All about the historical Holkham Estate
PUBLISHED: 14:12 15 April 2019
The Holkham estate might be steeped in centuries of fascinating social history, but it has never been afraid to look to the future
Covering 25,000 acres of the north Norfolk coastal landscape, the Holkham estate is one of the county's most extraordinary places, bringing together history, architecture, wild beauty, agriculture and tourism alongside cutting edge innovation and business.
The grand house
This month sees the opening of two new rooms inside the 18th century grand Palladian Hall, the Venetian bedroom and the Old Servants' Hall, as well as new tours of the attics and cellars revealing more about life at Holkham.
“The Venetian bedroom is in the Strangers' wing, which is still used regularly by family and friends visiting, and a few high profile visitors,” says marketing manager Laurane Herrieven.
“This house is never put to bed; it is a family home, very much living and breathing and I think that is part of its welcoming appeal. We don't have to do much to make the rooms ready for the public as they are always ready to welcome guests.”
The Old Servant's Hall is used by Lord Leicester for entertaining; a large billiard table fills the centre, cases of antique taxidermy line the wall, rifles hang in perfect symmetry and an inviting drinks table looks well used. The original bowler hats, still worn by gamekeepers today, are on the huge mantelpiece.
“When Lord and Lady Leicester's children are here, it's lovely as they will suddenly appear, running around, sometimes with friends in tow, but that's what makes Holkham special, it isn't a museum.”
The Holkham Estate has long been a pivotal part of the community as a major landowner and employer through the generations.
Peter Mitchell, estate managing director, says: “We have nearly 300 residential properties on the estate and a very clear policy that we have long held is that we will not rent to people who will be using it as a second home. We believe we have a responsibility to sustain local communities. There is a major issue in this area with the number of properties owned as second homes, we don't want to be a part of that and add to the difficulty local people can have finding affordable places to live, and that includes the people who work for us.”
However, says Peter, the estate also has a wider responsibility to the community, such as managing the demands of tourism on local infrastructure.
“By having a more sophisticated visitor offer we are helping play our part in supporting north Norfolk's tourist economy – people might come to us, but then they might stay locally, use local shops, visit pubs, go on to other attractions. But we have to manage the number of visitors arriving and departing, particularly at Wells beach and Holkham beach, something we have been working on. We don't want to leave others to have to deal with it; it is our responsibility.”
Holkham Beach has often been named among the best in the country, attracting more than 800,000 visitors annually.
Last year saw the opening of the long awaited visitor centre – The Lookout – which, says Peter, is part of a concerted effort to make more people aware of its environmental importance.
Classed as a National Nature Reserve, and a Site of Special Scientific Interest, it covers more than 9,000 acres of rare and precious habitats. “Most visitors are extremely respectful, but we felt we needed to remind people that their time on the beach is actually time in a nature reserve and hugely important site for wildlife, biodiversity, the waders and conservation,” says Peter.
“But building The Lookout was also a necessity – if you have that many people coming, you need to provide some facilities – but we knew what we created had to be more than toilets,” he laughs.
“Most importantly it has given us a chance to get those key conservation messages across in a non-preachy and interesting way, something we haven't always been good at in the past.”
Managing the land
Thomas Coke – known as Coke of Norfolk - was a renowned agricultural pioneer during the late 1700s and early 1800s, transforming farming and land management practices across the country and attracting the best agriculturalists of the period to Holkham.
Its spring barley is used by brewers Adnams, its winter barley by Marstons; a herd of eye catching belted Galloway cattle graze areas unsuitable for mechanical mowers and protect vital bird habitats. A major forestry project on the historic south avenue highlights a commitment to sustainability and environmental regeneration.
“We have a forestry team of four managing 1,000 acres of woodland but a lot of our ancient trees in the two-mile long south avenue planted in around 1735, are either diseased or storm-damaged. So we are undergoing a major felling and replanting project,” says Peter.
“The best quality wood goes off to timber yards, but most is turned into sawdust here on the estate and then it is used in our biomass boilers. The income and savings made from the energy created pays for our forestry team so they are entirely self-funded and we are creating our own energy.”
The Holkham estate is home to a huge variety of innovative businesses and holds many major events throughout the year.
“An important part of the business is what not to do. We have a healthy respect for the specialists we work with, whether that's putting on outdoor cinema and theatre, running a cycling business, holding weddings or managing holiday lets. I think it is very liberating to realise that you can work with other people who have great expertise and they will do it far better than you can.”
Holkham Studios, tucked out of sight in olf farm buildings, is symbolic of the estate's ambitions.
Phase one and phase two of the transformation has seen the creation of unexpectedly cool office and studio space, so cool in fact that a large chunk of it has been taken over by global jewellery designer Monica Vinader whose client list includes a host of famous figures from Kate Winslet to Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.
“Monica employs 70 people, and the studios are currently around 98% full. I think we have an office free for one day a week,” says Peter.
“It's fantastic to know that we are doing things right. The diversity of the businesses here is much more of a positive than a negative and there is a huge interdependence between the teams. We employ up to 300 people and there is a great pride in what is being achieved on the estate and also pride in working for Lord and Lady Leicester. They have a real interest in everything which happens and are very much involved in shaping it for the future.”