Stately Homes of England 2014

Day 01,                      June 17th 

Arrive in London and transfer to our spectacular hotel, Cliveden House.  Morning and lunch is at leisure.  This afternoon we explore our glamorous surroundings.  The original house was built in 1666 by the 2nd Duke of Buckingham as a hunting lodge where he could entertain his friends and mistress.  The house then passed into the hands of the Earls of Orkney, and was leased to Frederick, Prince of Wales until his death in 1751.  During the 19th century the house was twice devastated by fire, rebuilt by Charles Barry in 1849.  In 1893 William Waldorf Astor bought Cliveden for $1.25 million, passing it onto his son, Waldorf Astor and his wife, Nancy, in 1906.  From then on the house became the scene of famed parties, and hosted everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill, becoming perhaps most famous in British political history for its role in the Profumo Affair, which brought down the Conservative government in 1961.  Tonight we have dinner at the hotel.

Day 02,                      June 18th    

Today we visit Windsor Castle, the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world, and family home of the British monarchy for nearly 1,000 years.  St George’s Chapel, within the Castle Precincts, is the spiritual home of the Order of the Garter, the oldest order of chivalry in the world, founded by Edward III in 1348.  Windsor Castle was begun by William the Conqueror around 1070 to secure the western approach to London.  The Castle was turned into a palace by Edward III, who spent £50,000 in the process.

It remained largely the same until Charles II modernised the State Apartments, turning the Castle into an opulent baroque palace.  George IV then took up the challenge, adding 30 feet to the height of the Round Tower to give it a more imposing appearance, and creating new rooms for the State Apartments, including the Waterloo Chamber and St George’s Hall, as well as creating the Semi-State Apartments.  In November 1992 a devastating fire broke out, destroying the interiors of several of the rooms.  Restoration began at once, and was completed 5 years later, restoring the damaged rooms to the glory of George IV’s original designs.  Tonight we dine outside the hotel, perhaps at the famed Fat Duck if we’re lucky!

Day 03,                      June 19th  

This morning we drive more than 200 miles north to Yorkshire to visit the magnificent Castle Howard, home of the Howard family, who are descendants of the 3rd Earl of Carlisle who commissioned the house.  Building started on the house in 1699 under the auspices of John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor.  This was Vanbrugh’s first foray into architecture, and he proposed a flamboyant baroque design, which cost the 3rd Earl at least a third of his fortune, and was not finished by the time the 3rd Earl died in 1738 (mainly because the 3rd Earl became distracted in laying out the garden half way through).  The 4th Earl completed the structure of the house, adding the conservative Palladian west wing in the 1750s.  Familiar to television and film audiences as the fictional house “Brideshead” in adaptations of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited”, Castle Howard is one of the grandest of private homes.

Our accommodation tonight is a William and Mary house built in 1699 for Thomas Barlow, a master cutler from Sheffield.  Rescued from decay, the house has been lovingly restored by Historic House Hotels, who also run Hartwell House.  It was given to the National Trust in 2008, and all profits benefit the house and the charity.

Day 04,                      June 20th   

After breakfast we continue our journey north to Alnwick Castle, home to the Percy family, Dukes of Northumberland, for the past 700 years.  There has been a castle recorded on the site for 1,000 years, since the first castle was built in 1096 to protect England’s northern border against Scottish invasions.  Henry Percy, 1st Baron Percy, purchased the Castle in 1309, and began rebuilding Alnwick Castle as a major palace/fortress.  In the 18th century alterations were carried out by Robert Adam, but these were mostly replaced by the 4th Duke in the 19th century, and the state rooms are now decorated in an Italianate style by Luigi Canina.  Tonight we stay at a lovely country house hotel, built in the late 1500s by Robert Trollope and remodelled in the 1870s.

Day 05,                      June 21st   

This morning takes us to Hadrian’s Wall, a World Heritage Site that marches 73 miles from sea to sea across northern England.  Begun in AD 122, during the rule of Emperor Hadrian, the Wall was a defensive fortification to protect against incursions of the much-feared Picts.  Parts of the wall were built to a height of nearly 20 feet, and a width of 10 feet.   A significant portion of the Wall still exists, as well as the remains of several Roman forts and towns, some of which we visit today.  Our accommodation tonight is a 14th century fortified castle built in 1350 during the reign of Edward III.

Day 06,                      June 22nd   

Today we turn south, and return to Yorkshire to visit Harewood House, home of the Lascelles family, Earls of Harewood.  The house was commissioned by Edwin Lascelles in the mid-18th century with money his father made in the West Indian sugar trade.  Built by John Carr of York, furnished by Thomas Chippendale, with interiors by Robert Adam, and set in Capability Brown’s finest landscape, Harewood truly lives up to its billing as a Treasure House.

Tonight we stay at a lovely country house hotel.  The initial house was built in 1695, but was substantially altered in the early 1800s, including the addition of a tower, turrets and battlements.

Day 07,                      June 23rd   

This morning we drive to Woburn Abbey.  Originally founded as a Cistercian abbey in 1145, Woburn Abbey was given to the Russell family by Edward VI in 1547, and has been the seat of the Dukes of Bedford ever since.  The Abbey was largely rebuilt in 1744 by Henry Flitcroft and Henry Holland for the 4th Duke.  Following World War II dry rot was discovered and half the Abbey was demolished.  Shortly afterwards, in 1953 the 12th Duke died leaving huge death duties.  Instead of handing the property to the National Trust the 13th Duke opened it to the public, one of the first stately homes to open its doors.  This allows us to view one of the finest art collections in private hands, encompassing some 250 paintings, including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Canaletto and Velasquez, as well as a superlative collection of furniture, porcelain and silver.  Our hotel tonight is a Georgian country house built in 1816.

Day 08,                      June 24th   

Today we travel to Salisbury, and the spectacular Wilton House.  Wilton House stands on the site of a 9th century nunnery founded by King Alfred.  This was replaced by a Benedictine Abbey in the 12th century, which was in turn surrendered to Henry VIII during the Dissolution, and given to William Herbert, 1st Earl of Pembroke in 1542, in whose family it has remained ever since.  The initial Tudor house built by the 1st Earl only lasted 80 years before the 4th Earl decided to pull most of it down and build a suite of staterooms.  Inigo Jones was involved with the Palladian design, but delegated work to an assistant, Isaac de Caux, since he was busy with the Queen’s House at Greenwich.  However, in 1647, within a few years of the completion of the new wing there was a fire.  How much damage was done is a matter of dispute, but it is certain that Inigo Jones, working with his nephew-in-law, John Webb, at the very least rebuilt the interior of the seven staterooms.  Amongst these rooms the Single and Double Cube rooms are acknowledged as the grandest rooms of this period in England.  This afternoon we drive to our luxurious hotel.

Day 09,                      June 25th      

After breakfast we visit Arundel Castle, seat of the Dukes of Norfolk and their ancestors for the past 850 years.  The original castle was begun in 1068 by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel.  It was then settled by Henry I on his second wife, Adeliza.  She subsequently married William d’Albini, who was confirmed Earl of Arundel by Henry II.  Apart from occasional reversions to the Crown, Arundel Castle has passed directly from 1138 until the present day, carried by female heiresses from the d’Albinis to the Fitzalans in the 13th century, and to the Howards in the 16th century.  Arundel Castle was not a favoured residence, however, and so was not updated until the 11th Duke began restoration works in 1787.  These were finished by the 15th Duke in the late 19th century.

This afternoon we drive to our home for the next two nights.  This lovely house was built in 1598 by Richard Infield for his new bride.  Gravetye’s most notable owner, William Robinson, was one of the greatest gardeners of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, using Gravetye to develop his ideas for the English natural garden.

Day 10,                      June 26th      

Hampton Court Palace is our destination today.  The Knights Hospitallers of St John of Jerusalem acquired the manor of Hampton in 1236, using the site as a grange (a centre for their agricultural estates).  By the 14th century the Hampton estate was a perfect staging post for royal visitors, and a high-status guest house was built.  Being close to the royal palace of Sheen made the site attractive to courtiers, and Giles Daubney, Lord Chamberlain to Henry VII, took over the lease in 1494.  Daubney hosted Henry VII and Elizabeth of York at Hampton Court several times.  However, it was Thomas Wolsey, cardinal, Lord Chancellor, chief minister and friend of Henry VIII who made Hampton Court famous.  Wolsey built a vast palace complex, transforming the house into a magnificent bishop’s palace.  As well as his own private chambers, Wolsey also built suites for Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, and their daughter, Princess Mary.  Wolsey intended Hampton Court to reflect Henry VIII’s glory, but many said it outshone Henry’s palaces, and when Wolsey fell from grace (due to his failure to secure the Pope’s agreement to Henry’s divorce) Henry seized Hampton Court Palace for himself.

Henry made a number of improvements to Hampton Court in his lifetime, making the palace the most modern, sophisticated and magnificent in England.  No significant further works were done until William and Mary came to the throne, and in 1689 commissioned Christopher Wren to rebuild the Palace.  Wren’s original plan was to demolish the entire Tudor palace, except for the Great Hall.  Fortunately, neither time nor money was available for this massive project, and so Wren had to content himself with rebuilding the state apartments.  After some delays the King’s Apartments were finished with the input of William Talman.  The Queen’s Apartments were only finished under the direction of John Vanbrugh for the Prince and Princess of Wales (later George II and Queen Caroline) in the 1720s.  When George II came to the throne in 1727 he and Caroline kept their court at the Palace, but this came to an end when Caroline died in 1737, and no monarch has lived there since.

Day 11,                      June 27th      

After breakfast we drive to the airport for our flights home.

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