Monday, March 8, 2010

Eastnor, Herefordshire


The splendour falls on castle walls

In early March the trees are still bare of leaves and the landscape yields enticing views. This one, through a hedge on the A438 not far from Ledbury, is of Eastnor Castle, rising massively like the border strongholds built by the Normans to defend their lands against the Welsh. ‘Like’ being the operative word. Eastnor is no 12th-century pile, but a Norman revival castle built in the second decade of the 19th century. It was designed by Robert Smirke for the 1st Earl Somers and was perhaps intended to add the stamp of antique status to a man whose wealth came partly from banking and a judicious marriage.

The building is massive and the task of constructing it was formidable – a workforce of 250, stone brought from the Forest of Dean by water and cart, ten years of toil. Even under construction, the castle must have seemed a romantic place, a world away from the Napoleonic Wars. And yet these wars had an impact. Timber, in demand for ship building, was at a premium, and the builders drew heavily on the trees on the estate. Smirke looked to new technology for a way around the problem. Many of the roof trusses and beams in this neo-Norman building are made of iron.

In spite of its massive masonry and iron beams, Eastnor was suffering huge structural problems by the end of World War II. Perhaps with less tenacious owners than the Hervey-Bathursts the castle might have turned into a sad but Romantic ruin. But the last few decades have seen huge efforts made to repair the building, and it’s at last in very good shape. You can read more about it here.

Eastnor is now in fighting trim to host visitors, corporate hirers, weddings, and all the other uses that generate the income necessary to support a huge structure like this. One should not be sad about these new uses of this old building. Country houses have always been businesses, and their farms, timber yards, workshops, and kitchens supported armies of workers. Tourism to country houses has a long history too – remember those Jane Austen characters visiting big houses and being shown around by housekeepers. Eastnor has been open to visitors almost since it was built. The tradition continues.

4 comments:

Peter Ashley said...

Knowing that Eastnor also houses men with biros and laptops from Land Rover, I wondered if that was the new Discovery in the foreground?

Philip Wilkinson said...

Very good. Could be one of those prototypes with extra bits stuck on to disguise it while testing.

Ron Combo said...

One for Savage to adjudicate on I think.

Thud said...

I quite like victorian romantic castle builds as in Peckforton.