Howard Carter’s Norfolk Inspiration

I’ve been quiet of late as I finally took a trip of a lifetime to the land of the Sphinx. It was a incredible experience and once again proved to me that no matter how many times you see something on TV, you simply cannot appreciate the scale, beauty and impact of certain places, unless you see them with your own eyes. Our trip included the Pyramids, Cairo Museum, temples galore, of which Karnak edged it for me, cruising on the Nile, the impressive Aswan dam and of course the Valley of the Kings, where Howard Carter famously discovered Tutankhamun’s intact tomb. But did you know about Howard Carter’s Norfolk connection?

The Carters

Howard Carter was the youngest of 11 children, born in Kensington, London, in 1874 to artist and illustrator Samuel John Carter and his wife, Martha Sands. Samuel had been born in Swaffham and based himself in London and Norfolk. Samuel was a friend of Lord and Lady Amherst of Didlington Hall, near Swaffham, and spent a lot of time at the Hall painting and drawing, often accompanied by the younger Carters.

The Amhersts

William Amhurst Tyssen-Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst of Hackney, was a Conservative MP who is primarily remembered as a collector of books and antiquities. His Egyptian collection was especially famed and he had a museum built adjoining the hall to display his collection. As you can see from the accompanying photograph, seven Sekhmets, six of which are now house in the New York City Metropolitan Museum, were displayed outside the museum. This is surely the place where the young Howard Carter developed his interest in Egyptology. Lord and Lady Amherst went on to become patrons to Carter as be began his explorations.

Didlington Hall

The Hall was originally a mansion house built in the 1600s. It was enlarged a number of times, but Lord Amherst turned the house into an Italianate gem. It was said to have eighty bedrooms at one time and the grounds included hothouses, lakes, a deer park and swimming pool.  In 1906, Lord Amherst discovered that he had been swindled by his solicitor and had to sell most of his collections, resulting in them being spread across the globe. He died just a few weeks after the sale. The Hall was requisitioned for military occupation during the Second World War and sadly fell into such disrepair that it was demolished in the 1950s. Thus, Norfolk lost one of its finest halls and an important collection of antiquities.

Didlington Hall