Houghton Hall in north Norfolk is one of the great English country houses. 300 years old in 2022. Yet the outdoor sculpture at Houghton Hall is modern. Antony Gormley will have a major installation across the hall itself and the wider estate in 2024. Houghton also has an impressive collection of contemporary sculpture of its own.
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Antony Gormley: Time Horizon 21 April – 31 October 2024
Summer 2024 will see Antony Gormley’s Time Horizon installed across the Houghton estate. 100 life size bodies will be dotted across the landscape. They will all be standing at the same height above sea level. That means some will be buried and others up to their necks in earth. I’m hoping that this will show for once and for all that the Norfolk landscape undulates more than popular imagination allows for!
Magdalene Odundo 9 June – 29 September 2024
Dame Magdalene Odundo’s ceramic sculptures will take pride of place in Houghton’s fabulous William Kent interiors this summer.
Houghton Hall Outdoor Sculpture Collection
The Marquess of Cholmondeley is amassing a collection of contemporary sculpture at Houghton. It sits in within the formal hedges of the eighteenth century garden. One minute you are walking down a formal hedged path, the next you cut through the hedge and follow winding paths that lead to marvellous sights. The fist that we found was the Houghton Shed by Rachel Whiteread.
Next we meandered to Skyspace: Seldom Seen by James Turrell. We followed the walkways round the building to go inside for a view of Norfolk sky. At the moment of our visit the cloud cover was total and the teens observed that blue skies would work better. Next time we will try for sunnier skies!
Richard Long creates works with natural materials. I was a big fan of his work before seeing him at Houghton but even more so now. Lichens are beginning to grow on the stones making the works even more part of the landscape. Formal and artificial like the gardens themselves but natural at the same time.
Wouldn’t it be a fine thing to eat a picnic in the water tower (yes that Palladian building is just a mundane water tower) overlooking Richard Long’s A Line in Norfolk.
White deer stroll through the parkland that surrounds Houghton Hall. I love the way that the upended roots arranged in a circle echo the antlers of the stags in White Deer Circle.
We followed a small sign pointing through a formal hedge that promised to lead us to Sybil Hedge. We found a wavy hedge of what looks like copper beech and pondered what it might be. Turns out that it is the signature of Sybil Chomondley, grandmother of the current Marquess, in hedge form.
Sometimes it seems that no collection of modern sculpture is complete without a Henry Moore, no need to worry there is one of his Mother and Child works at Houghton. The teens thought that the child looked more like Pingu than a baby.
Houghton Walled Garden
Every stately home had a walled garden to provide the fruit and vegetables for the house. Nowadays they are not really needed to produce food. The current Marquess has spent the last thirty years creating a new garden within the walls in memory of his grandmother Sybil. You start in a traditional rose garden.
Along the middle runs a pair of deep herbaceous borders brimming with plants.
Then things begin to get a little less traditional and home to yet more contemporary sculpture. The croquet lawn is taken up with a giant slate cross by Richard Long called Houghton Cross. I definitely needed a drone or at least a step ladder to take a decent picture. For a moment of calm stop by Waterflame by Jeppe Hein.
Inside Houghton Hall
Sir Robert Walpole had William Kent do the interiors of Houghton Hall, they are magnificent as you would expect from the man who created the sumptuous interiors of Kensington Palace. Downstairs the Red Saloon has family portraits and a grand piano festooned with signed photos of the Royal Family (who live next door at Sandringham) standard stuff for a Norfolk stately home. The Stone Hall is magnificent, look up the ceiling is simply stunning. Upstairs there are state bedrooms all offering views across the deerpark.
History of Houghton Hall
Houghton Hall was built in the 1720’s by Sir Robert Walpole, the first British Prime Minister. It was designed by the two top architects of the time Colen Campbell and James Gibbs. The interiors were lavishly created by William Kent. Walpole amassed one of the greatest art collections in the country at the time and Houghton was its show case. So impressive was it that when the family fell on hard times Catherine the Great of Russia bought most of the collection.
Eventually the Walpole’s ran out of male heirs and so Houghton came into the Cholmondeley family via one of the Walpole daughters. The Cholmondeley’s have another castle up in Cheshire and so Houghton escaped modernisation and the William Kent interiors remain pretty much as they were minus the art works. Nowadays Houghton is a family home once again with the current Marquess and his family using it as their full time base.
Keen readers will recognise the Walpole name as Horace Walpole, son of Sir Robert Walpole, was the creator of Strawberry Hill House.
How to get to Houghton Hall
The simple answer is to drive. Catching a train to Kings Lynn from Kings Cross is easy, trains go every hour and the journey takes just under two hours. In theory you could catch a bus to Houghton but they go every four hours and still leave you with a two mile walk. A taxi or an Uber from Kings Lynn Station will take 20 minutes. Driving from north London will take about two hours. Be warned if you put the postcode into your satnav it will take you to a hedge on the edge of Houghton Hall Estate, make sure you also put it into Google maps before you leave as that will get to the right place!
Houghton Hall need to know
- Houghton Hall, PE31 6TY
- Open: 21 April – 31 October 2024
- April – June: Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday 11am – 5pm
July – September: Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday, plus Bank Holiday Monday 11am – 5pm
October: Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday 11am – 5pm
- Admission: Hall, Sculpture and Walled Garden Adults £24, children free, Walled Garden only £12
- Pre-booking advisable and cheaper
- Driving is the best way to get to Houghton but you could catch a train to Kings Lynn and then a taxi
Norfolk is my home county and has lots to see and do. Whilst you are in Norfolk how about some seal spotting at Horsey Gap or crabbing at Wells next the Sea or exploring the fine city of Norwich or using my inside knowledge to find Quiet Norfolk off the the beaten track. On the far east of the county Great Yarmouth offers many delights including the excellent Time and Tide Museum. For more outdoor art check out my guide to Alfresco Art.