Holkham Hall is a masterpiece of eighteenth-century Palladian architecture set in a large walled park bordered by the marshes and dunes of the North Norfolk coast. Built, owned and occupied by the Coke family since 1612, it is at the centre of a major agricultural estate; a treasure house whose paintings, classical sculpture, books, manuscripts and furniture are of international importance.Using the extensive documents kept by generations of staff and family, recording the daily life of the Hall and estate, Christine Hiskey has traced Holkham's history through four hundred years, adding considerably to existing knowledge.Surviving vicissitudes and accumulating property, the Coke family were able to establish themselves at Holkham in the seventeenth century.
The vision of Thomas Coke, later 1st Earl of Leicester , inspired by his exceptionally fruitful Grand Tour, resulted in his spending twenty-five years in the mid-eighteenth century, building and furnishing the Hall, and Christine Hiskey records the work of the staff and craftsmen who brought his ideas to reality: the sourcing of materials, his application of advanced domestic technology, and, after his death, the dedication of his widow to completing his life's work. During the next 250 years, the Hall adapted to changing fashions, aspirations and economic circumstances in its domestic, social and public life. Fresh light is shed on the attitude towards the Hall of 'Coke of Norfolk', chiefly celebrated as an agriculturalist, and there are chapters on Victorian and twentieth-century Holkham which explore new areas for research.For the first time, the Hall and its setting are treated as an integrated whole. The creation, development and use of the park are examined, including a neglected area of research: the way in which the process of acquiring land reflected the owners' landscape and farming priorities.
The changing fortunes of the two villages of the 'town' (subsumed during the eighteenth century but rather later than is often supposed) and the staithe (the origin of the present village) are traced in detail for the first time. New research also reveals the process whereby 350 years of intervention by the Coke family transformed the coastal landscape of marshes, dunes and creeks. A further 'overview' chapter discusses the Hall's relationship with public visitors, from the small groups who came to witness the building work in the 1750s to the tens of thousands who today are welcomed at the Hall by the present generation of the Coke family.