Today I want to cover grand estates of England which are classed as the Treasure Houses of England, two of which were built as monasteries and one medieval castle. Treasure Houses are special world class estates most of which are determined by a marketing consortium. Among all their wonderful architectural features they also offer amenities for large functions such as conferences, weddings, banquets and the like and often have unusual or outstanding museums. I have covered quite a few of these in past entries when I wrote about Castle Howard and Harewood House in Yorkshire (North and West), Chatsworth in Derbyshire, Burghley House in Leicester and Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. At one time Arundel Castle and Wilton House were among those on the list. With this entry I’ll be covering Woburn Abbey, Leeds Castle and Beaulieu Palace House. I’ll cover Warwick Castle when I post an upcoming entry on all the castles and mansions in Warwickshire! Look in the More Castles album for photos of these beautiful world-class edifices.
-The Castle Lady
About forty miles northwest of London, in Bedfordshire, Woburn Abbey sits in 3,000 acres of a lush deer park, which is currently occupied by the 15th Duke of Bedford. This abbey has the distinction of having ten different species of deer and saving the Pere David deer from extinction- a species which descended from the Imperial Herd of China. They keep the largest breeding herd, still, but reintroduced the deer into their natural habitat in China which now number several hundred! Woburn has been host to many royal guests throughout history and has been in the possession of the Dukes of Bedford- the Russels- for 400 years! It has been a public pleasure center for many decades now with an award-winning Safari Park and a world renowned Golf Club in the UK’s top 100.
The Abbey itself is an art museum which houses an unrivalled, priceless art collection which includes Van Dycks, Cuyps, Gainsboroughs, Reynoldses and Velaquez paintings along with 18th century French and English furniture, silver and porcelain. In the Venetian Room there are twenty-one paintings of Venice by Caneletto and a Sevres dinner service which was given to the 4th Duke by Louis XV. This is all part of an inside tour covering three floors including silver and gold vaults, Queen Victoria’s bedroom and the State Dining Room! The Antiques Centre on the premises is the largest antique market outside London. Outside there are beautiful private gardens which can be viewed from the conference rooms and banquet areas but there are also picnic areas for everyday revelers.
At one time Woburn Abbey was a castle hotel but was taken over by the Trustees of the Bedford estates and no longer houses paying guests. It is still possible to stay close by at the Inn at Woburn. There is a restaurant available- The Paris House- and many public events take place here on a regular basis, public and private, during the summer. Regular events include the Woburn Garden Show, Craft Fair and annual fly-in of the de Havilland Moth Club. Plays which will be run this year include The Winter’s Tale, Much Ado about Nothing and The Tempest. The Antiques Centre on the premises is the largest antique market outside London with forty shops to browse through.
Leeds Castle is a reverie seated on two islands on a natural lake which is fed by the River Len in the very heart of Kent! It’s picturesque setting has been the home of many medieval Queens of England and Henry VIII and has been in existence for over a period of 1,000 years ! The interiors and gardens are open to the public both of which offer treasures and beauty throughout! It has been called the loveliest castle in the world for good reason because so much is offered to the visitor- not the least of which is a plethora of period furnishings and art plus architecture to see. The current interior was restored by Lady Olive Bailey in 1936 with the help of a French interior decorator by the name of Ste’phane Boudin and Armand Albert Rateau transforming the castle’s Gloriette, originally built by Edward I, into a French Gothic beauty. During the time that Lady Bailie, an American heiress and daughter of an English Lord, was in possession of the castle she embarked on a complete restoration of the castle using only the finest architects and designers and turned it into one of the most elegant country residences in England. Art and antiques from her own collection of fifty years fill the home. Her guests were royalty, film stars and politicians who enjoyed amenities such as a cinema (at the Maiden’s Tower), swimming pool, squash and tennis courts as well as exotic wildlife along with horses and dogs!
Originally built as a Saxon manor, Esledes, Robert de Crevecoeur was given this castle to fortify in stone back in 1119 as he was a descendant of an appointed lord of William the Conqueror. By 1278 it passed into royal hands becoming, in effect, the dower of the Queens of England. Over the course of one and a half centuries six medieval queens took possession of it including Eleanor of Castille ( wife of Edward I) then his second wife, Margaret of France. Others were Isabella of France, Catherine de Valois ( who married Henry V), Joan of Navarre (Spain) and Anne of Bohemia. Henry VIII visited this castle often with his Queen of the time, Catherine of Aragon. Together they made Leeds into their favorite palace and his son, King Edward VI in turn granted the castle to one of Henry VIII’s courtiers, St Anthony St. Leger, ( a sheriff) for services rendered to him. Since that time it has been in private ownership until Lady Bailie bequeathed it to England under the charitable trust of the Leeds Castle Foundation upon her death in 1974. Her children occupied this castle up to the year 2003!
Over a period of 900 years it was developed into the marvel it is today. Starting with the Norman foundations, which most likely replaced the original Saxon building, a medieval gatehouse was added. The Gloriette ( the original keep) by Edward I was substantially updated during Henry VIII’s reign, along with a Tudor tower. Most of the 19th century work which was done by Wykeham Martin ( completed in 1823) is called the New Castle and was built in Tudor-style. Other buildings were erected on the main island and the two islands are now connected with a corridor but originally by a drawbridge. On the grounds you’ll enjoy 500 acres of parkland and breathtaking gardens including the Wood Garden with diverted streams and a (very English) Culpeper Garden. The Lady Bailie Garden is terraced in Mediterranean style and shows off the excellent view of the beautifully kept grounds and the lake. There is a museum, greenhouses, a vineyard and aviary housing more than 100 species of rare birds and even a special maze which has a secret underground grotto! Special events are celebrated on the grounds year round for holidays, festivals and concerts and Leeds can also be rented for conferences and wedding receptions.
The grandest museum within a museum is the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu Palace House in Hampshire. It is known internationally and contains a large collection of period motor vehicles, including four world land speed record holders: a 1924 BlueBird, a 1964 Bluebird CN7, the 1927 Sunbeam 1000HP ( which was the first auto to reach 200 miles per hour) and the 1929 Irving-Napier Special ‘Golden Arrow’. Each and every one has been restored to appear in showroom condition and there is much to see! It traces history of the motor vehicle all the way back from 1894 with a collection of 250 veteran, vintage and classic cars and motorcycles!
Beaulieu’s village is a place where you can find out about all kinds of history with a maritime museum and their famous jazz festival plus it is in the heart of one of the few remaining primeval oak forests in England.
This Palace was originally the gatehouse of Beaulieu Abbey built in 1204 ( Please be aware that this should not be confused with the Palace of Beaulieu in Essex), next to the River Beaulieu. It has been the Montagu ancestral home since 1538 when Henry VIII decreed the dissolution of the monasteries. Most of the buildings were destroyed but the gatehouse was increased in size during the 16th and 19th centuries in a fine Gothic style with fan vaulted ceilings. The interior is filled with Montagu family treasures, portraits and personal photographs. The Domus houses an exhibition on monastic life in the Middle Ages and also the embroidered wall hangings which were designed and created by Lady Belinda Montagu which depict the history of the Abbey from its very beginnings! In addition to the tour one may book a view of the estates vineyards and the home offers all the previously mentioned amenities for a wide range of functions. It is available to the public from April through October.
The Castle Lady sends you off with a kiss and warm embrace !