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Inside Lady Rose Hanbury’s Historic Houghton Hall Residence

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Inside Lady Rose Hanbury’s Houghton Hall ResidenceAngelo Hornak - Getty Images

We’re getting a strange case of déjà vu as rumors circulate around Prince William’s alleged extramarital affair. The tale began with a story in The Sun in 2019, which reported that Kate had phased out one of her closest friends, Lady Rose Hanbury, for unknown reasons. Hanbury and her husband, David Rocksavage, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley (pronounced “Chum-ley”), live with their children in Houghton Hall in Norfolk, just four miles down the road from Will and Kate’s country retreat, Anmer Hall. The couples reportedly know each other through an elite country circle in Norfolk called the “Turnip Toffs” (while the reason for the name is beyond us, The Kit translates it to “always rich British people”).

the duke and duchess of cambridge attend gala dinner to support east anglia's children's hospices' nook appeal
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are greeted by David Cholmondeley, Marquess of Cholmondeley, and Rose Cholmondeley, the Marchioness of Cholmondeley, as they attend a gala dinner in 2016.Stephen Pond - Getty Images

When Kate had an abdominal surgery in January with a recovery that has strangely continued to keep her out of the public eye, speculation spread not only about her health but also about the state of her marriage. Hanbury denied any allegations of the affair, saying through her lawyers that “the rumors are completely false,” Business Insider reported.

While we can’t say what happens behind closed doors when it comes to the British elite, we certainly can give you a glimpse into the rooms behind those doors. Houghton Hall—the Cholomondeley’s residence—is a historic Palladian mansion that rivals some art museums. Read on for more about this stately structure that Prince William may or may not have paid many a visit to.

Where Is Houghton Hall?

Houghton Hall is located in, well, Houghton, a small village and civil parish in the English county of Norfolk. The village is about a two-and-a-half hour distance from London by car. The mansion is set in 42 acres of sprawling parkland that hosts an impressive collection of contemporary sculptures by world-renowned artists, including a James Turrell sky space and sculptures by Richard Long, Anya Gallaccio, Stephen Cox, Jeppe Hein, Rachel Whiteread, and Phillip King. There’s also a five-acre Walled Garden, a memorial created by Lord Cholmondeley for his grandmother, Lady Sybil Cholmondeley. It boasts an Italian garden, a rose parterre, a glass house, and a rustic temple. Beyond, there’s a model soldier museum that houses the largest private collection of model soldiers in the world—featuring 20,000 fearless figurines that were apparently the hobby of the 6th Marquess of Cholmondeley, the current marquess’s father.

You can visit the grounds of Houghton Hall between the months of April and October. In mid-August, visitors can attend the Houghton Festival, a gathering of musicians and artists that takes place on a separate site on the estate. And for the equestrian lovers out there, Houghton also holds an annual three-day horse competition in May.

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Houghton Hall in Norfolk, circa 1820. Engraved by W. Wallis after a drawing by J. P. Neale.Hulton Archive - Getty Images

What’s the History of Houghton Hall?

Houghton Hall was erected in the 1720s for Britain’s first prime minister, Sir Robert Walpole. It was a collaboration between the two defining British architects of the time, Colen Campbell and James Gibbs, in the then very fashionable Anglo-Palladian style. During the 18th century, Walpole amassed one of the greatest collections of European art in Britain, and Houghton became a museum to the collection. However, upon Walpole’s death, Houghton passed to Walpole’s son and then to his grandson, the 3rd Earl of Orford, who had to sell a large portion of the collection to Catherine the Great of Russia to pay off some debt.

The house remained in the family for one more generation before being rented out to a succession of tenants from 1884 to 1916. It then fell into the hands of the future 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley and his wife, Sybil, just after the First World War, who restored it to its former glory. Today, the Marquess of Cholmondeley (a direct descendant of Sir Robert Walpole) and his wife, Marchioness Rose Cholmondeley—aka Lady Rose Hanbury— reside there with their three children.

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The Great Staircase at Houghton Hall in Norfolk, circa 1985.Christopher Simon Sykes - Getty Images

How Were the Houghton Hall’s Interiors Designed?

While Walpole only visited Norfolk twice a year, he spared no expense in the opulent interiors, which were completed by William Kent, the most sought-after architect of the day who had been called on to tackle Kensington Palace’s interiors just a few years prior. Houghton Hall, too, was designed to impress and entertain on a grand scale. Painted Michelangelo-esque ceilings overlook suites of carved and gilt furniture; the bed in the State Bedroom is luxuriously draped with green velvet (the 1732 bill for the trimmings survives and shows that they paid over £1,200 for the braids, rosettes, and fringes of silver-gilt thread—the equivalent of about $98,000 today, according to Official Data). On the other side of the house, a magnificent marble parlor is devoted to Bacchus in the form of marble carvings in the wall and fireplace mantle.

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Lord David Cholmondeley, photographed in the exhibit “Houghton Hall: Portrait of an English Country House” at Museum of Modern Art Houston in 2014, in Houston.Houston Chronicle/Hearst Newspapers via Getty Images - Getty Images

Over the years, each tenant of the mansion has left their mark. Sybil Sassoon and her husband, George, the 5th Marquess of Cholmondeley, revamped the pipes, electricity, and internal phone system. They also brought in a lot of French antique furniture from Sybil’s collector brother, Philip Sassoon, which was spread all over the house. As for its current tenants, the Cholmondeleys, further adjustments have also been made. A large fire-damaged room in the north wing (previously his grandfather’s gym) was transformed into Art Deco–inspired private living quarters that serve as a guest house. Cholmondeley’s collection of Scandinavian art creates added character. The lower hall, once used for fox-hunt meets and political congresses, is now an “everything room,” Hanbury told the Financial Times. Notebooks, sneakers, and Wellington boots frequent the grand mahogany tables, and the kids skateboard up and down the length of the room. Proof that the story of this house and its tenants lives on.

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