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In 1609 Sir Edward Coke, Lord Chief Justice in the early C17, acquired some land in Holkham and through his son's marriage to Meriel Wheatley the family came to live at Hill Hall, the precursor of the present Holkham Hall. The history of the designed landscape at Holkham effectively begins with Thomas Coke, who inherited the estate in 1707 at the age of ten. Having completed the Grand Tour, during which time he received some formal architectural training and met William Kent, he returned to England in 1718 to marry and set about rebuilding the hall at Holkham. The earliest surviving drawings are by Matthew Brettingham, dated 1726, and construction began in 1734, to a modified Brettingham design which is believed to have been developed by Coke himself, Lord Burlington, and William Kent, with Brettingham contributing the construction details.

By 1734, when building of the new hall commenced, a large geometric landscape, organised around a main north/south vista, was already taking shape, the formality of which was further emphasised by the planting of the great south avenue in 1735, and the erection in 1738/9 of the south lodge at the point where this entered Obelisk Wood. By this time however new ideas were affecting the design of the landscape and a number of innovative features began to appear. These were of a new, serpentine character and were largely the work of William Kent, whose activities at Holkham had, up to this time, been largely concerned with the design of garden buildings. The area to the south of the Hall was redesigned and a new shrubbery and pleasure ground created. The southern end of the lake was given a more irregular outline, an island was created, and in 1742 the water was connected by a 'serpentine river' to the basin south of the Hall. A pale was gradually erected enclosing a park of c 360ha and much planting was undertaken between the 1730s and 1750s, taking the form of large blocks of woodland and small skyline clumps.

Kent died in 1748 but the landscape continued to develop according to the pattern he had set. Thomas Coke died in 1759 with the great design almost, yet not quite, completed and with the final touches yet to be made to his great Palladian mansion. Relatively little was done to the landscape in the 1760s and 1770s. In 1762 Lancelot Brown, or one of his foremen, worked at Holkham, probably redesigning the pleasure grounds, and at some time between 1760 and 1780 the field boundaries which still survived in places within the park were removed (Williamson 1998).

The accession of Thomas William Coke in 1776 saw the start of a further period of radical change. The park was massively expanded, mainly to the south, and Kent's south lodge demolished. The head gardener John Sandys began a major tree-planting campaign which surrounded the new and much larger park with continuous belts and established a number of large clumps within it. Numerous new lodges were built, to designs by Samual Wyatt. By 1800 the park extended to 1200ha but not all the land within the perimeter belts was under pasture. Most of the land added since 1776, to the south of Obelisk Wood, continued to be farmed as arable and it was in this area that Coke erected, in c 1790, the Great Barn. The Barn, again designed by Wyatt, was built as a venue for the 'sheep shearing', annual gatherings of farmers and landowners at which the ideas of the 'new husbandry' were propagated. Repton worked at Holkham in 1789 but his activities were restricted to the area around the lake and many of his Red Book proposals were never carried out.

There were only minor changes in the course of the C19. Between 1833 and 1839, a brick wall was constructed around the perimeter of the park and in 1843 Kent's north lodge was demolished to be replaced by a tall monument to Thomas William Coke, designed by Donthorne. In 1847 new south lodges designed by S S Teulon were built, and the following year a gothic screen, again by Teulon, was erected at the north gate which now became the main entrance to the Hall and park. More drastic changes came in 1849-54 when vast Italianate gardens, designed by William Andrews Nesfield and William Burn, were constructed around the Hall. Clumps of evergreen oaks were planted beside the central section of the main southern avenue. The C20 has seen few changes to this landscape. The site remains (1999) in private ownership.

People associated with this site

Sculptor: Ernst Boehm

Architect: Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, 4th Earl of Cork (born 25/04/1694 died 03/12/1753)

Builder: Matthew Brettingham the Elder (born 1699 died 19/08/1769)

Designer: Lancelot Brown (born 1716 died 06/02/1783)

Architect: William Burn (born 20/12/1789 died 1870)

Architect: William John Donthorn (born 1799 died 18/05/1859)

Designer: William Emes (born 1729 died 13/03/1803)

Designer: William Kent (born 1685 died 1748)

Architect: William Andrews Nesfield (born 1793 died 02/03/1881)

Designer: Humphry Repton (born 21/04/1752 died 24/03/1818)

Sculptor: Charles R. Smith (born 1799 died 1888)

Architect: Samuel Sanders Teulon (born 02/03/1812 died 02/05/1873)

Designer: John Webb (1) (born 1754 died 1828)

Architect: Samuel Wyatt (born 1737 died 1807)





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