Lost and hidden villas

Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall, Norfolk

William Kent
Copyright: RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Like Wanstead House and Wilton House, Holkham Hall in Norfolk is a large country mansion which, although too big to be a villa, draws upon ideas of Palladian villa design.

It was conceived by Lord Burlington, William Kent and the patron Thomas Coke, Earl of Leicester, between 1730 and 1734. The idea of a large country house with four wings leading to corner pavilions was derived from Palladio’s unbuilt Villa Mocenigo on the Brenta, which the three designers would have known from I Quattro Libri dell’Architettura.

Holkham Hall was intended as a much grander affair than its Italian precedent; it was a house designed to give an impression of majesty.

The English wings and pavilions are very different to the Italian model, where they were to serve as agricultural rooms. Holkham Hall was not built for farming; instead space was used for bed chambers, service rooms, apartments and a chapel.

The composition of the central block with its rusticated ground storey, the end towers with their high attics, pediments and Venetian windows, can be seen to be derived from Wanstead House, Wilton House, and Palladio.

Burlington’s Tottenham Park in Wiltshire, begun in 1722, may also have been a source. The idea of advance and recession in garden front could also be attributed to Burlington and his work at Chiswick House, where his project of linking the new villa to the old building was taking form at around the same time.

The layout for the central block of Holkham Hall follows Palladio’s traditional compact symmetrical square plan. At the centre of the plan lies Kent’s masterpiece, the Egyptian Hall, which is discussed in Palladian interiors.