Guarding the approaches to Houghton Hall
The West Lodge is one of four lodges that guard the approaches to Houghton Hall, the splendid rural palace that belonged to Sir Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister. The Walpole family held land here at least from the 13th century and, through inheritance and marriage, greatly extended the size of the Houghton estate until by the beginning of the 18th century it had reached some 16,000 acres. Sir Robert Walpole inherited the estate in 1700, and by this time the old medieval house was in a poor state.
Jonas Wolfe, writing to Sir Robert in 1721 graphically illustrates why a new house was necessary:
'I am writing this in your Honour’s study, where I have a thousand ungrateful Companions, the Mice who doe dayly dispoyle to youre papers, parchments & Bookes …They run in such numbers ‘tis impossible to think of destroying them unless the whole be removed; in the meantime what are yett untouched by them are very unsecure.'
Sir Robert also needed a house to match his political ambitions and to demonstrate his power, wealth and discrimination. Designs were drawn up by Colen Campbell and modified by Thomas Ripley, chief carpenter at the Office of Works. William Kent designed the interiors, which housed a fine collection of paintings. The resultant house was the most sumptuous of its day. Significant improvements were also made to the gardens and grounds. The entrance to the Park was then between a pair of lodges opposite the New Inn. The church, dedicated to St. Martin remained in the park and it is here that Sir Robert and Horace Walpole lie buried.
In fact, the demands of political life and the need to be at the centre of power meant that Sir Robert only spent a month a year at Houghton Hall, but when there he entertained in style. The greater part of the government would go down to Norfolk during the summer and Christmas recesses to spend a week or more 'plotting politics in the interval of hunting, feasting and boozing with the local gentry.' These exclusively masculine gatherings were known as the 'Houghton congresses' and underpinned the web of influence and patronage upon which the Whig party was based.
Yet for all this political power, the male line failed in 1797 and the Houghton estate passed to the Cholmondeley family of Cheshire. They decided to use Houghton as principle residence until their own new house was built. Lord Cholmondeley was evidently fond of the gates at Cholmondeley Hall for he had them transferred to Houghton with a new pair of lodges built to accommodate them. These were described by a surveyor in 1798 as 'the meanest looking Hovels of the kind I ever saw.' The second Marquis Cholmondeley 'much extended the plantations on the estate, and planted …a very fine oak avenue, leading to the West Lodge.' In 1840 building accounts show they had been replaced by those we see today.
For a short history of Houghton West Lodge please click here.
To read the full history album for Houghton West Lodge please click here.
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A changeover day is a particular day of the week when holidays start and end at our properties. These tend to be on a Friday or a Monday but can sometimes vary. All stays run from one changeover day until another changeover day.
Monday 13th February 2014