The Victoria Inn
The Victoria Inn was built in 1837, the year in which the young Queen Victoria succeeded to the throne and in which Thomas William Coke, the owner of Holkham, was at last elevated to the peerage as the Earl of Leicester, the title his great-uncle had held. The name of the proposed new inn must have been inevitable.
The Victoria was not, however, the first inn in roughly the same position. For some years, one of the villagers, John Lack, had kept an inn called The Albemarle Arms, named in honour of Coke’s young second wife, the daughter of the Earl of Albemarle. John Lack’s family had owned the property for nearly one hundred years; his great-grandmother, a widow living in Wells-next-the-Sea, had bought it in 1743 and it had passed down through her son and grandson, both cordwainers or shoemakers. In addition to the cottage in which they lived and worked, they owned some land and three adjacent cottages, occupied mainly by other members of the family.
The third generation John Lack, born in 1801, was a carpenter. He raised a mortgage for £100 on all four cottages in 1829, perhaps in order to convert one of them into an inn. He married Hannah Allen, ten years his junior, three years later and was still described as a carpenter when his first two children were born, but by 1836 his cottage was well established as The Albemarle Arms.
It was probably a little further south than the present inn, for it was bounded on the north and west by gardens and land already belonging to the Estate, on the south by a road leading to Estate cottages (probably the present Chapel Yard) and on the east partly by the road leading to the sea and partly by another property.
At this period, most of the village had been acquired by Coke as a result of a major purchasing and building campaign earlier in the century. Lack’s cottages and land were one of the last pockets of land still in other hands, which no doubt helped him to secure good terms for their sale to Coke. The sale price was £600 with a covenant ‘to build for the said John Lack a public house near the Wells road with stables, bowling green and other suitable premises, at the cost of £600 and to give the same John Lack possession of the same at Midsummer now next ensuing and to grant him a lease of the same for 21 years.’ The sale duly took place in September 1837 and two weeks later the inn was leased back to Lack for a term of twenty-one years, at £30 per annum, a large rent compared to all the other village properties.
The new inn was not yet finished, for the Estate account books reveal frequent payments for work on ‘John Lack’s new house.’ The bowling green was laid, a well sunk, and the garden walls built by the bricklayer who was also at this time building the nine mile wall to encircle the park. Finally, in August 1838 payment was made for ‘completing The Victoria Inn’ and at Michaelmas John Lack paid his first rent for ‘the New Public House.’
In the lease to John Lack the public house was still called ‘The Albemarle Arms’ but as soon as the building was finished, the Estate Cash Book recorded it as The Victoria Inn. In the 1840s it was sometimes known as The Victoria Arms.
The Estate audit books also record rents from ‘The New Inn’ but this was the inn built some years earlier by T.W. Coke at the western edge of the park, on the site of Model Farm, to accommodate visitors to the famous annual Sheep Shearings. Those times had now passed, however, and the expansion of the village at the staithe had increased the need for a public house there.
John Lack died in 1846 but his widow Hannah continued as the landlady, with her sister-in-law as the barmaid, helped by a housemaid, cook and ostler. Hannah was still running the inn in 1871, nearly thirty-five years after it had opened. By the time of the 1881 census, her son had married and he and his wife Augusta were running the inn. It was not long before disputes arose between the tenant and the Estate Office. Lord Leicester, the 2nd Earl, refused to allow her to close the inn on Sundays and she asked for a reduction in rent. She decided to leave in 1883: ‘the business does not pay expenses and the summer trade of late has been very bad.’ She was told that ‘his lordship regrets that he is unable to agree to your request to be allowed to nominate or introduce a tenant for the inn…Being so near it is of some importance to him personally to select the tenant.’
The brewers Steward and Patteson, who already had a connection with various inns elsewhere on the Estate, were asked to recommend a ‘thoroughly respectable tenant.’ The new tenant was George Young Smith, who had been tenant of the Royal Hotel at Mundesley. It was soon decided that Steward and Patteson would hire the inn from the Estate, with Smith as their tenant, but the Earl retained a veto on all future tenants. This was the beginning of the connection of The Victoria with a series of public house groups for the next hundred years, until in the 1990s the tenant once again leased directly from the Estate as in John Lack’s day.
By the 1930s, Steward and Patteson considered transferring the licence to the Ancient House, by now used as a ‘lodging house’, as it was ‘a more commodious building than The Victoria Hotel, where accommodation is so limited that it is difficult to provide adequately for resident guests and those calling for meals’. Instead, The Victoria was extended and electric lighting installed, mains electricity having just reached Holkham. The extension provided a larger coffee room and lounge ‘at the coffee room end of the building’, the conversion of the public bar into a saloon bar ‘thereby obviating the drinking in the hall passage’ and a new public bar, built out into the yard immediately adjacent to the old bar.
At this period the hotel had permission from the Estate to keep a beach hut for the use of guests; they were issued with passes for the use of Lady Anne’s Drive without paying the normal toll but there was strictly no access to the pinewoods or the drive behind the dunes. Similar passes were issued for ‘bona fide guests’ at The Victoria or the Ancient House to have pedestrian access to the Park. In 1950 Holkham Hall was opened for the first time for public visits on Thursdays in July and August, the only days on which motor cars were allowed in the park. There was no access at other times: the management of The Victoria incurred the Earl’s displeasure for implying in their brochure that proximity to the hall and park was one of the hotel’s attractions!
The Victoria was taken back in hand by the Estate in 2001 and extensively modernised and refurbished. It has been again transformed in 2013 and has now regained its original name, The Victoria Inn.
Sources used in the Holkham archives: cash books, audit books, letter books, deeds, Holkham Estate office correspondence bundles and files, maps and plans. Also census returns, parish registers and local directories.