Monday, 20 October 2014

Coming Soon : Chris Steele-Perkins’ book "A Place In The Country".

Holkham Hall: a modern-day Downton
There’s a butler, a gamekeeper, a cook – and everyone swears it’s nothing like Downton Abbey. But what keeps a country estate alive in 2014? Magnum photographer Chris Steele-Perkins spends a year at Holkham Hall in Norfolk
Words: Photographs:

Gamekeepers at Holkham Estate, Norfolk.

Photograph: Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum

Pass between the gatehouses, down the sweeping drive towards Holkham Hall, and you enter a time warp. Fallow deer cluster scenically under broad oaks, geese honk as they rise from the silver lake. It could almost be 1764, the year the grand house was completed, shortly after the death of Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester.

The estate is now run by Viscount Thomas Coke, the son of the seventh Earl of Leicester. Photographs by Chris Steele-Perkins, who documented the 25,000-acre estate in Norfolk over the course of a year, appear to portray a deferential Downton Abbey-style existence, even today. But Steele-Perkins also discovered a world permeated by contemporary corporate values and defined by its visitors – a country home that, as he puts it, has been “reinvented in this new manner which is very consumable for the outside world”.

Lord and Lady Coke with their four children. Photograph: Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum

Holkham has diversified into 48 different businesses serving both aristocratic and popular tastes, from a boutique hotel to a caravan park and 300 houses, mostly let to local people. There are 200 full-time and 150 seasonal staff – including six gamekeepers and a butler, but also a conservation manager and education officer, too. Holkham’s walled estate is open to the public, hosting concerts and festivals. Each year, more than half a million people visit Holkham’s beach, which is a national nature reserve and, unusually, is entrusted to the privately owned estate rather than the government’s wildlife body Natural England.

The Cokes (pronounced “Cook”) are more generous over public access than most great estates, but they are wary of the media. David Horton-Fawkes, estates director, admits they were nervous about giving access to Steele-Perkins, a member of the Magnum collective who has documented poverty around Britain. “We can easily be depicted as an anachronistic relic of the 19th century, but we’re not that,” Horton-Fawkes insists. “We don’t want to be seen as forelock-tugging servants living in the 19th century. It’s disrespectful to the people who work here.”

In fact, Steele-Perkins found a bustling, busy estate which he likens to “a well-run ship”. “I started to think of the estate in nautical terms,” he notes in an introduction to his book of these photographs. “A long time ago I had spent a week on the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible where the crew was organised into myriad teams, but worked together as an organic whole when needed. Holkham is similar: building maintenance, farming, forestry, gamekeeping, with their officers and their petty officers and their ratings, in effect.”

A woodcock shooting party with beaters. Photograph: Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum

For much of the 20th century, country piles such as Holkham were an endangered species. Prohibitive death duties between the wars caused the break-up of many great estates, which were sold for development, handed over to the National Trust or, incredibly, demolished. Holkham held 42,000 acres in the late 1940s when the fourth earl, another Thomas Coke, tried to pass it to the National Trust. That deal never happened and the Cokes were down to their last 25,000 acres in 1973 when Edward, father of the current incumbent, began running the estate. “When he took over in 1973, every facet was losing money,” says Viscount Coke, 49, who lives in part of the hall with his wife Polly and their four children.

When Coke returned to his family seat aged 28, after Eton, university and the army, he remembers his father looking at him and saying, “What are you doing here?” The seventh earl (who is still alive) managed a mix of farming, forestry and shooting, with a few tourists visiting the house, and he didn’t need any help. So the young heir began by looking after a large caravan park – “We’d prefer to say holiday park,” Coke says, “we’ve invested a lot on landscaping and making it nice” – which had returned to the estate after the local council’s lease ended.

Groundsmen at work. Photograph: Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum

Twenty years ago, 75% of Holkham’s turnover came from the land. Now, tourism and leisure make up 55% of turnover; farming and property rentals are only 40%. Coke was given full control of the estate seven years ago and appointed Horton-Fawkes two years ago. “For a landowner, I’m not bad at this customer service sort of thing, but David introduced me to a whole new level,” Coke says. “I don’t think I’ve uttered the word ‘punter’ for the last few years – I have to say things like ‘guest’.” Such openness has been rewarded: Coke is surprised that his walled garden is now tended by 23 volunteers. “I always thought people would happily volunteer for the National Trust, but to volunteer for Little Lord Fauntleroy living in a big house – it’s amazing we’ve got to that position.”

In many ways, the estate resembles any other modern corporation. Coke has introduced board meetings and non-executive directors, “people with experience from outside”. Senior staff recently visited Volvo’s HQ in Gothenburg to see how they did business, and they already have some unusual incentives in place: if an employee doesn’t perform a task on time, they must bake a cake. Coke is not exempt although, he admits, when called upon he “made two loaves of bread in the breadmaker”.

Coke and his wife have a private staff of three, compared with 50 in the Downton era, though this does include a butler. When Coke took over the estate, he says, “I thought, ‘Dad had a butler, I’m not going to have one’ – but it’s such a big house.” The butler, Steele-Perkins notes, is “quite young and nothing like the butler of fiction”. He wears full butler attire only for formal occasions, and Steele-Perkins spent time with the staff while they prepared for one such event: a black-tie dinner for 24 people. “Laying the table, lining up the glasses, took hours.”

Steele-Perkins was surprised to find that even among themselves, staff refer to their bosses as “Lord” and “Lady”. Horton-Fawkes says that Tom and Polly “lost a lot of sleep” over this. “They are very approachable, and didn’t want that deferential relationship,” he says. Nevertheless, they decided to retain a traditional formality to “reinforce the boundary between work and home”.

As for the staff, it seems that old habits die hard. “I quite like saying ‘Lord Coke’, that formality seems right for the estate,” says Sarah Henderson, Holkham’s conservation manager. Kevan McCaig, the head gamekeeper, who was previously employed by the royal family at Sandringham, says he is “more comfortable” calling his boss Lord Coke. “In different places I’ve worked I’ve never called anybody by their first name,” he says.

A cricket match in front of the hall. Photograph: Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum

McCaig lives in a cottage in the grounds. Only one member of staff lives in the hall itself: the head of security. But while he was working there, Steele-Perkins was able to stay in the house. “It could be quite spooky,” he says, “coming back there at night, torch in hand, after dining at one of the pubs that Holkham owns, footsteps echoing down stone paved corridors above the haunted cellars, a whisper of wind around the windows…” Over the course of the year, as the family got to know him better, he graduated from the butler’s quarters to the guest bedrooms. He remembers one night staying in a bedroom with Italian Renaissance paintings on the wall - a room which, he recalls, “had a footprint bigger than that of my whole house in London

• Chris Steele-Perkins’ book A Place In The Country, from which these photographs are taken, is published by Dewi Lewis next month, priced £25.

Steele-Perkins was born in Rangoon, Burma in 1947 to a British father and a Burmese mother; but his father left his mother and took the boy to England at the age of two. He went to Christ's Hospital and for one year studied chemistry at the University of York before leaving for a stay in Canada. Returning to Britain, he joined the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, where he served as photographer and picture editor for a student magazine. After graduating in psychology in 1970 he started to work as a freelance photographer, specializing in the theatre, while he also lectured in psychology.

By 1971, Steele-Perkins had moved to London and become a full-time photographer, with particular interest in urban issues, including poverty. He went to Bangladesh in 1973 to take photographs for relief organizations; some of this work was exhibited in 1974 at the Camerawork Gallery (London). In 1973–74 he taught photography at the Stanhope Institute and the North East London Polytechnic.

In 1975, Steele-Perkins joined the Exit Photography Group with the photographers Nicholas Battye and Paul Trevor, and there continued his examination of urban problems: Exit's earlier booklet Down Wapping had led to a commission by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to increase the scale of their work, and in six years they produced 30,000 photographs as well as many hours of taped interviews. This led to the 1982 book Survival Programmes. Steele-Perkins' work included depiction from 1975 to 1977 of street festivals, and prints from London Street Festivals were bought by the British Council and exhibited with Homer Sykes' Once a Year and Patrick Ward's Wish You Were Here; Steele-Perkins' depiction of Notting Hill has been described as being in the vein of Tony Ray-Jones.

Steele-Perkins became an associate of the French agency Viva in 1976, and three years after this, he published his first book, The Teds, an examination of teddy boys that is now considered a classic of documentary and even fashion photography. He curated photographs for the Arts Council collection, and co-edited a collection of these, About 70 Photographs.

In 1977 Steele-Perkins had made a short detour into "conceptual" photography, working with the photographer Mark Edwards to collect images from the ends of rolls of films taken by others, exposures taken in a rush merely in order to finish the roll. Forty were exhibited in "Film Ends".

Work documenting poverty in Britain took Steele-Perkins to Belfast, which he found to be poorer than Glasgow, London, Middlesbrough, or Newcastle, as well as experiencing "a low-intensity war".
He stayed in the Catholic Lower Falls area, first squatting and then staying in the flat of a man he met in Belfast. His photographs of Northern Ireland appeared in a 1981 book written by Wieland Giebel. Thirty years later, he would return to the area to find that its residents had new problems and fears; the later photographs appear within Magnum Ireland.

Steele-Perkins photographed wars and disasters in the third world, leaving Viva in 1979 to join Magnum Photos as a nominee (on encouragement by Josef Koudelka), and becoming an associate member in 1981 and a full member in 1983. He continued to work in Britain, taking photographs published as The Pleasure Principle, an examination (in colour) of life in Britain but also a reflection of himself. With Philip Marlow, he successfully pushed for the opening of a London office for Magnum; the proposal was approved in 1986.

Steele-Perkins made four trips to Afghanistan in the 1990s, sometimes staying with the Taliban, the majority of whom "were just ordinary guys" who treated him courteously. Together with James Nachtwey and others, he was also fired on, prompting him to reconsider his priorities: in addition to the danger of the front line:

    . . . you never get good pictures out of it. I've yet to see a decent front-line war picture. All the strong stuff is a bit further back, where the emotions are.

A book of his black and white images, Afghanistan, was published first in French, and later in English and in Japanese. The review in the Spectator read in part:

    These astonishingly beautiful photographs are more moving than can be described; they hardly ever dwell on physical brutalities, but on the bleak rubble and desert of the country, punctuated by inexplicable moments of formal beauty, even pastoral bliss . . . the grandeur of the images comes from Steele-Perkins never neglecting the human, the individual face in the great crowd of history.
    —Philip Hensher

The book and the travelling exhibition of photographs were also reviewed favorably in the Guardian, Observer, Library Journal, and London Evening Standard.

Steele-Perkins served as the President of Magnum from 1995 to 1998. One of the annual meetings over which he presided was that of 1996, to which Russell Miller was given unprecedented access as an outsider and which Miller has described in some detail.

With his second wife the presenter and writer Miyako Yamada (山田美也子), whom he married in 1999, Steele-Perkins has spent much time in Japan, publishing two books of photographs: Fuji, a collection of views and glimpses of the mountain inspired by Hokusai's Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji; and Tokyo Love Hello, scenes of life in the city. Between these two books he also published a personal visual diary of the year 2001, Echoes.

Work in South Korea included a contribution to a Hayward Gallery touring exhibition of photographs of contemporary slavery, "Documenting Disposable People", in which Steele-Perkins interviewed and made black-and-white photographs of Korean "comfort women". "Their eyes were really important to me: I wanted them to look at you, and for you to look at them", he wrote. "They're not going to be around that much longer, and it was important to give this show a history." The photographs were published within Documenting Disposable People: Contemporary Global Slavery.

Steele-Perkins returned to England for a project by the Side Gallery on Durham's closed coalfields (exhibited within "Coalfield Stories"); after this work ended, he stayed on to work on a depiction (in black and white) of life in the north-east of England, published as Northern Exposures.

In 2008 Steele-Perkins won an Arts Council England grant for "Carers: The Hidden Face of Britain", a project to interview those caring for their relatives at home, and to photograph the relationships. Some of this work has appeared in The Guardian, and also in his book England, My England, a compilation of four decades of his photography that combines photographs taken for publication with much more personal work: he does not see himself as having a separate personality when at home. "By turns gritty and evocative," wrote a reviewer in The Guardian, "it is a book one imagines that Orwell would have liked very much."

Steele-Perkins has two sons, Cedric, born 16 November 1990, and Cameron, born 18 June 1992. With his marriage to Miyako Yamada he has a stepson, Daisuke and a granddaughter, Momoe.

Holkham Hall is an 18th-century country house located adjacent to the village of Holkham, Norfolk, England. The house was constructed in the Palladian style for Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (fifth creation) by the architect William Kent, aided by the architect and aristocrat Lord Burlington.

Holkham Hall is one of England's finest examples of the Palladian revival style of architecture, and severity of its design is closer to Palladio's ideals than many of the other numerous Palladian style houses of the period. The Holkham estate, formerly known as Neals, had been purchased in 1609 by Sir Edward Coke, the founder of his family fortune. It is the ancestral home of the Coke family, the Earls of Leicester of Holkham.

The interior of the hall is opulently but, by the standards of the day, simply decorated and furnished. Ornament is used with such restraint that it was possible to decorate both private and state rooms in the same style, without oppressing the former. The principal entrance is through the "Marble" Hall, which leads to the piano nobile, or the first floor, and state rooms. The most impressive of these rooms is the saloon, which has walls lined with red velvet. Each of the major state rooms is symmetrical in its layout and design; in some rooms, false doors are necessary to fully achieve this balanced effect.

Holkham was built by first Earl of Leicester, Thomas Coke, who was born in 1697. A cultivated and wealthy man, Coke made the Grand Tour in his youth and was away from England for six years between 1712 and 1718. It is likely he met both Burlington—the aristocratic architect at the forefront of the Palladian revival movement in England—and William Kent in Italy in 1715, and that in the home of Palladianism the idea of the mansion at Holkham was conceived. Coke returned to England, not only with a newly acquired library, but also an art and sculpture collection with which to furnish his planned new mansion. However, after his return, he lived a feckless life, preoccupying himself with drinking, gambling and hunting, and being a leading supporter of cockfighting. He made a disastrous investment in the South Sea Company and when the South Sea Bubble burst in 1720, the resultant losses delayed the building of Coke's planned new country estate for over ten years. Coke, who had been made Earl of Leicester in 1744, died in 1759—five years before the completion of Holkham—having never fully recovered his financial losses. Thomas's wife, Lady Margaret Tufton, Countess of Leicester (1700–1775), would oversee the finishing and furnishing of the House.

Although Colen Campbell was employed by Thomas Coke in the early 1720s, the oldest existing working and construction plans for Holkham were drawn by Matthew Brettingham, under the supervision of Thomas Coke, in 1726. These followed the guidelines and ideals for the house as defined by Kent and Burlington. The Palladian revival style chosen was at this time making its return in England. The style made a brief appearance in England before the Civil War, when it was introduced by Inigo Jones.  However, following the Restoration it was replaced in popular favour by the Baroque style. The "Palladian revival", popular in the 18th century, was loosely based on the appearance of the works of the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. However it did not, adhere to Palladio's strict rules of proportion. The style eventually evolved into what is generally referred to as Georgian, still popular in England today. It was the chosen style for numerous houses in both town and country, although Holkham is exceptional for both its severity of design and for being closer than most in its adherence to Palladio's ideals.

Although Thomas Coke oversaw the project, he delegated the on-site architectural duties to the local Norfolk architect Matthew Brettingham, who was employed as the on-site clerk of works. Brettingham was already the estate architect, and was in receipt of £50 a year (about 7,000 pounds per year in 2014 terms  in return for "taking care of his Lordship's buildings". William Kent was mainly responsible for the interiors of the Southwest pavilion, or family wing block, particularly the Long Library. Kent produced a variety of alternative exteriors, suggesting a far richer decoration than Coke wanted. Brettingham described the building of Holkham as "the great work of [my life]", and when he published his "The Plans and Elevations of the late Earl of Leicester's House at Holkham", he immodestly described himself as sole architect, making no mention of Kent's involvement. However, in a later edition of the book, Brettingham's son admitted that "the general idea was first struck out by the Earls of Leicester and Burlington, assisted by Mr. William Kent".

In 1734, the first foundations were laid; however, building was to continue for thirty years, until the completion of the great house in 1764.

The Palladian style was admired by Whigs such as Thomas Coke, who sought to identify themselves with the Romans of antiquity. Kent was responsible for the external appearance of Holkham; he based his design on Palladio's unbuilt Villa Mocenigo,] as it appears in I Quattro Libri dell'Architettura, but with modifications.

The plans for Holkham were of a large central block of two floors only, containing on the piano nobile level a series of symmetrically balanced state rooms situated around two courtyards. No hint of these courtyards is given externally; they are intended for lighting rather than recreation or architectural value. This great central block is flanked by four smaller, rectangular blocks, or wings, and at each corners is linked to the main house not by long colonnades—as would have been the norm in Palladian architecture—but by short two-storey wings of only one bay.

The external appearance of Holkham can best be described as a huge Roman palace. However, as with most architectural designs, it is never quite that simple. Holkham is a Palladian house, and yet even by Palladian standards the external appearance is austere and devoid of ornamentation. This can almost certainly be traced to Coke himself. The on-site, supervising architect, Matthew Brettingham, related that Coke required and demanded "commodiousness", which can be interpreted as comfort. Hence rooms that were adequately lit by one window, had only one, as a second might have improved the external appearance but could have made a room cold or draughty. As a result the few windows on the piano nobile, although symmetrically placed and balanced, appear lost in a sea of brickwork; albeit these yellow bricks were cast as exact replicas of ancient Roman bricks expressly for Holkham. Above the windows of the piano nobile, where on a true Palladian structure the windows of a mezzanine would be, there is nothing. The reason for this is the double height of the state rooms on the piano nobile; however, not even a blind window, such as those often seen in Palladio's own work, is permitted to alleviate the severity of the facade. On the ground floor, the rusticated walls are pierced by small windows more reminiscent of a prison than a grand house. One architectural commentator, Nigel Nicolson, has described the house as appearing as functional as a Prussian riding school.

The principal, or South facade, is 344 feet (104.9 m) in length (from each of the flanking wings to the other), its austerity relieved on the piano nobile level only by a great six-columned portico. Each end of the central block is terminated by a slight projection, containing a Venetian window surmounted by a single storey square tower and capped roof, similar to those employed by Inigo Jones at Wilton House nearly a century earlier. A near identical portico was designed by Inigo Jones and Isaac de Caus for the Palladian front at Wilton, but this was never executed.

The flanking wings contain service and secondary rooms—the family wing to the south-west; the guest wing to the north-west; the chapel wing to the south-east; and the kitchen wing to the north-east. Each wing's external appearance is identical: three bays, each separated from the other by a narrow recess in the elevation. Each bay is surmounted by an unadorned pediment. The composition of stone, recesses, varying pediments and chimneys of the four blocks is almost reminiscent of the English Baroque style in favour ten years earlier, employed at Seaton Delaval Hall by Sir John Vanbrugh. One of these wings, as at the later Kedleston Hall, was a self-contained country house to accommodate the family when the state rooms and central block were not in use.

The one storey porch at the main north entrance was designed in the 1850s by Samuel Sanders Teulon, although stylistically it is indistinguishable from the 18th century building.

Inside the house, the Palladian form reaches a height and grandeur seldom seen in any other house in England. It has, in fact, been described as "The finest Palladian interior in England."[20] The grandeur of the interior is obtained with an absence of excessive ornament, and reflects Kent's career-long taste for "the eloquence of a plain surface". Work on the interiors ran from 1739 to 1773. The first habitable rooms were in the family wing and were in use from 1740, the Long Library being the first major interior completed in 1741. Among the last to be completed and entirely under Lady Leicester's supervision is the Chapel with its alabaster reredos. The house is entered through the "Marble" Hall (the chief building fabric is in fact Derbyshire alabaster), modelled by Kent on a Roman basilica. The room is over 50 feet (15 m) from floor to ceiling and is dominated by the broad white marble flight of steps leading to the surrounding gallery, or peristyle: here alabaster Ionic columns support the coffered, gilded ceiling, copied from a design by Inigo Jones, inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. The fluted columns are thought to be replicas of those in the Temple of Fortuna Virilis, also in Rome. Around the hall are statues in niches; these are predominantly plaster copies of classical deities.

The hall's flight of steps lead to the piano nobile and state rooms. The grandest, the saloon, is situated immediately behind the great portico, with its walls lined with patterned red Genoa velvet and a coffered, gilded ceiling. In this room hangs Rubens's Return from Egypt. On his Grand Tour, the Earl acquired a collection of Roman copies of Greek and Roman sculpture which is contained in the massive "Statue Gallery", which runs the full length of the house north to south. The North Dining Room, a cube room of 27 feet (8.2 m) contains an Axminster carpet that perfectly mirrors the pattern of the ceiling above. A bust of Aelius Verus, set in a niche in the wall of this room, was found during the restoration at Nettuno. A classical apse gives the room an almost temple air. The apse in fact, contains concealed access to the labyrinth of corridors and narrow stairs that lead to the distant kitchens and service areas of the house. Each corner of the east side of the principal block contains a square salon lit by a huge Venetian window, one of them—the Landscape Room—hung with paintings by Claude Lorrain and Gaspar Poussin. All of the major state rooms have symmetrical walls, even where this involves matching real with false doors. The major rooms also have elaborate white and multi-coloured marble fireplaces, most with carvings and sculpture, mainly the work of Thomas Carter, though Joseph Pickford carved the fireplace in the Statue Gallery. Much of the furniture in the state rooms was also designed by William Kent, in a stately classicising baroque manner.

So restrained is the interior decoration of the state rooms, or in the words of James Lees-Milne, "chaste", that the smaller, more intimate rooms in the family's private south-west wing were decorated in similar vein, without being overpowering. The long library running the full length of the wing still contains the collection of books acquired by Thomas Coke on his Grand Tour through Italy, where he saw for the first time the Palladian villas which were to inspire Holkham.

The Green State bedroom is the principal bedroom; it is decorated with paintings and tapestries, including works by Paul Saunders and George Smith Bradshaw. It is said that when Queen Mary visited, Gavin Hamilton's "lewd" depiction of Jupiter Caressing Juno "was considered unsuitable for that lady's eyes and was banished to the attics"

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