I have not made a distinction in the past of the difference in renaissance castles even though a few such as Eastnor exist. Peckforton in Cheshire is one such as Eastnor which has no remains of medieval or Tudor origins. Both Eastnor and Peckforton are modern built- albeit authentically- and are of the renaissance revival class. Those which are built upon existing medieval or Tudor remains are true renaissance castles in the strictest sense of the word. England has many of the true type but very few renaissance revival castles are as convincing for the style than Eastnor. One only has to see it to understand why and appreciate the architecture. As we move further south you will be astounded at the renaissance revival castles and true renaissance castles, both of which abound.
-The Castle Lady
Quite possibly the most charismatic of all Herefordshire castles is Eastnor Castle on the east/west border with Worcestershire, two miles southeast of Ledbury and surrounded by the Malvern Hills. A Regency/Victorian medieval revival delight, seated on 13,000 acres, it was built very early in the 19th century by the 1st Earl Somers, John Somers-Cocks. The inherited estate had been acquired, over time, by the Cocks family after the purchase of the Manor of Castleditch from the end of the 16th century. The manor is long gone and in its place is a magnificent fairy tale castle which little girls dream about when they think about possible futures of marrying a prince.
From that period the Cocks family continued to purchase more land over a period of about two hundred years. When they married into the the Somers family they combined estates which included a large monetary inheritance left by Lord Chancellor Somers. That estate, today, is incorporated into Barclays Bank! It would be difficult to say how much of that inheritance went into the building of Eastnor. Only the truly bold would dare ask !
The renaissance beauty of Eastnor was the planning and execution of Robert Smirke and Augustus Pugin- a strong Gothic team which took from 1812 to 1820 to complete at an astoundingly low cost by today’s standards. £85,923 would be equivalent to 6 to 28 million or more and should give you some idea of the incredible wealth and materials which went into the venture. The exterior is Norman Revival with a European porte cochère and picture windows which look out over a lake and even though the castle is relatively young, its features are decidedly authentic with crenellated corner towers and a surrounding wall. Its style is on a scale with any of the castles built in Wales by Edward I. Four thousand tons of building stone and six hundred tons of wood from the Forest of Dean went into its fabric with a workforce of two hundred and fifty men employed over the first six years of building. An important difference to actual medieval castles are the major roof trusses and beams making use of cast iron to save timber. These stanchions would have been built of timber during medieval times.
Unusually, the family moved into the west wing of the castle after 1813 when much was still to be done on the interior. Smirke’s plan was simple- involving the Red Hall, Dining Room and Staircase Hall. Smirke furnishings remain to this day as Gothic benches and chairs line the entrance and Great Hall- which is vast at fifty-five feet in length. By 1849 the 2nd Earl decided to commission Pugin, who had remodeled the House of Lords two years prior and his part is revealed in the redesigned Drawing Room which is in High Gothic Revival. The gigantic brass chandeliers were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 ! This marvelous interior is considered Pugin’s most complete, outside of his work at Parliament, thanks to J.G. Crace who carried out the work. By 1852, Augustus Pugin was deceased making this castle his denouement and brought him posthumous fame. The remaining chandelier is said to have been modeled on those which grace Nuremburg Cathedral.
The 3rd Earl Somers, Charles, added ever more posh interiors during the latter part of the 19th century in the Long Library and the Italianate State Bedroom carried out by G.E. Fox which were copied from the sacristy of Santa Maria delle grazie in Milan. The billiard room, which was once the little library, contains the portrait of Virginia Pattle. Upon seeing this portrait in G.F. Watts studio the 3rd Earl fell in love and Virginia became the Countess Somers !
Currently inhabited by the family of the grandson of the 6th Baron Somers, James Hervey-Bathurst and his family, this castle has been through much neglect and turmoil through most of the 20th century. The earldom became extinct in 1883 but more importantly the income of the family and estate had declined dramatically. By 1920 the last of the line of earls sold the extensive art collection and the estate was divided between himself and his cousin. Lord Somers moved to Australia with his family in 1926 and the castle was left abandoned for a few years. All the castle’s contents were sequestered during WWII and later Lord Somers widow returned to Eastnor to live in servants quarters in the late 1940s. This was the result of being taxed £200,000 upon the death of her husband !
Eastnor underwent restoration by Elizabeth Somers Cocks and Benjamin Hervey-Bathurst, the parents of the present owner, when they moved back into the Castle in 1949. They initiated the process of reinstating all the rooms and dealing with outbreaks of dry rot among other long-neglected repairs. This was financed by sales from the collection and the reinvestment of almost all income from the estate.
After a hurricane struck the exterior in 1976 a substantial government grant was received to repair the battlements of the four towers and helped with many other badly needed exterior reinforcement. Additional grant money from English Heritage of a quarter of a million pounds accelerated the restorations by the time the current heirs came to live in Eastnor in 1988. Their plan of diversification has brought this magnificent edifice into the 21st century. Today it is a home to the family and venue for weddings, corporate functions and conferences. The castle also has seen a lot of photographic action with music videos taped on the premises along with BBC shows, films and The Amazing Race segments last summer. Regular events such as music festivals in the deer park, bike festivals and the annual Land Rover World event is taking place currently.
http://www.eastnorcastle.com/film_location_interior.htm great link to see interior views !
With kisses to revive you,
The Castle Lady