Category: History

Stones and Homes

Not far from Highclere lies Stonehenge, an extraordinary outline of the remains of architecture from c. 5,000 to 3,000 BC around which people lived, farmed and planned their lives. Highclere also has remains of tumuli and forts from the same period. Every time I walk there, it seems a place of timelessness with just the outline of our ancestors’ building works.

Christopher Wren, an outstanding British architect who rebuilt perhaps 52 churches in London after the Great Fire in 1666 including, of course, St Paul’s Cathedral, wrote that “Architecture aims at Eternity” and sometimes, in places like Stonehenge, you really begin [...]
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Looking and Seeing

Looking and Seeing

Turning the pages of Highclere Castle’s leather bound and engraved visitors’ books is always riveting. They tell their own stories about who was staying here and, as I sit by the fire in the Saloon where the guests must have gathered, I wonder what their conversations were, who told the jokes and anecdotes or what amused them during a weekend visit. Of course their weekends were somewhat more extended than ours are today: most guests left on a Monday not a Sunday and clearly some stayed for a week.

I have been looking through these books for years, long [...]
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Love and all that

February can be quite a damp wintery month in England and we often get a scattering of snow or a sharp frost. However, there are two highlights: the first is Valentine’s day and the second is that February has only 28 days which should help Spring approach a little more quickly. For Valentine’s Day we have started asking guests to join us in the Castle for a tour and afternoon tea, or a reception with music  and drinks in the evening. Given most people work during the week,  we cannot always offer the 14th itself but choose the nearest weekend instead.

These [...]
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Highclere’s “American Garden”

Biking up the hill of the main drive to the Castle at the end of a morning circuit of the park with the dogs, I am always glad finally to see the banks of dark green rhododendrons. With more energy than I possess at this point, the dogs run off towards them and disappear into the tangle. They are quite deaf to my calls as I carry on through the black gates and then turn back to pedal through the longer grass towards “Jackdaws Castle”.

This is a classical, pillared Temple built about 1743 on raised ground to the east of the Castle. The [...]
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Tree planting

Tree planting

The photograph above hangs as one of a pair either side of a charming 18th century mirror in Stanhope Dressing room on the first floor of the Castle. The other photo is in a similar theme. Most houses like Highclere have archives, often housed in specially designed rooms and dating back centuries.  They are a unique window back into the past and at Highclere, the archivist and I try to share them with visitors, framing them for corridors as they come round, or use them to help people with their research into their family history as it might relate to Highclere.

 

Photographs are [...]
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King Charles I of England

King Charles I

The portraits in the Dining room at Highclere tell the story of the English Civil War. The most magnificent painting, dominating the room, is that of Charles l on horseback at the gates of Paris by Anthony van Dyck. Painted around 1633, there is a wealth of detail, largely symbolic, in the drama of the scene. It projects the image of a wise leader, a powerful warrior and one who embodies the divine right to rule. In reality, he was, perhaps, not so wise. He failed to listen and compromise, catapulted England into civil war and sixteen years [...]
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Tutankhamun

Tutankhamun

In 1922 the 5th Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter discovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. It could be considered the first global world media event. It was, and is, a marvellous story about treasure, tragedy and of course, a curse. Despite the significance of the discovery, the first biography of Howard Carter was not written until 1972 and I have yet to write one about Lord Carnarvon!

So I sat down to watch last night’s  TV programme about the discovery of Tutankhamun with some anticipation. The problem for Highclere is that the 5th Earl was a real, not a fictional character. [...]
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Philosophy in Wine

Riding along the chalk downlands two miles to the south of where the Castle stands, it is easy to distinguish the prehistoric field lynchets and terraces which must have been part of an intensively settled and farmed landscape. Three thousand years later we still farm this part of the estate, although these ancient fields are just grazed by sheep to conserve the visible remains of the past.

There are crop marks, boundaries and platforms where small homes- huts- may have been built. They lie around the monumental remains of the fort on Beacon Hill and hence can be dated from Iron [...]
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The Somme

Several summers past, I sat down in the study in the Castle to write “Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey”: a story about Highclere before, during and after the First World War. By the end of June, I was writing about the Battle of the Somme which was actually launched on July 1st 1916.

Historical statistics relate that one million men were killed or wounded, but how can we imagine the lost sons, husbands and brothers?  I was also writing about Almina’s hospital at Highclere, the nursing and the world of medicine, the attempts to heal. I read that 400 [...]
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Trade Winds

I have been going into some detail researching the 4th Earl of Carnarvon as he appears in my next book. As usual, I get easily distracted. Henry Howard Molyneux Herbert, to give him his full name, was deeply involved in Victorian politics and held the post of Colonial Secretary in two conservative governments, initially under Lord Derby and then under Benjamin Disraeli. As Colonial Secretary, Lord Carnarvon decided to buy himself a yacht in order to carry out his duties.

 

 

It was called the “Marcia”, 165 tons, 94 ft 5” long, 20 ft 5” broad, 10 ft 6” deep; designed and [...]
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