Visiting Houses (Holkham)

Holkham by Leo Schmidt is a history of the development of this house (and estate) in the 18th century. .

Tourists visited Holkham while it was being constructed and afterwards, in surprising numbers bearing in mind its somewhat isolated position on the North Norfolk coast.

There is no visitors book which recorded the visits, but there are entries in the wine books, kept since 1748.

The servants recorded whom they had served with refreshments from the cellars, together with the details of the type and amount of wine consumed.

This very civilised habit was so unusual in country house visiting that it caused visitors to record their astonishment in their diaries.

Sir George Lyttelton wrote in 1758:

I was not offered the least refreshment, but a glass of wine at Lord Leicesters, at any House I visited in the whole county

Mrs Lybbe Powys (a remote relation to JA by marriage) wrote of even more generous hospitality:

we had breakfast at Holkham, in ye gentlest of taste with all kinds of cakes and Fruit placed undesired in an apartment we were to go thro’; which as ye family were from home I thought was very clever in the Housekeeper, for one is so often asked by people whether one chuses chocolate which forbidding word at once puts (as intended)a negative on the Question

There was no official entrance fee, but visitors were expected to tip the servants. Horace Walpole wrote slightingly about Lord Bath and his wife who left a tiny (in his opinion) tip after visiting Holkham:

Lord bath and his Countess and his son have been making a tour at Lord Leicester’s; they forgot to give anything to the servants that showed the house: upon recollection- and deliberation, they sent back a man and horse six miles with- half a crown! What loads of money they are saving for the French!

As Leo Schmidt observed (on p219), obviously one was expected to leave rather more than this sum as a tip.

The house was so popular with visitors that a guidebook was published in 1775, and could be had from Norwich booksellers. It stated that “Holkham could beseen any day of the week, except Sunday, by noblemen and foreigners, but on Tuesday only by other people

A visitor in 1772, Lady Beauchamp Proctor wrote:

..when we came to the House the servant told us we cold not see it for an hour at least as there was a party going round…we were obliged to submit to be shut up with Jupitor Ammon in the Smoking Room below the Saloon, and a whole tribe of people till the Hosuekeeper was ready to attend us, nothing could be more disagreeable than this situation ,we all stared at one another, and not a creature opened their mouths, some of the Masters amused us with trying to throw their hats upon the Heads of the Busts, whilst the Misses scrutinized one another’s dress…at length the long-wished for time arrived. The good woman arrived and we rushed upon her like a swarm of Bees. We went the usual round, all but the wing my Lord and Lady used to inhabit themselves, this was new done up…when we came down the party vanished, but we were conducted a second time to Mr Jupiter where we poured libations of Chocolate on his altar, that is we had some set out in great form in the Leicester style

Another guide published in 1817 entitled The Strangers Guide to Holkham Containing a Description of the Paintings, Statues etc of Holkham House In the County of Norfolk, the Magnificent Seat of T W Coke esq, M.P.,…Printed and published by J Dawson, Burnham gave the following advice, which confirms Lady Proctors experience: that visitors were to ”congregate in the Vestibule under the Portico and the Saloon, to wait for the Person who shews the House.” The Guide describes a route around the rooms which is still the route taken by tourists today.

Small extra points of interest are that the family apartments as described in the late 18t century show that master and mistress shared one bedroom, and that marble water closets were installed in1741.The architect Matthew Brettingham was asked by Thomas Coke, in 1738 to

Remember to make a light (window) out of my water closet that is in my dressing room to the stair case

Marble stools for water closets were installed in 1741 in the family wing, at a coast of £9,5 shillings each.