Early History of the Manor
Before the conquest Holkham was held by Lord Ketel (Freeman) who was deprived of his lands after 1066.
At Domesday Holkham was granted to Tovi (one of William I’s attendants.) Tovi also held many other Lordships.
On the death of Tovi the manor reverted back to the crown.
William II, granted it to William de Albini, Lord of Wymondham, Castle Rising and Buckenham among others.
In the reign of Henry III the Manor was in the possession of Thomas de Holcham (Holkham) his son Lord Montchensi left a daughter (Dionisia) as sole heir.
In 1296 Dionisia married Sir Hugh de Vere, younger son of Robert Earl of Oxford. Having no issue, the lordship came to Adomare de Valentia, Earl of Pembroke, son of William de Valentia Earl of Pembroke.
How did Holkham Manor come to be held the Lucas Family and Why ?
Firstly it is interesting that the manor was held by the Earldom of Pembroke. Thomas Lucas, solicitor General was a close friend of Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke. Jasper had already gifted Pembroke Manor in Westley, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk. Was this also gifted to Thomas for his loyal support of the Tudor cause ?
As to why,
the family had been well established in Bury St Edmunds since the mid 1100’s and had grown wealthy and gained high civic status by their involvement in the wool trade.
In 1350 the family had established a presence in Manningtree and Colchester in Essex, from where they were exporting cloth to the continent.
Bury St Edmunds in situated in the far west of Suffolk, many miles from the coast. It was however good grazing for sheep and the production of wool and cloth, as was Norfolk.
It is about 50 miles from Bury St Edmunds to the coast ports in Essex which were closely regulated. At various times there was high duties to be paid for the export of goods particularly wool and finished cloth.
The Norfolk coast is only 56 miles from Bury St Edmunds. In the 1500’s Holkham had it’s own harbour owned by the manor. The Norfolk coast is a fair distance from the governments seat at Westminster. Was it possible to export direct from the this level activity without paying taxes ?
Prior to the improvements to the land by the Coke Family, much of the manor was marsh and sandy soil, suitable only for grazing sheep.
Further more Thomas Lucas already held Surlingham, and Swainthorp, the advowson of St. Laurence's church in Laringsete, the manor of Kypton in Wesenham [Weasenham], and Raynham, presumably also used for sheep grazing.
Origin of the Name HOLK - HAM
The last part is easy, ham referring to a village or settlement, at several points in history there is reference to the Village of Holkham. It is believed that the coast line would have been about where the estate wall is now with the lake that is now isolated an inlet forming a small harbour. It is difficult to imagine the coastline 1000 years ago, even today the coast is changing all the time; many of the cliffs are eroding with sandbars being deposited further along.
The first part (Holk) in it’s various spellings is less clear.
One suggestion is it makes reference to the hallow ground or valley into which the small inlet flow. While this is feasible but the geography is not unusual, there are several other site that could be described in the same way.
The other alternative is a holy place, Holkham Church (St Withburgha), stands on a sand mound. It is uncertain whether this is man made or thrown up by wave action or man made. The mound is circular, sloping fairly evenly all round, I personally don’t see this could be formed by wave action.
If it is a man made structure in could well be an ancient burial mound; there are many in he county, buy this one is large compared.
It is not unusual for churches, indeed it was a fairly common practice to build over and assert dominance over a pagan site. The Romans did have a presence on the coast and aligning the native Gods to their own was a way of appeasing the population.
I believe the site is prehistoric, maybe a burial mount or some form of platform above flood level where a community could feel safe and lookout for invaders. On converting to Christian ways a small church was built, eventually expanding and taking up the whole of the elevated site. The village establishing itself slightly more inland around the inlet.
It would make sense to build and dedicate a Church to one of the most important local saints at a site that was already established as a religious site (Pagan or Christian).
Domesday Book Entry:
Hoccham / Hoc(ha)ham / Holcham / Holkham / Locham: King's land and Wighton from the king; Ribald from Count Alan; Walter from William de Warenne; William de Noyers from Bishop William; Peter de Valognes; Tovi. 300 sheep.