From Daleks to James Dyson - 9 things you might not know about Holt

Holt is a popular tourist destination

Holt is a popular tourist destination - Credit: Archant

This busy market town in north Norfolk is a popular tourist destination. Like any place, though, it has its fair share of surprises and hidden details.  

1 The name Holt is believed to come from the Anglo-Saxon word for woodland, given the town’s position. Perched on wooded high ground on top of the ridge that runs between Cromer and Holt, it sits at the crossing point of two major ancient byways. As such, it was a natural place for a settlement to develop and grow.  

2 Holt is recorded in William the Conqueror’s Domesday Book. Not quite as apocalyptic as it sounds, it was a survey of England and some parts of Wales to list William’s holdings and calculate dues owed to him. Holt was recorded as a settlement in 1086 as having ‘60 adult males, 90 sheep, 60 pigs, one carthorse, five mills, a port (Cley) and a market’. 

Holt town sign

Holt town sign - Credit: Archant

3 There was a Great Fire of Holt in 1708. In approximately three hours almost the entire town was razed to the ground after a fire broke out in the market. Many of the town’s medieval buildings were destroyed, and the flames were hot enough to melt the lead from the church’s windows. Much of the town was rebuilt thanks to donations from across the country, replacing its historic medieval architecture with Georgian styles.  

4 Holt has a famous pineapple, atop an obelisk on the High Street. It is one of a pair of gateposts moved from the nearby Melton Park – so you shouldn’t trust the distance markers to nearby towns carved into it! The second obelisk was given to Dereham, but the townsfolk unceremoniously threw it down a well to ensure it wouldn’t assist invaders during the Second World War.  

Holt-born Olympic gold medal winning rower Matthew Pinsent

Holt-born Olympic gold medal winning rower Matthew Pinsent - Credit: Archant

5 It is the birthplace of decorated British Olympian Sir Matthew Pinsent. He was born in Holt in 1970, and his father was a vicar in the town. Pinsent is actually descended directly from William the Conqueror as well.  

Daleks invade Holt!

Daleks invade Holt! - Credit: Archant

6 Exterminate? Holt was invaded by Daleks in 2006 as part of a celebration of all things Doctor Who. Organised by the now-closed sci-fi shop Planet Skaro, the aim of the day was to set the Guinness world record for the largest number of Daleks gathered in a single place. The attempt was judged by sixth Doctor Colin Baker and original ‘Davros’ Terry Molloy. The late Deborah Watling, companion to the second Doctor, also attended, and the event raised money for the East Anglian Air Ambulance 

Follow the owls around Holt

Follow the owls around Holt - Credit: Archant

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7 The owls are not what they seem. Dotted around the town are 24 owl plaques, inspired by an ancient local legend where townsfolk are supposed to have caught an owl, placed it in the pound for safekeeping, only for it to immediately fly away. The plaques mark the route for the Holt Owl Trail, a walking trail that takes in some local highlights, landmarks and a few hidden secrets.  

Gresham's School in Holt, part of the town since 1555

Gresham's School in Holt, part of the town since 1555 - Credit: Archant

8 Gresham’s School is an historic part of the town, founded over 500 years ago in 1555 by Sir John Gresham. The school has seen its fair share of pupils in that half century, with some famous OG (Old Greshamian) alumni. These include legendary poet WH Auden, Oscar winner Olivia Colman, billionaire entrepreneur Sir James Dyson and conductor and composer Benjamin Britten. 

Anwen, Lady Hurt, artistic director of the Holt Festival

Anwen, Lady Hurt, artistic director of the Holt Festival - Credit: Archant

9 Holt Festival is a music and arts festival that, for one week every year, transforms the usually quiet town into a dazzling hub of culture. It attracts huge names year in, year out, including the likes of Michael Palin, Miriam Margolyes, Suzi Quattro, Flo & Joan, and 10CC. Anwen Hurt, widow of the late John Hurt, serves as artistic director.