Gracious Living

 

Osborne House

Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

This year is set to be an exciting one for the Historic Homes and Castles sector of the travel industry, as Brenda Watkinson discovers.

Up and down the country, preparations are gearing up for a very busy 2014. Many attractions will be celebrating the 300th anniversary of King George I’s accession to the throne while other properties will be focusing on the First World War Centenary. To help plan your trips, we will be detailing special tours and exhibitions associated with these major events in history as well as other new themed tours and activities. All the attractions mentioned are keen to welcome groups and offer varying discounts and incentives.

 

ROYAL RETREATS

In London, Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) manages several Royal properties including The Tower of London, the Banqueting House, Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace.

As well as the already popular highlights of the Tower of London such as the Crown Jewels and the Royal Beasts – the exotic animals that were once held at the Tower – from July this year, sections of the ramparts will open enabling visitors to walk along three sides. The North Wall Walks will lead your group to the Bowyer Tower, where a new display will reveal the changes the Duke of Wellington made to the fortress while Constable of the Tower and Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, at Hampton Court Palace, Kensington Palace and Kew Palace, the Georgians will be appearing to mark the 300th anniversary of George I’s arrival in Britain, and a new ‘Georgian Royal Pass’ gives access to all three palaces in one convenient ticket. At Hampton Court Palace the Queen’s State Apartments and Private Apartments take visitors back to the early Georgian Court (1714-1720), and visitors will meet the fascinating characters of the era and the new King, recently arrived from Hanover. Also new for 2014 is the Chocolate Kitchen, where groups can discover how the Georgian courtiers enjoyed this new delicacy and themed events will be held throughout the year.

At Kensington Palace, the first phase of the re-presentation of the King’s State Apartments will take visitors into the King’s Presence Chamber, beautifully restored with crimson damask silk and gilded paintwork. Daily from Easter 2014, visitors can discover the curious world of George II and Queen Caroline and learn about the new fashions, manners and culture of this fascinating period of history. It is worth noting that the popular exhibition, Fashion Rules, displaying dress from the collections of HM the Queen, Princess Margaret and Diana, the Princess of Wales, will continue until summer 2015.

Nearby, at the Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, visitors can explore the Georgian era in more detail at the exhibition The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy 1714-60. A joint Georgian package exclusively for groups available from 17th April to 25th July, combines a visit to the exhibition with Kensington Palace.

Kew Palace

Kew Palace, Richmond, London.

On the outskirts of London, the Georgian story continues at Kew Palace in Richmond, where from 29th March, groups can discover how George III, Queen Charlotte and their 15 children enjoyed family life in this palace in the heart of Kew Gardens. The Royal Kitchens have live Georgian cookery demonstrations on the last weekend of the month and Queen Charlotte’s Cottage is open at weekends. The very first garden at Kew was founded in 1759 by Princess Augusta as a private royal estate. Groups can follow in the footsteps of the Royal family on a guided tour and discover the follies where they played and even find venerable trees planted in Princess Augusta’s time. Group admission to Kew Gardens also includes Kew Palace and Royal Kitchens (from 29th March to 28th September 2014) making it a full day’s outing.

New for 2014, Windsor Castle is offering groups The Military Knight’s Tale, a talk given by a serving Military Knight detailing the history of the Military Knights of Windsor and their important ceremonial role today. Following the talk, the Military Knight will escort your group to St George’s Chapel, from where they will be free to explore the Castle at leisure. Available on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (except July and August) to groups of between 15 to 54 persons.

 

THE SOUTHERN COUNTIES AND THE ISLE OF WIGHT

Combining 900 years of history and 500 acres of beautiful parkland, Leeds Castle near Maidstone in Kent has always been a palace to entertain and impress, and it continues to do that today. Once a Norman stronghold, the Castle became a royal residence in 1278 continuing for a period of 300 years before becoming a private home. Today, visitors can admire the Castle’s stunning interiors created by top European designers throughout the 1920s and 30s for its last private owner, Lady Baillie. As well as a standard visit, groups can opt for a private guided group visit, an audio tour or one of the specialist tours.

Leeds Castle belongs to The Treasure Houses of England group, which comprises 10 magnificent palaces, houses and castles in England. (The others are Woburn Abbey, Hatfield House, Holkham Hall, Harewood House, Chatsworth, Castle Howard, Burghley, Blenheim Palace and Beaulieu). Each has its own unique charm and combined they give a fascinating insight into life in England over the centuries. Between them they house some of the most important art collections in the world with famous works from artists such as Van Dyck and Gainsborough.

Also in Kent near Edenbridge, the medieval double moated Hever Castle and Gardens is famous for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Queen Elizabeth I. Opening in May 2014, a new exhibition will examine the life of Anne Boleyn and the connections to her childhood home. Located in the Long Gallery, the exhibition features costumed figures illustrating three key events in Anne’s life.

Once owned by Henry VIII, Penshurst Place in Kent is one of England’s great medieval houses, occupying a commanding position over the River Medway. With more than 670 years of history and grade I listed Elizabethan Gardens, this private home has remained in the Sidney family to this day. Several new tour options have been introduced for 2014, exclusively for groups, with new themes including Portraiture, Needlework and Textiles, Furniture, Architecture, Art and its Politics, Porcelain and China, and Medieval Life. A special package In the Footsteps of the Tudors, enables groups to visit both Hever Castle and Penshurst Place and Gardens.

Near Romsey in Hampshire, Mottisfont owned by the National Trust, is a romantic house and gallery set in beautiful riverside gardens. Groups return to the property regularly to see the changing exhibitions held in the gallery. Quentin Blake, one of the nation’s best-loved artists comes to Mottisfont this summer in a new exhibition featuring his work and other leading contemporary children’s illustrators; it runs from 19th July to 14th September.

Osborne House

Osborne House, Isle of Wight.

Built in the mid 19th century in East Cowes on the Isle of Wight, Osborne House, now run by English Heritage, was used as the summer house and rural retreat of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and their nine children. A fascinating project, Victorian Childhoods Uncovered, will come to fruition in the spring with the re-opening of the Swiss Cottage and Museum following restoration of the buildings and conservation of the collections. This new exhibition will explore the lives and characters of the royal princes and princesses alongside 4000 original artefacts. The Swiss Cottage can be found roughly halfway between Osborne House and Queen Victoria’s private beach and adds another dimension to the story of royal life told at Osborne.

 

THE  SOUTH WEST AND WALES

Fallow Deer

Deer Park at Powderham Castle, Devon

In Cornwall near Saltash, the National Trust property Cotehele was the ancestral home to the Edgcumbe family for centuries. The Tudor house, perched high above the River Tamar, is decorated with tapestries, arms and armour, pewter, brass and old oak furniture. There is a valley garden and lovely woodland walks to explore. A new exhibition entitled The grand tour of Cotehele will reveal more of the stories behind this grand Tudor house and its superb collections.

Just eight miles south east of Exeter, the family home of the Earl and Countess of Devon, Powderham Castle, is open to visitors from April to October. A guided tour of the Castle brings history to life but to enhance your visit further, the Castle’s Archivist gives talks by prior arrangement. In the autumn, the herd of around 650 fallow deer begin their rutting season in the Deer Park which surrounds the Castle and a Deer Park Safari can be pre-booked. The Courtyard Cafe serves a range of homemade dishes as well as traditional Devon Cream Teas.

West of Exeter, the National Trust property Castle Drogo – constructed between 1910 and 1930 was the last castle to be built in England – is currently in the midst of an extensive conservation project, which will make the castle water tight – for the first time in its history. Three new special interest tours have been introduced for 2014. Castle Drogo: Inside Out is a chance to learn more about the castle and what makes it so special, Drogo’s Best Kept Secret tours the 1920s English garden designed by Edwin Lutyens and The Drewe family and their Dream Castle details the family’s history.

Bickleigh Castle is situated in the heart of the Devon countryside within the Exe Valley just minutes from Junction 27 of the M5. This listed Grade I castle is mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 and played a key role in the union of two great Devon families, the Courtenays and the Carews. Eventually the Courtenays transferred ownership of Bickleigh Castle to the Carew family who lived their peacefully for the next 400 years. Visitors enter the castle through Italian wrought iron gates, dating from the 17th century, whilst within the moated grounds, the 6th century chapel still stands. Guided tours of the Castle and Chapel can be arranged for groups of 10 or more people.

Eight miles from Broadway in Gloucestershire, Sudeley Castle & Gardens has played an important role in England’s history, boasting royal connections that stretch back over 1,000 years, and it is the only private castle in England to have a queen buried within the grounds. The last of Henry VIII’s six wives, Katherine Parr lived in the castle and is now entombed in the 15th century church in the castle gardens. New for 2014, the castle has opened even more of the family’s private rooms, some of which have never been open to the public before – including the Elizabethan Room, the Morning Room, the Library, the Sewing Room and the “haunted staircase”, as well as private bedrooms. These rooms form part of an extended and revamped route around the castle, which includes the highly anticipated 20 Treasures of Sudeley, a collection of artefacts and works of art of great historical importance, which include Katherine Parr’s love letters, lacework reputedly made by Anne Boleyn, Henry VII’s ‘Book of Hours’ and Charles I’s personal beer jugs.

Summer room

Summer room, Cardiff Castle, Wales.

Wales is rich with castles and stately homes. Cardiff Castle is now offering a tailor-made service to groups, which can include themed guided tours with a costumed guide and daytime tours of the Clock Tower. At over 40 metres high, the Clock Tower was the tallest structure in Cardiff in Victorian times and features some of the most finely decorated rooms in the Castle. The tour, which involves 101 steps up a spiral staircase, also includes the Bell Chamber where visitors can view the clock mechanism in full working order. Groups can also arrange to extend their visit by arranging a tour of the Norman Keep with a costumed guide or a tour of the World War II air raid shelters with an Air Raid Warden.

Following a major restoration programme, Dyffryn House, run by the National Trust, has just opened giving visitors the opportunity to view significant parts of the ground and first floors of this grand Victorian mansion, which is five miles from Cardiff. Groups can also visit Dyffryn Gardens, an exceptional example of Edwardian garden design, featuring a collection of intimate garden rooms, formal lawns and seasonal bedding.

Just outside Newport, Tredegar House is a Grade I listed 17th century house, one of the finest Restoration period houses in Britain. The new Tredegar’s Treasures tour gives visitors a unique opportunity to examine some of the rarely seen original items of the collection such as paintings, furniture and other personal belongings of the Morgan family who lived there for more than 500 years.

 

THE CENTRAL COUNTIES

A short drive north west of Oxford, Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill, is an impressive example of 18th century Baroque architecture and, a World Heritage Site. Groups can choose to tour the house, the gardens, or both, and there are suggested itineraries for short or full day visits as well as themed tours from subjects as diverse as the Ladies of Blenheim Palace to Sir Winston Churchill himself, for groups of 15 or more. Plus there’s an ever changing programme of exhibitions – which this year includes The Queen’s Beasts by Tom Hiscocks and runs from 1st May to 30th June, in The Pleasure Gardens. The Beasts are contemporary interpretations of the heraldic animals that depict the genealogy of Queen Elizabeth II and each signifies specific values from strength to purity and from wisdom to military might.

Comton Verney

Moore Rodin exhibition at Compton Verney, Warwickshire.

In Warwickshire, the mansion at Compton Verney was built in 1714 by Richard Verney, 11th Baron Willoughby de Broke. The west wing was dominated by the Great Hall, which probably occupied the same site as the original medieval Hall built in the 1440s. It was extended by George Verney, and the interiors were redesigned by Robert Adam for John Verney, in the 1760s. Set in more than 120 acres of parkland landscaped by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown in 1769, the house changed hands several times over the years before being requisitioned by the Army during World War II. In 1993, it was rescued in a very run-down state by the Compton Verney House Trust and opened as an Art Gallery in 2004. A decade later, Compton Verney will mark this special occasion with two special exhibitions. The first, an exhibition of works by two great sculptors, Henry Moore and Auguste Rodin – ‘Moore Rodin‘- will run until 31st August, with sculpture displayed in the landscaped parkland and inside the galleries. The second exhibition, ‘British Folk Art‘, will feature over 100 paintings, sculptures, textiles and objects drawn together from collections across the country, and will take place from 27th September to 14th December. Groups are also offered special discounted admission in March.

In Staffordshire, the National Trust property, Shugborough, is a working, historic estate that features a fine Georgian mansion with a walled garden, working servants’ quarters and a farm with costumed servants. Formerly home to the Earls of Lichfield, Shugborough is set in 900 acres of Grade I listed parkland. New for 2014, groups can arrange to explore the private apartments of Lord Lichfield where there are many personal items on display or pre-book the ‘Upstairs Downstairs‘ tour. New for 2014 is an exhibition to commemorate the start of World War I. Life on the Eve of War runs from 21st March to 24th October and will focus on the golden age of the stately home and will tell the stories of the Anson family and their servants through photographs, letters, and other objects, and how their lives changed once war broke out.

 

THE EAST OF ENGLAND

Burghley House, Lincolnshire.

On the outskirts of Stamford, Burghley House was built for Sir William Cecil, Queen Elizabeth I’s Lord High Treasurer between 1555 and 1587. This year, three new guided tours have been introduced exclusively to groups to complement the existing Burghley Experience tour. The Great Collectors focuses on the extravagant purchases of the 5th and 9th Earls of Exeter on their Grand Tours, in particular magnificent tapestries, marquetry furniture and stunning Italian paintings in each room. Another new tour, Remarkable Craftsman at Burghley looks at the craftsmen who contributed to making Burghley the Treasure House it is today, highlighting Verrio’s wall paintings, Grinling Gibbons wood carvings and Edward Martens intricate plaster work ceilings. To complement these new tours the Orangery Restaurant, situated in ‘Capability’ Brown’s original building, offers themed menus starting from £9.50 per head. For Gardens enthusiasts, Gardens at Burghley begins with a presentation over tea or coffee followed by a tour with Head Gardener, John Burrows, and a chance to explore the Garden of Surprises, the Sculpture Gardens and the usually private South Gardens.

For groups who prefer to explore the 18 magnificent State rooms at their own pace, the 20 minute Introduction to Burghley presentation, gives groups a chance to enjoy an informal introduction to the history of the House and family over tea, coffee and biscuits in the Loggia of the Orangery Restaurant. Groups can then tour the house on a self-guided basis, with guides in each room to answer any questions. The house is open daily for groups from Saturday 15th March to Sunday 2nd November (closed Fridays).

Marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, Burghley will be staging its own commemoration of life during the Great War. The House at War exhibition will feature the story of the House and estate during the War; its role as a convalescent hospital for injured soldiers and a home for Belgian refugees. The centenary also features in new adult courses for 2014. Elgar and the Great War, on 29th March, is one of a variety of adult education workshops, from watercolour painting to family history, offered by Burghley. Just two miles west of Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk, the magnificent Palladian house of Holkham is surrounded by acres of rolling parkland. New for 2014, the exhibition Duty Calls: Holkham 1914 to 1918 tells a small part of the house’s story and the war’s impact on the Coke family and the village of Holkham. Discounts apply to pre-booked groups of 20 or more. Private guided tours can be arranged when the hall is closed to the public (minimum 12 persons).

Audley End House

Audley End House & Gardens, Essex.

Near Cambridge, Victorian C­­­hildhood at Audley End House & Gardens will tell the story of eight children who grew up in the Jacobean mansion during the 1830s and 40s as part of the opening of the second floor Nursery Suite, for the first time. The series of rooms in which they spent so much of their young lives – being schooled, reading, painting, sewing and playing with toys – can be explored, helped by interactive displays. Another previously unseen part of the house will also open this year, the Coal Gallery reveals its importance for heating the house, and providing it with hot water.

 

THE NORTHERN COUNTIES

Bolsover Castle

Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire.

Once used by William Cavendish, a sophisticated, flamboyant, master horseman and courtier to King Charles I, as a retreat for entertainment and cultural pursuits, Derbyshire’s Bolsover Castle, run by English Heritage, will turn back time to the 1600s when an extravagant masque written by Ben Jonson was performed for King Charles, Queen Henrietta Maria, and the aristocracy and gentry of the county. Opening in spring 2014, new furnishings and interpretation will give the Castle a flavour of ‘Cavalier’ splendour. The garden is being returned to its original glory with spectacular seasonal displays demonstrating the history of the garden and the significance of the plants and planting schemes of the time.

In Yorkshire, Harewood built in the 18th century and home of the Earl and Countess of Harewood is one of England’s greatest country houses with outstanding art collections, magnificent Adam interiors and Chippendale furniture. Highlights include the State Floor with the refurbished East Bedroom with its remarkable ‘lost’ Chinese wallpaper, found after being stored in an outbuilding for over 150 years. Groups can choose from a number of tours including the Essentials House Tour, the Full House Tour, the Tailor Made Tour, the Bird Garden Tour and the Gardens Tour.

Also in Yorkshire, Castle Howard offers a selection of group tours. Your party can enjoy the VIP treatment on a Private Viewing of the House or a Private Garden Tour, as well as Curatorial Talks and Walks giving your group an introduction to the hidden features of Castle Howard, including some areas not open to the general public. Subjects include fascinating stories of the house, family and collections, plus talks about the estate today.

­­­In Northumberland, the National Trust property, Cherryburn, will be holding talks and printing demonstrations on Thomas Berwick, one of Northumberland’s greatest artists. He was a wood engraver and naturalist who revolutionised print art in Georgian England. Groups can discover his tiny birthplace cottage and farmyard with glorious views over the Tyne Valley, plus a traditional 19th century farmhouse, the eventual home of the Bewick family, with an unrivalled collection of Thomas’s work and an exhibition about his life.