Houghton Hall in north Norfolk is one of the great English country houses. Centuries old. Yet the sculpture at Houghton Hall is modern. Late twentieth century at very oldest, most of it twenty-first century. Viewing sculpture in the wide open spaces of Houghton Hall estate is the perfect social distanced cultural family outing.
Sir Anish Kapoor at Houghton Hall
Summer 2020 sees twenty one sculptures and a few drawings take up residence at Houghton Hall. If ever a sky has cried out to be reflected in Anish Kapoor’s Sky Mirror it is the vast Norfolk skies. My pictures of the Sky Mirror at Houghton have prompted people to ask me how I managed to get that effect. Just a five metre diameter polished concave dish pointing up toward to sky, simple really.
Whilst the teens and I loved the sky reflections at the front we had lots of reflective selfie fun round the back the Sky Mirror.
Most of the sculptures are in the gardens surrounding the house but a few are inside. My teens voted the Stone Hall as being their favourite part of the visit to Houghton. It offers lashings of history with a bust of Walpole, the coloured mirrors provided lots of interactive fun.
Most of all the view of the white deer outside the window was particularly fine.
Permanent Sculpture at Houghton Hall
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
Covid 19 means that just two rooms are open in the summer of 2020, the Stone Hall and Red Saloon. 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. William Kent did the interiors here and the ceiling is simply stunning.
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: 12 July 2020 – 1 November 2020 Wednesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm
- Admission: Adults £16. RHS and HHA members get free entry to the gardens but need to pay £6 to see the Anish Kapoor
- Pre booking is essential to ensure that social distancing can be maintained
- Hand sanitisers are available though out the estate