Holt

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Holt is a market town and civil parish in the English county of Norfolk. The town is 22.8 miles (36.7 km) north of the city of Norwich, 9.5 miles (15.3 km) west of Cromer and 35 miles (56 km) east of King’s Lynn. The town is on the route of the A148 King’s Lynn to Cromer road. The nearest railway station is in the town of Sheringham where access to the national rail network can be made via the Bittern Line to Norwich. Holt also has a station on the preserved North Norfolk Railway, ‘The Poppy Line’, of which it is the south-western terminus. The nearest airport is Norwich International Airport. The town has a population of 3,550. Holt is within the area covered by North Norfolk District Council.

The name Holt is thought to derive from the Anglo-Saxon word for woodland and Holt is located on wooded high ground of the Cromer-Holt ridge at the crossing point of two ancient by-ways and as such was a natural point for a settlement to grow. The town has a mention in the great survey of 1086 known as the Domesday Book. In the survey it is described as a market town and a port with the nearby port of Cley next the Sea being described as Holt’s port. It also had five watermills and twelve plough teams and as such was seen as a busy thriving viable settlement then. The first Lord of the Manor was Walter Giffard; it passed to Hugh, Earl of Chester, who then left it to the De Vaux family. By this time Holt had a well-established market and two annual fairs which were held on the 25th of April and the 25th of November. Over the years Holt grew as a local place of trade and commerce. The weekly market which has taken place since before the 1080s was stopped in 1960s.

On 1 May 1708 the town of Holt was devastated by a fire which destroyed most of the medieval town in the matter of three hours. The fire started at Shirehall Plain and quickly spread through the timber houses of the town. The church was also badly damaged with its thatched chancel destroyed and the lead melted from the windows with the flames spreading up the steeple. Local reports of the time state that the fire spread so swiftly that the butchers did not have time to rescue their meat from their stalls on the market. The damage to the town was estimated to be in the region of £11,000. which was a massive amount of money at that time. After the fire the town received many donations from all over the country and the task of reconstruction began.

With most of the medieval buildings destroyed in the fire the townsfolk set about rebuilding the town. The rebuilding made Holt notable for its abundance of Georgian buildings, that being the style of the day at the time when the town centre was rebuilt. However, the town repaired and retains its Norman parish church, which is dedicated to St Andrew. It has been noted that if the town of Holt had not been destroyed by the fire in 1708 it would now look very similar to the town of Lavenham in Suffolk.

The Hall was built in the 1840s and extended in the 1860s. The Hall is located in an 86-acre (350,000 m2) estate made up of ancient woodlands, lawns, lakes and gardens.

It was owned by Henry Burcham-Rogers, who inherited it from his father John Rogers in 1906. Henry Burcham-Rogers kept the Hall until his death in 1945.

Holt Hall is currently a Field Studies Centre run by Norfolk County Council.

1-3 Shirehall Plain – The building is thought to be the oldest house in Holt (the cellar dates back to the 15th century), a survivor of the great fire of Holt in 1708 and a further fire in the building in 1906. The premises traded as a hardware shop or ironmonger’s for over 100 years under the ownership of the Byford family. Byfords is now run as a cafe, delicatessen, and B&B.

Blind Sam is the name given locally to the Queen Victoria Jubilee Lantern located in Obelisk Plain. From the year of Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 until 1921 it stood in the Market Place, where it had two functions, to provide light to the Market Place and to provide drinking water from two fountains at the bottom. The light was powered by the town’s gas supply, which at the time was sporadic and unreliable, hence the nickname “Blind Sam”. It was moved to Obelisk Plain in 1921 to make way for the War Memorial. Made by ironmongers in Glasgow, it was restored locally in the 1990s.

The pineapple-topped obelisk at Holt is one of a pair gateposts from Melton Constable park, the other having been given to the town of Dereham in 1757. Each gatepost had the distances to various places from Holt and Dereham respectively carved into the stone. At the start of World War II, in order to avoid assisting the enemy in the event of invasion, the townspeople of Dereham dumped their obelisk down a deep well, where it remains to this day. The people of Holt whitewashed their obelisk at the start of World War II and it remains in good condition and a cause of great interest.

The town’s water was pumped from the common land at Spout Hills to the water tower in Shirehall Plain. The tower was made from bricks, built in 1885 and was 56 ft (17 m) high. It held around 150,000 gallons of water and the water level inside the tank could be read from the ground. The tower was demolished in the 1950s.

A brick-built windmill was erected in the late eighteenth century: when put up for sale in the summer of 1792 it was described as “newly built”. It was used by many different owners until the early 1920s. The sails were removed in 1922 and the rest of the machinery was removed in the 1930s. The brick tower was then used for storage until deemed unsafe. The brick tower was demolished in the 1970s. There are now homes on the site, known as Mill Court.

On 19 August 1968, two Royal Air Force jet aircraft collided at 14,500 ft (4,400 m) over the town of Holt. All 7 crew from both aircraft were killed. A memorial stone hangs inside St Andrew’s Church.

Holt railway station, opened in 1887, was served by the Midland and Great Northern Railway. Most of this network was closed by British Railways in 1959 but the short section from Melton Constable railway station via Holt to Sheringham (services continuing on to Cromer and Norwich) escaped closure for a few more years – finally succumbing in 1964 when the branch was cut back to Sheringham (now the nearest national rail-head, served by frequent services to Norwich along the ‘Bittern Line’). In 1965, within a year of the closure of this line, the North Norfolk Railway was formed to restore part of the line as an independent heritage steam railway. Initially it operated between Sheringham and Weybourne; later it was extended to the eastern edge of Holt. Until a few years ago, a horse-bus service, the “Holt Flyer”, ran between the Railway Tavern in the town centre and the new railway station, timed to connect with trains. The horse-bus has now been replaced by a Routemaster bus. There are now plans to extend the railway back towards the town centre.

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