The Hall


Built in the 1720s for Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, Houghton Hall is one of Norfolk’s most beautiful stately homes and 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.


The State Rooms on the first floor (piano nobile) were sumptuously decorated by William Kent, with painted ceilings and suites of carved and gilded furniture. These rooms would originally have been entered via outside steps leading to the Stone Hall, and were designed to impress Sir Robert Walpole’s distinguished guests. They were used for entertaining on a grand scale, and were also the backdrop for some of Walpole’s most valuable paintings.

The State Bedroom, with the famous Shell bed, was hung with green velvet, then the most expensive material, with silver gilt embroidery and fringing. Venus’s shell on the headboard is echoed in the ceiling, tapestries and fireplace . On the other side of the house, the dining-room, or Marble Parlour, is dedicated to Bacchus, and bunches of grapes and vine leaves appear on the marble chimney-piece, on the plaster ceilings and carved above the doors. The overmantel frames the Sacrifice to Bacchus, by Michael Rysbrack, while arches framed in different sorts of marble lead to a hidden recess. Walpole spared no expense in the decoration of these rooms, although they would rarely have been used, as he only visited Norfolk twice a year.


Houghton is currently the home of the Marquess of Cholmondeley and his wife, Rose Cholmondeley. Lord Cholmondeley is a direct descendant of Sir Robert Walpole who built the hall in the 1720s.

Lord Cholmondeley was brought up at Cholmondeley castle, Cheshire, but spent his childhood holidays at Houghton when his grandparents were alive. He was educated at Eton and studied at the Sorbonne.  After the death of both his grandmother and father, he took on the responsibility of running the estates in Norfolk and Cheshire in 1990.

In 2009 Lord Cholmondeley married Rose Hanbury who then became the Marchioness of Cholmondeley. Shortly after the birth of their twins (Alexander and Oliver) they moved to Houghton where they continue to live and have since had a daughter named Iris.