Holkham Hall is an 18th-century country house located adjacent to the village of Wells-next-the-Sea, on the north coast of the English county of Norfolk. The hall was constructed in the Palladian style for Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester by the architect William Kent, aided by the architect and aristocrat Lord Burlington.
His great nephew Thomas William Coke, known as Coke of Norfolk, is also interesting to us because of his work on the selective breeding of sheep. The most common species in the area was the Norfolk Horn, which was long-legged and slow to mature. Coke became a promoter of the English Leicester, a breed noted as fast-maturing and excellent when fed turnips. Coke cross-bred the two, with the resulting sheep being highly tame and superior to the pure Norfolk breed. Now the question is: was it used for parchment making?
Dr Suzanne Reynolds, Library Curator of Manuscripts and Printed Books and Prof. Stephen Milner are old friends from their days studying together at the Warburg Institute. Suzanne kindly allowed us access to both books printed on skin and manuscript pocket bibles from the collection which was put together during the Grand Tour and catalogued by William Roscoe from Liverpool.
We rubbed a 1476 copy of Pliny’s Natural History printed in Venice but on parchment supplied by the Ridolfi family in Florence.
We were also lucky to rub our second Fust & Schoeffer Cicero from Mainz in two days, the other being in Cambridge. Interestingly, the first folio was a 1849 facsimile parchment leaf inserted many years after the original printing. We now need to rub our own copy when we return to the Rylands. These few days have really made us consider the wider picture of parchment printing in the main European centres. These three copies from the same edition will make a nice discrete set.
Sarah also managed to see five pocket bibles from the collection and sample them for her ever growing corpus. One was especially interesting as it has been severely water damaged in the past and so we decided to sample both good and areas to see the variances in the damage index.
Suzanne was keen to have a go herself so she could collect further samples as she finds interesting candidates for analysis. She was a natural! And just a day after our visit she has also identified a 1471 Cicero ‘Epistolae Ad Familiares’ by Nicholas Jenson also on parchment.
After a quick cup of tea and walk on the beach we hit the road for a long drive back. Really looking forward to seeing the results. Thanks Suzanne!