Holkham Hall permanent exhibition opens

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An interactive farming exhibition opened on Sunday at Holkham Hall, following a preview day which attracted 800 visitors.

The permanent exhibition – the centrepiece of a £4.5 million investment – is entitled Field to Fork

It tells the story of the estate’s farming history, which is also part of the country’s agricultural history because Thomas Coke, the first Earl of Leicester, known as Coke of Norfolk, who died in 1842, is one of a small number of farmers who are credited with revolutionising farming methods.

He introduced the concept of a four yearly crop rotation, today extended to six years at Holkham.

He also brought in innovative new techniques such as seed drilling and, perhaps most importantly, experimented with breeding techniques to improve the quality of his sheep and cattle.

The exhibition introduces the visitor to the Cokes with a family tree that stretches back to 1558 though the family did not come to Holkham until 1609 settling into the family home three years later. Today it covers 25,000 acres.

The exhibition takes the visitor through the development of farming over centuries in a very interactive way. Shake a massive heart-shaped spade and a voice reveals it was a trenching tool for digging ditches. Tap a bowler hat and discover it was originally called a Coke Hat, invented in 1849, as a reinforced hat for the estate’s gamekeepers.

Mystery smells reveal themselves when small lids are lifted or bird boxes, when opened, are found to contain clues to a nature Discovery Trail, designed especially for children, whilst two videos delve into the running of the farming and game-keeping aspects of a modern estate.

Alongside the exhibition is a new glass-fronted shop whilst the Courtyard Cafe, serving local produce and which originally seated 70, has been enlarged to accommodate 200 customers with 60 more outside.

Part of the estate is already both a National Nature Reserve and an SSI.