Saturday, 01 April 2017 00:00

Holt : Fine Georgian Town

Written by  The All Things Norfolk Team
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Holt : Fine Georgian Town

Holt is unlike any other Norfolk town. If you are strolling through its busy streets on any weekend in the year, the first thing you will notice is that outside the big banks, it is hard to find a national chain’s shopfront in Holt, and the town is all the better for it.

There is no WH Smith, no JD Wetherspoons, no Next, no Marks and Spencer – and even the supermarket (Budgens) has now been bought up by Bakers and Larners of Holt which has affectionately been dubbed the Harrods of Norfolk. Indeed you are more likely to see a member of the Royal family, an ex Prime-minister or A list celebrity strolling around this fine Georgian Town than someone walking around with a bag promoting a national chain.

At Christmas time, these shopkeepers combine to provide the classiest display of lights in the country, making the town a major draw, with its wide variety of small retail outlets, including arguably one of the county’s best purveyor of game.

Holt owes its success to two factors – its proximity to the heritage North Norfolk coast, with its wide, wild marshlands and extensive and varied birdlife, and to Sir John Gresham, a London merchant, who in 1555 established Gresham’s School in the town.

While not always as high in the academic charts as its pupils’ parents would like it to be, Gresham’s is a fine school, provided a rounded education encompassing the arts and the environment as well as traditional public school subjects. It also sparked controversy by dumping A levels for the higher-rated International Baccalaureate.

Most of its students are boarders, visited frequently by well-heeled parents, many of whom own property nearby. Former pupils also frequently return to the town. Its alumni include a long list of creative people, including Benjamin Britten, W. H. Auden, Lord Reith, Sir Alan Lloyd Hodgkin, President Erskine Childers, Sir Christopher Cockerell, Donald Maclean, Sir Lennox Berkeley, Sir Stephen Spender, Tom Wintringham, Sir James Dyson, Ralph Firman, Sir Peter Brook, Sebastian Shaw, Sienna Guillory, Olivia Colman and Tom and Ben Youngs.

Holt Hall Environmental and Outdoor Learning Centre focusses on offering high quality residential and day visit experiences.

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Many people wonder how it is that Holt is such a well-preserved Georgian town in rural Norfolk. The answer is simple. The original medieval town was destroyed in May 1708 by a fire which torched everything in its wake inside three hours. Holt was then rebuilt with the architecture of the time. Apart from the Norman church, one of the few structures to survive the fire was 1-2 Shirehall Plain, the oldest building in Holt. For 100 years this building has been the business of the Byford family, initially an ironmonger’s, but now a café and delicatessen, one of many.

Its hidden yards house hundreds of independent businesses including antiques, art galleries, crafts, and a wide choice of eating and drinking establishments.  The department store Bakers and Larners is like a mini Fortnum & Mason, with its food hall and kitchen shop along with many other enticing departments.  

At one end of Holt stands a Victorian gas lamp which was given to the town to celebrate the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887.  It was named Blind Sam as the gas light from the lamp was very temperamental.  Next to it is a splendid obelisk which was one of a pair of gate posts that was moved from Melton Constable Park.

The North Norfolk Railway, known as the Poppy Line, runs from Sheringham to Holt. It was originally the Midland and Great Northern Railway Line which opened in 1887 and closed in 1964. The line was restored and the North Norfolk Railway was born.

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Very close to the town is Holt Country Park and Holt Lowes, but keen walkers will also want to head for Kelling Heath, Morston, Blakeney Point and Cley.

 

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How to get there: This is a place that is much easier to access by road than any other way. There is an infrequent bus service to and from Norwich, but visitors coming through the county’s capital would be better served using the train to Sheringham, and then connecting by bus. The steam North Norfolk Railway runs through hilly country from Sheringham to Holt station, which is really at High Kelling. A special bus connects from there.

 

 

 

Last modified on Saturday, 01 April 2017 17:12

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