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 to feel that possibility.

At the time of the great fire, Highclere was made of brick which was only later encased in stone. The current silhouette with its soaring Italianate style and pinnacles carved in the shape of obelisks reaching skywards (perhaps making their case for eternity), was shaped some 175 years after the Great Fire. Begun by Sir Charles Barry in 1842, this stone, however, is not eternal: it is Bath stone from quarries about 60 miles west of Highclere. The positive attribute was that because it was softer, it could, therefore, be carved with more intricacy.  Sir Charles Barry considered Highclere to be one his favourite works commenting on it that he had created one of the most striking seats in the country.




We have various letters to and from Barry in the archives. In one Lord Carnarvon’s agent wrote as follows:

“[Barry] keeps the windows for the most part without change but not all; makes a porch at the north entrance which projection he carries up to the top of the house, but the mixed gothic effect is attained by string courses … All the chimneys are carried into the Loggia and all brought out in picturesque gothic forms. … it must not be disguised that it must of necessity be more expensive…”

In this way, the whole construction framework of the earlier house at Highclere was retained so that the level of the windows and floors did not have to be altered at all. It was a more economical approach than starting entirely afresh.

This was very different to the rebuilding of the Houses Parliament which was carried on contemporaneously with Highclere. The fire in 1834 had destroyed too much of the earlier building and since the site lay alongside the River Thames, it was irregular and challenged the desire for symmetry. The architectural character of the building was of course very different from Highclere – it was to be palatial, of “elements magnificent”, a symbol of tradition and authority and a place of procession and grandeur. It also had to be practical. It has been called the Mother of Parliaments and Winston Churchill commented in 1943 that  “ We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us”.

Parliament too has endless restoration works – the Anston stone chosen should have been more durable but has since been damaged by pollution. At Highclere, Geordie and I have been restoring stonework, rebuilding chimneys, re-roofing sections in stages since 2003. Whilst it sometime seems never ending, at least we started and keep going. The photos here show the last two weeks of cleaning and restoring at the end of which we have lightly washed the white bath stone with warm colour to blend it in to other stonework. That of course is the fun part. Thank you Eric and Paddy from HDC for your great work again.

You can watch Eric and Paddy’s work for yourself by viewing the videos below.