Built in the 1720s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall remains one of England’s finest Palladian houses. A collaboration between the two defining British architects of the age – Colen Campbell and James Gibbs – and with lavish interiors by William Kent, Houghton was built with an eye to reflecting the wealth, taste, and power of its owner. During the eighteenth century, Walpole also amassed one of the greatest collections of European art in Britain, and Houghton became a museum to the collection. The centuries that followed would see the fate of Houghton and its remarkable contents hang in the balance.
On Walpole’s death, Houghton passed to his son, and then to his grandson, the 3rd Earl of Orford, who was forced to sell Sir Robert’s picture collection to Catherine the Great of Russia due to debts. At the end of the 18th Century, the house was inherited by the 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley, Sir Robert’s great grandson through his daughter, Mary. The Cholmondeleys only lived at Houghton for about ten years before moving back to their ancestral seat in Cheshire. Houghton was frequently on the market during the next century, and was rented out to a succession of tenants from 1884 to 1916. It was only when the future 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley and his wife, Sybil (nee Sassoon) took on the house just after the First World War, that it was restored to its former glory.