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Houghton Hall

Houghton Hall lies 9 miles west of Fakenham. It was the country mansion of Sir Robert Walpole - the first English Prime Minister and was designed by Colen Campbell and Thomas Ripley.

Houghton Hall

 Houghton Hall

Walpole's son, the prolific letter writer Sir Horace Walpole (1717-97), lived at Houghton Hall but was not over enamoured with Norfolk. Here is an extract from a letter addressed to George Montagu written on March 25th, 1761. The 'Gray' referred to in the letter is his friend the poet Thomas Gray (1716-1771) - with whom he was educated at Eton and at Peterhouse, Cambridge - and who wrote the famous poem Elegy in a Country Churchyard. The tone of the letter is somewhat morbid.

'....Here I am at Houghton! and alone! in this spot where I have not been in sixteen years! Think what a crowd of reflections! - no Gray, and forty churchyards, could not furbish so many: nay, I know one must feel them with greater indifference than I possess, to have patience to put them into verse. Here I am, probably for the last time in my life, though not for the last time - every clock that strikes tells me I am an hour nearer to yonder church - that church, into which I have not had courage to enter, where lies that Mother on whom I doted, and who doted on me!'

Both Sir Robert and Horace Walpole are buried in the church of St. Martin's which lies within the grounds of the hall; there are no memorials to them.

St. Martin's Church, Houghton Hall

St Martin's Church, Houghton Hall © Jim Rowe

Horace Walpole's literary reputation rests largely on his witty and charming letters - however he was also the author of a pioneering Gothic novel entitled The Castle of Otranto (1764). It was originally published under a pseudonym and claimed to be a translation from an Italian source. It proved to be hugely popular with the Georgian public and inspired many subsequent Gothic writers including Edgar Allan Poe and Bram Stoker.

Houghton is another example of a Norfolk deserted village and was moved when the hall was originally being constructed. The new village - begun in 1729 and consisting of ten pairs of cottages - was arranged along opposite sides of a new street.

Some commentators have suggested that it was the 'emparking' here at Houghton which inspired Oliver Goldsmith's famous long poem The Deserted Village. However, Alan Davison - an expert in abandoned communities - claims that the poet's 'Sweet Auburn' was actually based on Nuneham Courtney in Oxfordshire.





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