Illustration from "The County Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland" by F Morris and F Orpen, 1866. Public domain via the British Library.
Delve into the histories of some of Norfolk’s fascinating country houses, with a special focus on homes still in private ownership
Discover fine examples of neo-Palladian architecture, including Raynham Hall, Holkham Hall and Houghton Hall
Enjoy exclusive visits to private homes including Elsing Hall, a beautiful moated manor house, and Sennowe Park, the Edwardian home of Thomas Albert Cook
“The focus of the visits and excursions was in each case excellent. Oliver is an outstanding guide: so knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Everything went extremely well”
- ACE customer on a previous Country Houses of North Norfolk tours with Oliver Gerrish
Join ACE Tour Director Oliver Gerrish, an architectural historian, writer and experienced tour leader well acquainted with Norfolk's country estates, on this exploration of the county's finest historic houses, and through whose connections we are delighted to offer this special tour focusing on visits to houses in private ownership.
The sweeping landscapes and seascapes of this beautiful part of the county, with their endless vistas and wide skies, were populated in the 17th and 18th centuries by a series of remarkable country houses built for notable patrons of the arts – including Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, builder of the spectacular Palladian mansion of Holkham, and Sir Robert Walpole, Britain’s first ‘Prime Minister’, owner of Houghton Hall. These houses, and many others in our itinerary, are still owned by the descendants of those who built them.
Houghton was built in the 1720s to house Walpole’s great collection of Old Master paintings, later sold to Catherine the Great. The estate is home to the Cholmondeley family who have in recent years commissioned a number of pieces of contemporary sculpture by artists including James Turrell for the 18th-century parkland designed by Charles Bridgeman.
We will enjoy visits to several properties showcasing the work of William Kent, that eminent architect of buildings, landscapes and interiors who pioneered the Palladian style in 18th-century Britain. Privately-owned Raynham Hall, praised as one of Norfolk’s finest country houses, dates from the 17th century but its interiors were redesigned by Kent from 1725. His work is also evident at Holkham and Houghton.
This tour will consider the histories of the owners and families who have shaped these great estates, as well as their art collections and architecture. The exterior of Wiveton Hall – known as the setting for the BBC observational series Normal for Norfolk – provides an exquisite example of the style archetypal to Norfolk, with its flint facing and Dutch gables, nodding to the county’s historical relationship with the Low Countries. A tour of the gardens in the company of Wiveton's owner, Desmond McCarthy, will provide fascinating insights into life at this beautiful spot with its coastal views.
We will also enjoy the opportunity to explore grounds and gardens, which often tell their own important stories. For instance, the renowned architectural designer Kit Martin restored the historically designed landscape at Gunton Park, winning a Country Life ‘Genius of the Place’ Award in 2007. At Gunton's estate church, we will enjoy a short private concert of works by Handel and Purcell given by our Tour Director Oliver, who in addition to his architectural expertise is also a talented countertenor.
Other exclusive visits on our tour include Hindringham Hall, a moated Tudor manor house originally built for Martin Hastings, a courtier to Henry Fitzroy, illegitimate son of Henry VIII, using reclaimed stone from local monasteries that had been dissolved. In the company of the present owners, we will explore the hall and its gardens, described in The Guardian as “amongst twelve of the Best Secret Gardens in the UK”.
Throughout our tour, we will be privileged to enjoy the hospitality that many of these fine Norfolk country houses were originally designed for and have offered during the course of their illustrious lives.
We particularly look forward to a private visit to Elsing Hall, a Grade I listed moated manor house built around 1740. It is one of the few remaining houses in Norfolk that boasts a traditional great hall open to the rafters, and it is surrounded by charming gardens. Also a private home, the hall underwent a renovation project that was awarded Best Renovation by the Norfolk Association of Architects in 2008.
Other highlights of our tour will include Voewood House, a Grade II listed Arts & Crafts house designed to a rare ‘butterfly’ pattern and boasting unique interiors as well as delightful grounds. The house is rarely open to the public. Sennowe Park, meanwhile, was built in the Edwardian era for Thomas Albert Cook, grandson of travel and holiday pioneer Thomas Cook, and is still a family home to his descendants. We look forward to enjoying refreshments served in the elegant Winter Garden following our exclusive tour. Our tour concludes with a special tour in the company of the owner at Mannington Hall, a picturesque moated medieval Manor House not usually accessible to visitors.
This tour will be based at the delightful four-star Pheasant Hotel, a relaxing country house hotel close to Holt and Blakeney in the heart of North Norfolk.
This tour will be led by Oliver Gerrish, MSt, an architectural historian who studied at the University of Cambridge. Oliver has written for Country Life, featured in a number of television series on architecture, and organised and led numerous tours to many of Britain’s historical buildings. He is the former Chairman of The Young Georgians, the youth chapter of The Georgian Group, which he re-founded. Oliver is a trustee of the Derbyshire Historic Buildings Trust, and in addition to his architectural expertise is a countertenor and impresario.