The twelve letters published here are the majority of the only known original letters from Thomas Coke (1697–1759), the builder of Holkham Hall, Baron Lovell of Minster Lovell and later first Earl of Leicester, to Matthew Brettingham senior (1699–1769), his executive architect, draughtsman and clerk of works. They were written between 1734 and 1741, as work on Holkham Hall began with the building of the first wing, the south-west Family Wing.
The letters were found in the Holkham Archives in 1996, as the process of sorting and cataloguing reached a tin deed box of miscellaneous unsorted papers. They were in a flat packet, labelled in pencil ‘Lovel (Ld.) of Minster Lovel, 18 Autograph Letters’. (There are, in fact, twenty letters or part letters.) Wrapped with them were several short notes from a Birmingham antiquarian book dealer in 1900, admitting that he was not sure whether they were of any great importance but offering to send them for inspection; a couple of copy replies, indecipherable owing to the action of ink on flimsy copy paper; and notes from Wenman Coke (younger son of the elderly second Earl) and the estate agent, Wood, which show that Coke (Viscount Coke, the future third Earl) refused to read them but was eventually persuaded to buy them for 42s., the dealer having reduced his asking price of 50s.