Sudeley Castle and Gardens

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OK, I hadn’t done my homework properly before visiting Sudeley Castle. Knowing it is one of the few castles still lived in by the family, we were expecting to see a range of stately rooms. We were bitterly disappointed as the tour is more of a rather boring museum display and you see few rooms. Rooms you do see, don’t exactly grab the imagination either. Their website is gushing. The reality doesn’t live up to it. Great play is made in their advertising leaflet that David Starkey is their historical advisor and Roddy Llewellyn the garden consultant.

The first castle was built by Ralph Botelier in the C12th from the spoils of his fighting in the Hundred Years War. He was also responsible for St Mary’s Church in the grounds. In 1469, Edward IV confiscated the castle and gave it to his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He was responsible for building the now ruined banqueting hall. After Richard’s death, the castle passed to Henry VII. Henry VIII visited with Anne Boleyn. Edward VI granted the castle to Thomas Seymour who had married Katherine Parr. Thomas renovated the castle for her. Sadly she died after childbirth and was buried in St Mary’s Church. Lady Jane Grey was Thomas Seymour’s ward. After the plot to put Jane on the throne, the castle was granted to the Chandos family. 1st Baron Chandos entertained Queen Elizabeth here three times. Charles I found refuge in Sudeley Castle during the Civil War and the Castle was slighted on Cromwell’s orders. It lay in ruins until 1837 when it came into the possession of wealthy Worcester glove-makers, John and William Dent, who began an ambitious restoration programme. This was continued by their nephew, John Coucher Dent, when he inherited the Castle, and his wife, Emma. The castle is now the home of Lady Ashcombe and the Dent-Brocklehursts.

The exhibitions in the castle concentrate very much on the history and personalities.

It is a good five minute walk from the ticket office to the castle. This takes you past the ruins of the tithe barn with a large ornamental pond containing koi carp. The grounds are attractive with grass and specimen trees. Formal gardens with clipped conifer hedges dividing the gardens up into different ‘rooms’. Beyond the church is a lovely secret garden full of flowers. Katherine Parr is buried in the church, but her tomb was destroyed during the Civil War and the present tomb was designed by George Gilbert Scott.

Entrance to the castle is round the back into the original west wing of the castle. On the left is the children’s room with dressing up clothes and the story of Brock the Badger. On the right is a room with some (I hate to say it) rather boring Victorian artefacts and some very worthy information about Victorian Sudeley. It wasn’t exactly a gripping start to the visit.

Having shown our tickets we were directed up stairs to two rooms on the mezzanine level. One has an exhibition of Roman finds, the other an exhibition about World War One. Again, they were worthy but neither really fired the imagination. The stairs continued to the first floor. The first room had a model of the reconstructed facial image of Richard III, on display here for a few weeks before returning to Leicester for permanent display. There was a short video about finding his body. According to the web site, a permanent exhibition about Richard III will remain in the castle for the rest of the year. At the risk of sounding cynical, I’m not quite sure what this is, perhaps it is just the video?

Beyond is a Madame Tussaud’s experience with models of Henry VIII and his six wives which were used in a David Starkey TV programmes about them. This was our first introduction to the David Starkey influence. Subsequent displays were peppered by quotes “David Starkey says….” We found it difficult to join in with the assembled masses oo-ing and aah-ing over them. There is a copy of the C16th oil painting ‘The Tudor Succession ‘ by Lucas de Heere. The original is in the Museum of Wales.

The next rooms contain a display of textiles, which was the most interesting part of the Castle. There was a nice stirrup work and strapwork mirror and a strapwork embroidered box, both dated 1660. There was a C17th embroidered child’s satin Christening robe and a waistcoat reputed to have belonged to Charles I. There were C17/18th embroidered nightcap, socks and gloves. There were displays of stomachers and a lot of lace.

This leads into a room with four poster bed with Aubusson bed hangings and cover made for Marie Antoinette. On the walls are framed samplers.

The next room had a tableau of Katherine Parr, Thomas Seymore and Lady Jane Grey, but with little other information.

Beyond is the screening room with a DVD of David Starkeys’ history of the time. We gave this a miss.

Beyond is what the map shows as the Document room, This has a portrait of Edward Seymore, but no information about the rest of the contents – a criticism of many of the rooms we saw.

Beyond is the sewing room of Emma Dent, with a model of her sitting at a treadle sewing machine. Hanging up is her dressing gown. Hardly riveting stuff.

The tour now takes you down a staircase with a formidable leg iron on the wall. There is a lot of printed information about Elizabeth I on the corridor walls. I wonder how many people stop to read this. Beyond were portraits of the six wives, wearing examples of jewellery of the time. This was poorly made, looked cheap and shoddy and felt amateurish. There was little information to go with the pictures and I wondered if it was a way of filling up space. A doorway led out into a small Elizabethan knot garden – the best bit of the corridor.

At the far end was a small room with a short DVD by David Starkey on the life and loves of Katherine Parr.

Along another corridor is the library and the morning room. Both are newly opened this year, but made little impression on us. We felt both were uninspiring rooms with no information about them and very little about their contents. The stained glass window in the morning room has the red and white Tudor roses and the arms of Henry VIII. In the centre is a large Tudor table with the dispatch box belonging to Charles I which was one of the spoils of the Battle of Naseby and rumoured to have contained his letters to Henrietta Maria.

The wall paper along the corridor has deep grey stylised Royal Coat of Arms with Honi soit qui mal y pense and the Tudor rose. A definite statement of status.

The tour continues up more stairs into Katherine Parr’s outer room with an elaborate plaster ceiling with gilt on a blue background and hanging bosses. The queen’s privy is off and is a glorious reconstruction with red velvet hangings and red velvet padded seat. It was certainly an improvement than the guard robe in the walls.

At the end of a long corridor lined with uninspiring prints and pictures of the Great Exhibition is the Chandos bedroom (but I don’t know which one). This has an impressive four poster bed with a big carved chest at the foot. Display cabinets have a hotch potch of contents, including Oliver Cromwell’s ink well. Off it is a remarkably modern bathroom. Beyond is a second bathroom with a claw foot bath, which leads into the Major’s bedroom which was used by Jack and Mary Dent between the wars. Again an unmemorable room.

By the end of the visit, we felt we had been through a lot of rooms but had come away not much wiser about their contents. There were few room stewards around and those we did see were very quiet and made little attempt to engage with visitors. There was no information about the rooms part from highlighting some of the ‘Treasures of Sudeley’. According to the website there are rare copies of original books written by Katherine Parr, and her love letters to Thomas Seymour. If there are, we missed them – or else they weren’t clearly identified.

Photography is not allowed inside the Castle.

At £14 or £13 for concessions we felt this was very expensive. The gardens are attractive, but they don’t do a reduced ticket just for the grounds. We won’t be going back.

The tea room was uninspiring too.

The car park is by the Visitor Centre and ticket office. It is a 5 minute walk to the house and there is no golf buggy provided. Ask at the ticket office as disabled parking is available by the castle. Manual wheelchairs can be pre-booked from the Visitor Centre.

The Visitor centre, grounds and tea room are accessible. There are no lifts inside the castle and disabled access is restricted to the ground floor only. They do not provide photo books or DVD of exhibits for the rest of the house and the person on the ticket desk looked most surprised when I asked. They do however admit a carer free.

There is more information about access “here.”:

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