August 25, 2014

Castles of South-West England

Acton Court is a recently restored Tudor house in South Gloucestershire. From 1364 until 1680 the Poyntz family owned the property. Nicholas Poyntz added a lavishly decorated East wing onto the existing moated manor house in 1534. Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stayed at Acton Court for two days in 1535 during a tour of the West country. The house was sold in 1680, reduced in size and converted to a farm house and was used as such until 1984, but it was neglected and fell into a dilapidated state. However, the East wing was left virtually intact with its Tudor decorations! Most other houses have been extensively altered during the Georgian and Victorian era. An extensive restoration has recently been completed, but the half of a north wing, built in the 1550s, also remains. 

Acton Court as it may have looked in the 16th century.
During conservation work in 1994, the King's "en suite" garderobe was disovered in the masonry. Poyntz had gone through a lot of trouble to build and decorate the wing as fashionably as possible in only 9 months, "fit for a King". Poyntz was rewarded accordingly; he was knighted during the royal visit. 

In the grounds you can find flower meadows, a cider apple orchard and an organic kitchen garden. 



One item of particular importance, was found by chance in a nettle patch next to the building. It is a Cotswold limestone sundial designed by the royal horologist, Nicholas Kratzer, dated 1520.

Cotehele is a medieval/Tudor house in Calstock, Cornwall, probably one of the least altered of all Tudor houses in the United Kingdom. The original building may have stood on the site in 1300, and the main phases of building appear to have been in the late 15th century by Sir Richard Edgcumbe and later, his son. 

The Great Hall
Cotehele Mill 
A 16th century dovecote and the stewpond in the garden

For centuries it remained in the Edgcumbe family, but today the house and estate are under the care of the National Trust. Unfortunately I didn't find out much more. Perhaps you have to visit the house in person to find out more! 



Prideaux Place is a another lovely manor house in Cornwall. It has been the home of the Prideaux-Brune family for over 400 years. Completed in 1592, Prideaux has been enlarged and modified several times. Today one can find both Elizabethan and an 18th century Gothic architectural style represented. The house is filled with treasures; including royal and family portraits, fine furniture and the Prideaux porcelain collection. The recently uncovered ceiling in the Great Chamber is a masterpiece of the Elizabethan plasterer’s art.

The house is currently undergoing restoration of the grounds, in order to take the ancient garden back to its original glory. Prideaux Place has been used as a film location many times; Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes and Peter O'Toole are amongst some of the famous names who have acted at this beautiful house. 


Odd fact: The herd of fallow deer at Prideaux Place is thought to be one of the oldest park herds in the country. The Deer Park has been dated back to its enclosure by the Romans in 435AD (though not necessarily in its present form). Legend has it that if the deer die out, then so does the Prideaux family. In February 1927 the herd was supplemented with a new master buck sent via the Great Western Railway by King George V from the herd at Windsor. Unfortunately the animal did not get the chance to improve the bloodline as was hoped, because the following morning the gamekeeper set out to cull the old master buck and shot the King’s buck instead!


Berkeley Castle is a castle in Gloucestershire. The castle's origins date back to the 1100s, and it has remained within the Berkeley family since they reconstructed it in the 12th century with the aim of defending the region against the Welsh; except for a period of royal ownership by the Tudors. The first castle was a motte-and-bailey, built around 1067 by William FitzOsbern shortly after the Conquest. Much of what remains today is 14th century. 

According to tradition, King Edward II was murdered here in 1327. He had been deposed by his wife Queen Isabella and her ally Mortimer, and placed into the joint custody of Thomas de Berkeley and his brother-in-law. He was held at Berkeley for five months. He was reputedly murdered on September 1327, "by unknown means", although popular stories of a red hot poker or suffocation persist...

The cell where he supposedly was imprisoned and murdered can still be seen, along with an adjacent 36ft (11m) deep dungeon. The body lay in state, embalmed, at the chapel at Berkeley for a month, before it was escorted to Gloucester Abbey for burial. 


The castle is surrounded by terraced gardens. It is the oldest continuously occupied castle in England after the Tower and Windsor, and the oldest to be owned and occupied by the same family. The antique four-poster bed has remained in continuous use by the family. The Berkeleys are lucky enough to divide their time between this castle and their other home, Spetchley Park outside Worcester, which has been in their ownership since 1606. 

Berkeley was another stop during Henry and Anne's summer progress in 1535. Thomas Cromwell was the castle's constable at the time; receiving income from its lands, a position he retained until his execution in 1540. The wall hangings you can see in the photos below have been dated to be around 500 years old; most probably made for Henry and Anne's bedroom and left behind at the castle. 

Berkeley Castle can also be hired for stylish weddings. 

The Estate consists of 6,000 acres of parkland.
Most areas are open to the public since the 1990s; the private apartments only occupy about 15% of the building. For nine centuries, the building, the Berkeley family, the archives, the contents, the estate and the town have all survived together! They are one of only three families in England who can trace their ancestry from father to son back to Saxon times. They were close to the throne; able administrators and fighters who supported their king or queen as long as they could, backed the winning side, and married well. The Archives housed in the castle date back from the earliest part of the 12th century and number around 20,000 documents. The contents of the castle are items that have been collected by members of the Berkeley family throughout the centuries. These include Elizabeth I's bedspread, Francis Drake's cabin chest and a banner that the 4th Earl of Berkeley took with him to the Battle of Culloden. There are also unusual tapestries, paintings, ceramics and silverware. 

Highgrove House is the country home of no one other than Prince Charles. Situated at Doughton, Gloucestershire, Highgrove House was purchased in 1980 by the Duchy of Cornwall. The Duchy also manages the estate surrounding the house.

Highgrove House was built in 1796 to 1798 by a wealthy family. Their descendants owned it until 1860. In 1850 Mary Elizabeth Paul died after her gown caught fire during a soiree held for her brother in the ballroom. It was restored in 1894 by new owners after another fire gutted the interior and damaged the west façade, where a window collapsed onto the terrace, bringing down the wall above. The house has four reception rooms, nine main bedrooms, a nursery wing and staff quarters. The Duchy of Cornwall acquired Highgrove House from the MP Maurice Macmillan, son of former Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan in 1980.


The house was redecorated by Dudley Poplak, the interior decorator who also worked on the Prince and Diana, Princess of Wales's apartment at Kensington Palace, and the royal couple moved into Highgrove in the autumn of 1981, using it as a weekend house. The family spent weekdays at Kensington Palace and weekends at Highgrove, where Prince William and Prince Harry's ponies were kept.

Prince Charles and little Prince Harry at Highgrove.

A keen gardener, the Prince of Wales has devoted much time to planning and designing the gardens. He has created a wild garden, a formal garden and a walled kitchen garden. He has also planted a large number of trees in the grounds. Guided tours of Highgrove Garden are available to prebooked individuals, and groups of up to 26. Visitors must supply photo ID checked by police before entry.

Nether Lypiatt Manor is a neo-Classical manor house in Gloucestershire. It was formerly the country home of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent.

Built in 1702–1705 by an unknown architect for Judge John Coxe with one wing added in 1923, the small house forms a perfect square of 46 feet (14 m) on each side, with sash windows, tall chimneys, hipped roofs and gate piers and railings. It comprises four floors, including a tall basement and an attic floor. Much of the early eighteenth-century panelling survives, as do original stone fireplaces. A fine staircase runs from basement to attic. The house has four reception rooms, eight bedrooms, and four bathrooms.



The grounds have recently been redeveloped with a series of new gardens.
For many years the manor was used as a farmhouse. Before 1981, when it was bought by Prince and Princess Michael (for £300,000), it had been the home of the well-known harpsichordist Violet Gordon-Woodhouse, who lived there with her husband and three lovers. By the 1980s it needed a lot of work. 

In 2005 Nether Lypiatt Manor was put up for sale again. The agent was originally asking for offers in excess of £6 million but it was purchased by the businessman Lord Drayson for £5.75 million.



Odd fact: Judge Coxe, whom the house was originally built for around 1700, was a notorious hanging judge. His son hanged himself in one of the rooms and his ghost is rumoured to appear around the house. The Judge's treasured stallion and blacksmith are also claimed to have been seen rushing through the main gates to the grounds as the anniversary of their deaths approaches around January each year. The Princess of Kent herself however, was sceptical about the presence of ghosts in her home. 

Owlpen Manor is a Tudor manor house, owned by the Mander family, situated in the village of Owlpen in Gloucestershire, within the picturesque Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 

Owlpen Manor is widely recognised as one of the most romantic early manor houses in England. It is of medieval origins but was largely rebuilt in the Tudor period by the Daunt family, between 1464 and 1616. Since then it has hardly been touched except for small improvements in the 18th century.

There are records of a de Olepenne family, who must have named themselves after the place, settled at Owlpen by 1174. They were local landowners, benefactors to abbeys and hospitals, and henchmen to their feudal overlords, the Berkeleys of Berkeley Castle. In 1464 the male line failed after twelve generations of Olepennes, and the manor and lands passed to the Daunt family, whose main line ended in 1803. 




By the 19th century the old manor lay in its remote valley as a Sleeping Beauty which had not been inhabited for nearly a hundred years, a picturesque ruin much decayed, overrun with ivy, and dwarfed by enormous yew trees. There was concern for its survival and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings recommended that it should be vested in the National Trust, which however had no funds available for its repair. Finally, in 1924–25, the future of Owlpen estate was assured when it was sold for the first time in nearly a thousand years. A distinguished Arts and crafts architect repaired the manor house. 

Today Owlpen Manor is the home of Sir Nicholas and his Swedish wife Lady Karin Mander, and their family. Since 1974 they have carefully repaired the manor house and outbuildings, with the cottages and estate, giving them a new and integrated life for the conditions of today. They have recreated the formal Stuart gardens.




In the manor you can find a unique series of painted cloth wall hangings dated about 1700, as well as numerous Tudor historic features. 
The manor house and gardens have been opened to the public since the 1960s. There is also a Holy Cross church adjacent to the house. 

Nine historic cottages on the estate, including a Grist Mill (1728), Court House (1620s), Tithe Barn (1450), and weavers' cottages, are available for holiday accommodation; for couples as a romantic getaway or for groups of nine. Wedding receptions can also be held here, for just 20 and up to 200 guests. 


Cottages available for holiday accommodation
Odd fact: The manor house is said to be one of the most haunted houses in the West of England, where at least four ghosts are recorded as regular apparitions. There is a tradition that Queen Margaret of Anjou paid a visit before the Battle of Tewkesbury in May 1471, and since then her ghost is said to haunt the great chamber where she slept. The other ghosts include a black monk from medieval times, an alchemist from the 17th century and a mischievous child. The ghost stories have featured in a number of TV programmes and books, including Most Haunted. 


Little Sodbury Manor of Little Sodbury, South Gloucestershire, was the 15th century home of Sir John Walsh, a man who favoured reform, who employed William Tyndale as chaplain and tutor to his grandchildren in the 1520s. Tyndale began his translation of the Bible in his bedroom here, before he fled abroad to escape Wolsey's persecution. Sir John had inherited the property in 1504 and remodelled it in 1510-1520. In 1535 Henry and Anne stopped by to pay a visit, on their way from Acton Court. 

The manor retains the porch and Great Hall, with a timber roof resting on corbels carved as shield bearing angels. It fell into disrepair in the nineteenth century, but was later restored. Today it is a mixture of several building periods. Its present approach is from the north and leads into a wing remodelled in 1703, but when Henry VIII visited, the entrance was via a gateway at the south end of the upper terrace. 
The Great Hall.
Today the manor is privately owned by Lord and Lady Killearn who do not open the home to the public, hence there are few photos of both the interior and exterior. 



Sudeley Castle & Gardens are located in the Cotswolds near Winchcombe, Gloucestershire. The present structure was built in the 15th century and may have been on the site of a 12th century castle. The chapel, St. Mary's Sudeley, is the burial place of Queen Katherine Parr (died 1548), the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, and contains her marble tomb. St Mary's is also part of the local parish of the Church of England. Sudeley is also one of the few castles left in England that is still a residence and because of this, the castle is only open to visitors on specific dates, and private family quarters are closed to the public. In March this year the castle opened up more private rooms including rooms which have never been open to the public before, and devised a new route through the castle and gardens.

In 1442, Ralph Boteler, who was created Baron Sudeley by Henry VI of England, built the actual castle and the chapel on its present site using what he had earned fighting in the Hundred Years' War. Edward IV confiscated the castle from its owner in 1469, and gave it to his brother, the Duke of Gloucester, who later became Richard III of England. Richard used the castle as a base for the Battle of Tewkesbury. During his reign the Banqueting hall with oriel windows and the adjoining State rooms, now in ruins, were built in place of the eastern range of Boteler’s inner court as part of a Royal suite. After Richard's death it passed to the new king, Henry VII, who gave it to his uncle, Jasper Tudor. 

Henry VIII visited Sudeley with Anne in July 1535 when the castle was the property of the Crown again, but it had been empty and unattended for some time. The rest of the court stayed at nearby Winchcombe Abbey. It was here that the process that would lead to the destruction of monasteries began. 

Edward VI gave the castle to his uncle, Thomas Seymour. He began renovating the castle for the stepmother of Edward and his sisters, Katherine Parr, who was now his wife and pregnant with their child. She was accompanied by Lady Jane Grey and a number of ladies to attend on her, as well as over one hundred gentlemen of the household and Yeomen. 

Lady Mary Seymour was born on August 30, 1548, but Katherine died six days later. Katherine's funeral was the first Protestant funeral service held in English, with Lady Jane Grey officiating as Chief Mourner.

Her grave and casket were discovered in 1728 by a local farmer after the castle and the chapel had been left in ruins by the Civil War. The farmer opened it up to find a well preserved body of a woman. He took a few locks of hair and then closed the casket, and reburied it. Some years later the casket was disturbed by two men who damaged it and buried it upside down. She was reinterred in 1817 in the chapel and an elaborate marble tomb was erected in her honour. As I've stated in an earlier post on the wives of Henry VIII, there is no record of Katherine's and Thomas Seymour's daughter after 1550. She may have died in the care of Catherine Willoughby. 



Katherine's body had been swaddled in cloth and encased in form fitting lead. When unwrapped she still had her hair, teeth and nails. Within a year she had putrefied, but locks of her hair and a mounted, blackened tooth are on display in the exhibition today. 

"There is a particular time in the evening when the light is at a certain level..there is this sense of timelessness here, I can't really explain it but one merges into it." - Lady Ashcombe (quote taken from In the Footsteps of Anne Boleyn, p188). The picture shows the Chapel. 


Her widower's ambitions led to him being arrested and executed in 1549, after which Sudeley became the property of William Parr, Katherine's brother, who was Marquess of Northampton, and later Baron John Brydges. Queen Elizabeth celebrated the anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada with a spectacular three day fest here in 1592. 
In the aftermaths of the Civil War, Sudeley was left in ruins for two centuries. Local builders plundered the stones. 

With new and ambitious owners, Sudeley was restored in the 19th century. During the Blitz, much of the Tate Gallery's picture collection was protected here. 

The current owners are the American born Lady Elizabeth Ashcombe, widow of Henry Cubitt, 4th Baron Ashcombe, and her two children. Her exhusband Mark Dent-Brocklehurst died in 1972. He had inherited Sudeley in 1949 after his father's death, and about 20 years later they decided to open up the castle to the public. The years did not pass without financial trouble and tough duties, but the castle remains open and the gardens are well maintained. 

What is an old castle without hauntings? Some people, including members of staff, have reported seeing a tall woman wearing a green Tudor styled dress, seen looking out of a window and walking through the Queen's garden. She is thought to be Katherine Parr, the only wife of Henry VIII who survived him (survived as in, with her marriage and titles intact; Anne of Cleves also survived, but she had been divorced since quite a few years). 

Inside the castle one can enjoy historic artefacts, such as rare copies of original books written by Katherine Parr, who was the first queen to have her own work published. There is an exhibition that features her love letters to Thomas Seymour and an eye-witness account of the discovery of her body at Sudeley. 



In April 2014 the castle was one of seven venues across the UK to host the official 3D facial reconstruction of Richard III, whose remains were found in a Leicester car park in February 2012. Sudeley Castle was the last stop on the Richard III Exhibition tour before the head returned to its final resting place in Leicester’s new King Richard visitor centre, however a permanent exhibition remains at the castle.

The nine individual gardens are world renowned, providing variety and colour from spring through to autumn. Its centrepiece is the Queens' Garden; named so because four of England’s queens – Anne Boleyn, Katherine Parr, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I – once admired the hundreds of varieties of roses found in the garden.


The Knot Garden is based on a dress pattern worn by Elizabeth I in a portrait which hangs in the castle. Over 1,200 box hedges form its intricate geometric design.



The Sudeley Castle Country Cottages are located on the edge of the estate. There are eleven cottages, available for rent all year round. 

Step back in time in this extraordinary Tudor castle on the edge of the Cotswolds, South Gloucestershire. Thornbury Castle, now a luxury hotel, offers the perfect retreat; combining 500-year-old architecture with sumptuous facilities. 

Building work began in 1511, intended as a home for Edward Stafford, the Duke of Buckingham. The castle, built on the site of an earlier manor house, was almost finished by 1521, when the Duke’s distant cousin, Henry VIII, accused him of treason and had him beheaded. The castle was confiscated. Fourteen years later, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn enjoyed a ten-day retreat at Thornbury as part of the summer progress. It had been designed to accommodate up to 500 people. The couple had planned to continue to Bristol after a week, but an outbreak of plague prevented them from visiting, so instead a delegation of townsmen came to Thornbury Castle from the town to pay their respects, along with ten "fatte oxen" and forty sheep! Anne received a parcel gilt cup with cover, containing 100 marks of gold. 



Thornbury was comparable only to Hampton Court Palace at the time, and inspired by Richmond. The castle fell into disrepair, as so many other buildings, after the English Civil War. The Howard family renovated it in 1824. 

Check out some of the amazing rooms available at Thornbury Castle:




The giant Tudor chimneys and the ornamental Tudor décor are matched by fabulous grounds, complete with a vineyard and a kitchen garden whose produce is used for the culinary delights in the restaurant that developed a Michelin starred reputation in the 1970s. The castle is now a 26-room luxury hotel and restaurant, and a venue for weddings. Guests are offered the rare opportunity of sleeping in the very room where Henry VIII laid down his head, in the DUke's Bedchamber. It is reached via the original circular stone staircase that Anne and Henry used. The chamber overlooks the privy garden. In what is now the library and lounge, Anne sat and chatted with her ladies once upon a time.