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Published: September 15th 2018
The stairs behind me were once sold off to pay debts.
Sunshine and a clear calendar induced me to amble over to Houghton Hall in the western part of Norfolk County. I had seen the home featured on several history programs, and was eager to walk the estate myself.
A grand Palladian pile, Houghton was built in 1722 by Sir Robert Walpole, England’s first “Prime” Minister (”the first among equals”). He achieved this singular feat by gaining the trust of German-born George I, primarily by being the only official with whom the king could communicate (they used Latin!)
An avid acquirer, extravagrant host and Trumpesque show off, Walpole filled the house with sumptuous furnishings and fabrics, precious objets d’art, and more than 400 Old Masters paintings - including works by Van Dyck, Poussin, Holbein, Rubens, Rembrandt and Velázquez. However, he and his heirs were notorious for ostentatious spending (also for not paying), and eventually a grandson was forced to settle the huge debts accumulated across the generations. He accomplished this by selling off the exterior staircase(!) and a collection of 800 paintings to Catherine the Great of Russia. A descendant, Lady Sybil (quite the pistol herself), restored the staircase in the 1900s as a memorial to her husband, but only
The Marble Hall (entry) was designed to impress.
one painting has made its way home from Russia.
Houghton Hall is the current residence of David Cholmondeley (“Chum’ly”), seventh Marquess of Cholmondeley, and his wife.
The grounds were hosting an exhibit of Damien Frist sculptures. He apparently has an anatomical fixation: lots of figures were “peeled back” to show underlying structure. I much preferred the permanent art in the gardens, especially the “Waterflame” fountain, of which I posted a video on FB (I don’t know how to import here - files seem too large).
I hope my photos do this fabulous estate justice... look closely and you will see the Royal throne (when it’s not in use at Westminster Abbey, it lives at Houghton Hall, since Cholmondeley is the Queen’s Grand Chamberlain). There is also a somewhat melancholy portrait of Lady Sybil (the pistol) by John Singer Sargent.
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