Mr Bell At Hever Castle

Way back in September I visited the beautiful Hever Castle in Kent and spent a lovely day there exploring the grounds and the castle itself.

Hever Castle dates back to the 13th century and was once the home of the Boleyn’s, one of the most powerful families in the country at the time. Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII and mother of Elizabeth I spent her childhood at the castle. Another of Henry’s wives, Anne of Cleves also lived at Hever and was one of a number of various owners before the castle fell into decline. William Waldorf Astor, the richest man in America, acquired Hever in 1903 and started the restoration of the castle, the building of the Astor Wing and the creation of the lake and gardens, much of what can be seen today is his legacy.

As you enter the castle grounds from the car park there are sweeping views down to the castle, the gardens and the lake beyond.

The castle gate house was built in 1270 and is surrounded by a pretty water filled moat.

As you walk through the gate house the Tudor building that you see was added by the Boleyn family in the 16th century. It is here where you enter to see the internal rooms of the castle.

In the Tudor period the Inner Hall was the Great Kitchen. The Italian walnut panelling and columns were designed in 1905 and added as part of William Waldorf Astor’s restoration.

The Drawing Room originally contained domestic offices during the Tudor period, it became what you see today in 1905. The panelling was designed by architect Frank Loughborough Pearson and was inspired by the Elizabethan Inlaid Chamber at Sizergh Castle in Cumbria.

The Dining Hall would have been, in the 15th century, the Great Hall with the ceiling being open to the roof rafters. On the ornate fireplace in here you can see the Boleyn coat of arms designed by William Silver Frith.

In 1905 some more administrative offices from the Tudor period became the Library. The bookcases in this room are a copy of the one’s once owned by diarist Samuel Pepys.

The Morning Room in the Tudor period was a private retiring room. The panelling and fire place in here date to the 17th century. The initials HW are carved into the stone on the fireplace surround and are for Henry Waldegrave whose family owned Hever between 1557 and 1715.

Anne Boleyn was born in 1501 and spent her childhood at Hever, this room is thought to have been her bedroom. The half domed ceiling is an original 15th century feature designed to give a feeling of more space and light.

The Staircase Gallery was built by Thomas Boleyn in 1506 and gives access between the two wings of the house and the Long Gallery upstairs.

It is believed King Henry VIII stayed at Hever Castle on several occasions and it is this room where he is thought to have slept. Some of the panelling in this room dates to the 16th century and the ceiling is the oldest in the castle dating from 1462.

This is the Waldegrave Room named after the Waldegrave family who owned Hever between 1557 and 1715. In 1584 an Oratory was added hidden behind panelling so the Catholic Henry Waldegrave could practice his faith in secret.

The Long Gallery was constructed in the 16th century and extends across the entire width of the castle. It would have been used as an entertaining space, for displaying art and taking exercise. The wood panelling dates from the 16th century however the ceiling is a 20th century reconstruction.

Other notable rooms in the castle are the Book of Hours Room where you can view two prayer books that belonged to Anne Boleyn, the Queen’s Chamber where a rare panel belonging to Anne of Cleves can be viewed and a collection of portraits of Henry VIII’s six wives.

The gardens at Hever are as equally as impressive as the castle. Laid out between 1904 and 1908 over 1000 men worked to turn marshland into the vision of William Waldorf Astor and the gardens that you see today.

Personally for me the highlight was the Italian Garden. Covering four acres it was built to display William Waldorf Astor’s collection of Italian sculptures. The garden is bordered by two 12 foot high walls made from local stone. On the north side the Pompeiian Wall contains small bays to showcase his antiquities where as the Pergola Walk runs down the south side with its shaded grottoes.

At the lake end of the garden is the impressive Loggia, pillared colonnades and balustraded steps descend to the Piazza with its classical sculpture inspired by the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

The English Rose Garden has over 4000 different roses which flourish from June to September and are planted in blocks of colour across the garden.

Blue Corner as its name suggests uses the colour blue to create this charming rockery garden. The plants are concentrated around huge rocks and steps.

The 38 acre lake at Hever was another addition by William Waldorf Astor and was completed in July 1906. There is a lovely walk around the lake which offers some beautiful views of the estate and back to the Italian Gardens. In season you can also take boats out onto the lake for a more peaceful and tranquil experience.

I had a very enjoyable day out at Hever and would definitely recommend a visit if you’re going to be in the area. There’s loads going on at the castle including some things that I’ve not mentioned here, check their website for more info


Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *