Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Grand Tudor Estates

As mentioned in an earlier post, Kent has many large houses and gardens and excellent examples of Tudor architecture as illustrated by Hever Castle and Knole. 

(Kent also has an exceptional history that may be explored in a later post.)

Hever Castle is best known today as the birthplace of Anne Boleyn. It has had quite a history aside from this famous person. The gatehouse, outer walls, and moat were built around 1270. The castle was converted into a Tudor-style manor by the younger brother of Thomas Boleyn (father of Anne) in 1462. Anne was born in a small room on the second floor in 1501. I took a moment standing in what could have been the room that Anne was born into appreciate that I have seen the start and end of this remarkable woman's life. 

And of course the most famous man in her life stayed at the castle several times during his courtship of Anne. Henry VIII owned the house after the death of Thomas Boleyn in 1539, and then passed on to various other owners until subsequently passing to the Waldegrave family in 1557 until 1715. As Catholics, the family had a private oratory built on the second floor in 1584 to allow them to worship privately. (1584 was in the middle of Elizabeth I's reign and it wasn't completely safe for Catholics to be open about their faith. I enjoy the irony of the Catholic family building a private space to worship as a result of the effects caused by Anne Boleyn's impact on England.)

The next era in this house's history came in 1903 when none other than the American millionaire William Waldorf Astor bought Hever's castle and estates and restored it for his family's residence. Imagine living in a Tudor manor house, with the heavy dark wood wall and ceiling carvings, yet decorated in 20th century pastel and floral patterned furniture and the modern conveniences of telephones and bells. 

Astor's mark extended to the park and gardens. The Italian Garden was built and designed to showcase the statuary and sculptures Astor collected from Italy, some of which dates to over 2,000 years old. 

Knole was not a planned excursion, but well worth it! Built in the 15th century by Thomas Bourchier, Archbishop of Canterbury, Knole one of the largest private houses in England and a fine example of Tudor-style architecture. The house at one point it may well have been a calendar house which had 365 rooms, 52 staircases, 12 entrances and 7 courtyards. The estate passed from the See of Canterbury, which received it upon Bourchier's death, to Henry VIII in 1537 and then went on to Elizabeth I. She gave it to her cousin Thomas Sackville in 1566, whose descendants the Earls and Dukes of Dorset and Barons Sackville have lived there since 1603.

As for the grounds and gardens, Knole has a large 26 acre walled garden 1,000 acre deer park. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

A Pilgrimage to Canterbury

On my third annual trip to England, it felt proper to finally make it to Canterbury as pilgrims did for hundreds years before I arrived today. Granted, I drove and didn't walk, but a harrowing experince the same to drive by myself on the left along narrow windy country roads and on large motorways. It was a relief to finally arrive and see the Cathedral's tower over the town.  

Canterbury was established as the "Cathedra" or seat, by the first archbishop St. Augustine, who was sent by Pope Gregory in 597 as a missionary to convert the pagan Saxons. He won over the will of King Ethelbert, the Saxon King, who had a French Christian wife. Ethelbert allowed Augustine and his followers to build a church outside of the city walls, at what is now the ruins of St. Augustine's Abbey.

Architecture styles range from Romanesque to Perpendicular to Gothic. The earliest part of the Cathedral is found in the crypt, which is Romanesque from around 1100 and has a small section of preserved wall paintings.The Great Cloister is an excellent example of Decorated Gothic with fan-vaulted colonnades as it was rebuilt in 1300. 

The Cathedral used to be a Benedictine monastery and the cloister is where the monks would study. Unlike in typical monasteries, the Cloister at Canterbury is on the north rather than the south side because of an old burial ground that was where the Cloister should have been. (Even on a sunny and windy September day, it was chilly in the Cloister so I can't imagine what the studying monks endured in the dead of winter!)  Thomas Becket, a onetime close friend of Henry II who appointed him as Archbishop of Canterbury, was chased from the cloister to the northwest transept (now called the Martyrdom) and murdered by four knights on December 29, 1170. The four knights allegedly acted on orders from King Henry II. Thomas Becket was considered a martyr because though he was once close friends with King Henry, sided with the church to protect the church's interest over the king's. 

Thomas Becket's body was first entombed in the crypt for people to view. It was during these viewings that miracles were said to have happened. The miracles were observed by two monks who wrote down the miracles into books that are part of the Cathedral's archives today. It was due to these miracles and healings that Thomas was canonized and Canterbury became a pilgrimage site, drawing thousands to be healed by St. Thomas. His shrine was housed in the Trinity Chapel in the quire until the Reformation in 1538. Henry VIII was trying to unify the church around him and he saw the shrine and pilgrimage to St. Thomas as a roadblock, and a source of wealth as well. All the gold and treasures left by the pilgrims went to the crown and St. Thomas' tomb was shattered and scattered to the unknowns.

St. Thomas' miracles, those written down by the monks, were made into stained glass windows along the quired. There isn't much stained glass left as most of it was destroyed in the Civil War. What survived is some of the oldest stained glass in England, as seen in the West Window. These pieces were removed and preserved from destruction of World War II's bombing. Most of the medieval parts of the was city was also destroyed, though parts of the medieval walls still stand. 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A Day of Gardens

With another fine day of sun, a cloudless sky and soft breeze, today's explorations around Kent centered on formal gardens. 

The first stop was Groombridge Place Gardens, dating from the 17th century, with many walks, gardens, and trails to explore around a moated 17th century manor house (close to the public). The estate belonged to British barrister and architect Philip Packer, a courtier to Charles II, built the present day house with the help of his friend Christopher Wren in 1662.

Packer laid out the gardens surrounding Groombridge Place from 1674 with the help of horticulturalist and famous diarist John Evelyn who designed a series of formal gardens arranged as "outside rooms" of the house.  The idea was to blur the boundary between indoors and outdoors which is a theme which became popular again in the twentieth century.  Some of the garden rooms at Groombridge also pre-empted modern design in creating an artfully "natural" landscape. Sir Conan Doyle was a regular visitor to Groomsbridge in the 18th century to take part in seances, his favorite garden being the Drunken Garden, called so because of its odd shaped hedges. He set the Sherlock Holmes mystery "The Valley of Fear" in the manor house. 

Among the formal gardens is a Secret Garden, behind a thick wooden door with a stream flowing over rocks and a bridge under a large mossy tree. It was supposedly in the Secret Garden that Packer died while reading a book in the sunshine on Christmas Eve in 1686

Next on to Penshurst Place, which has been owned by the Sidney family since 1552. Built in 1342 for Sir John de Pulteney, a London merchant and four-times Lord Mayor of London who wanted a country residence within easy riding distance of London. The original medieval house is one of the most complete surviving examples of 14th-century domestic architecture in England. After passing through the ownership of two of Henry IV's sons, Penshurst Place stayed in the crown estate for the rest of Henry VIII's reign. He used it as a hunting lodge until he gave it to Anne of Cleves in their divorce. The house and grounds was by Edward VI to his loyal steward and tutor, Sir William Sidney. Penshurst Place was the birthplace of the great Elizabethan poet, courtier and soldier, Sir Philip Sidney. In 1599, Queen Elizabeth I first visited Penshurst Place. One of the State Rooms in the house has been named after her, since the Queen would have used it to give audience on one of her many visits to Penshurst.

The gardens span 48 acres and include numerous uniquely designed gardens, such as a Union Flag Garden, formed from roses and lavender, the Flag Garden was opened by the Prince of Wales to mark the 400th Anniversary of Sir Philip Sidney's death in 1984. Opening directly in front of the House, the 16th-century Italian Garden is designed to be enjoyed from the State Rooms. The colossal project of Sir Henry Sidney in the 1560s, it is the centrepiece of the Garden and sets the style for the whole, with an oval lily pool and classical statue at its centre.

A rose garden:

And Diana's Bath:

It is not known who named it or why, but Diana's Bath was formed from an old mediaeval stock pond. Parapet walls were built around this in the16th century with steps added which descend into the water, often filled with lilies of all colours.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Walking with Churchill

This year's English adventures started off in Kent, which has plenty of country houses, castles, and gardens...as it should with a name like the "Garden of England." And I will be seeing as many of them as possible over the next few days. 

Chartwell was Winston Churchill's home from 1922 until his death in 1965. I didn't see the inside of the house, though the outside is gorgeous red brick. Churchill's artworks are on display in the garden studio.

I wanted to take advantage of a sunny and crisp autumnal day by walking around the hillside gardens. Churchill's love of nature is evident in the landscape he created with lakes, which affords views over the Weald of Kent. Beyond the gardens is woodland with sub-dabbled trails.

And since I've just used the term, "weald" is an area of Southeast England between the North and the South Downs that crosses Sussex and Kent counties. This year's English adventures will have lots of opportunities for explorations of the Wealds. The Weald was once covered with a large forest and signifies "woodland" in Old English.