get their hands dirty. Sonia was busy polishing the grates, whilst Claire was put to work with a paintbrush on the doors as the intricate carvings are prone to collecting dust.

Once the deep clean is complete, the team must prepare for the visitors. One last big job stands in the way before the hall can be opened to the public. This is implemented one week before opening and sees the team meticulously waxing and buffing every wooden floor, along with hiring in an industrial stone scrubber to buff all of the stone flooring, mainly found in the corridors and in the Marble Hall.

Once the visitor season commences on the 25th March, the hall will be open to the public on Sundays, Mondays and Thursdays between 10am-4pm. All the furniture will be put back where it belongs and the house will be looking spick and span all thanks to the hall team.

This year’s exhibition in the hall will lead you through the staterooms and you can see for yourself the work that goes into maintaining the house. Find out more about the exhibition here: Treasures and Trophies: The Making of a Gentleman and a Great House.

Here we see Jon and Mark hard at work. Pictured above them is Thomas Coke – the first Earl of Leicester and creator of Holkham Hall; whom of which we are commemorating this year as Holkham celebrates its 300th anniversary.
Here we see Jon and Mark hard at work. Above them is a Gheeraerts painting of Sir Edward Coke, the founder of the family fortune. Regarded as one of the most brilliant lawyers of his time he invested his wealth in land, an investment which his descendant, Thomas Coke used to fund the building of Holkham Hall, 300 years ago.

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The Elusive Cherry Cracker

Posted: January 16th 2018

by Andy Bloomfield, Reserve Warden, Holkham National Nature Reserve

The Elusive Cherry Cracker

Despite being a cold and unsettled period of the year with shorter daytime hours the winter can provide the avid naturalist with much to enthuse. Ordinarily, vast flocks of geese and wildfowl provide an over awing spectacle on the grazing marshes of the reserve yet at present our numbers seem well down on past years, a reflection of the mild autumn and early winter. There is, however, plenty of other sights to keep the enthusiasm levels up. One very elusive species in particular, the Hawfinch, is worthy of note at Holkham and I have been lucky enough to encounter it whilst doing routine work out and about on the reserve.

The Hawfinch is the UK’s largest finch and it is instantly recognisable due to its large conical beak. This is an amazing adaption that allows it to crush the seeds of beech, hornbeam, yew and even cherry stones. Special muscles surround its skull that enables it to use extreme pressure when crushing these very hard seeds. It has been estimated that it is capable of exerting the equivalent of 68 kg of pressure per square inch with its bill! Even its scientific name Coccothraustes coccothraustes, means ‘one who can break open kernels’. Not only is it a front heavy looking bird but it is a subtle yet pleasing mixture of orange (on its head), varying browns and greys and very odd looking shaped wing feathers. Small iridescent blue/black triangles form on the feather tips which are splayed out during the male’s intricate display ‘dance’. All in all, it is a subtle yet quite exotic looking bird. What makes the Hawfinch even more special is that is usually incredibly elusive. Despite its size and looks, it feeds unobtrusively either in the canopy of trees or on the ground. It always remains ever alert and fit to disappear at the slightest disturbance. Such behaviour makes any sighting all the more fortunate.

With its subtle mix of colours and enourmous bill, the Hawfinch is unmistakable
With its subtle mix of colours and enourmous bill, the Hawfinch is unmistakable.

Holkham has quite a long history with Hawfinches. When I was growing up on the Estate in the late 1970s and early 1980s the trees just inside the main gates were the best place in Norfolk for seeing them. Here they fed in the winter on fallen hornbeam seeds before moving around the Park in the spring ready to nest. Open parkland or large country gardens with a mix of deciduous trees (including plenty of beech and cherry) make the ideal habitat and in the past the grounds of both the Hall itself and the Walled Garden were nesting sites. Like so many of our songbirds, a decline has been noted all across the UK and it is now a very scarce bird. Up to 75% of the breeding population has gone within a 40 year period. Declines have been blamed in part to dropping insect numbers (caterpillars are the main food of the young) and also the vulnerability of their frail open nest sites to predators such as Grey Squirrels and bird such as Jays and Magpies.

A freshly fledged juvenile; not a sight often seen.
A freshly fledged juvenile; not a sight often seen.

At Holkham my past is littered with great Hawfinch moments. My old departed Uncle who was the gardener at Quarles Farm after the Second World War told me with great sadness how he had found a freshly dead one on the lawn close to the vegetable patch. He suspected it had been after his prize peas (another known food source from when they were more numerous) and been attacked by a Sparrowhawk as it was departing. I was once very fortunate in witnessing a male display to a female prior to copulation. This involved a spectacular courtship ritual/dance with head held skywards, wings stretched out as he wandered around dipping and bowing in front of his mate. It was one of those once in a lifetime moments that I had read about in a book, yet never expected to see. I suppose however the ultimate find was discovering a nest, complete with two fledglings in the cleft of a Holm Oak tree close to the Walled Garden. The next day they had fledged and were sitting on a branch awaiting their parents with food. Sadly since the new millennium Hawfinches have all but disappeared from Holkham Park until recent times.

The Hawfinch is unique amongst British birds for having strange shaped primary wing feathers
The Hawfinch is unique amongst British birds for having strange shaped primary wing feathers.

This autumn we were working in the Dell within Wells Pinewoods, raking up grass we had cut when a familiar explosive almost metallic ticking call cut through the air. It was a Hawfinch and it flew right over our heads, its white wing bars illuminating its striking bounding flight. A moment to cherish but one that was not in isolation as this autumn saw a tremendous influx into England of migrant Hawfinches from the Continent. Flocks and odd ones and twos were reported far and wide, as a result, some have said of poor food availability in Eastern Europe and storms over Europe that pushed the wandering finches our way. It is hoped that such an invasion will allow our native breeding population to re-establish itself and perhaps we might even see this elusive bird start to nest again within the grounds of the Estate. We certainly have currently got a regular pair back in their old haunts just inside the main gates, feeding under the same hornbeams and in the same yew tree that I saw my first ever ones in over 35 years ago.

Thanks to Roger Tidman for his spectacular images.

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