This time, during our “English History Road Trip” we definitely hit the ground running in London by booking a Viator tour to Leeds Castle, The Cliffs of Dover and Canterbury Cathedral. Ignoring Jim’s groaning and complaints about how tired we would be, we set our alarm for an early rise and went to bed a little early in anticipation of our early appointment at Victoria Coach Station.
Most tours that do not pick you up at your hotel depart from Victoria Coach Station which is one of the best organized bus stations we have had the pleasure (wink here!) of experiencing. The departure portals have well-lit monitors announcing the list of departure times and while waiting for a bus to arrive, you can have a to-go breakfast sandwich and coffee from one of the several kiosks in the terminal.
Personally, I find almost all the castles in England spectacular, so I will leave that title open to speculation. It definitely is impressive as it sits at the end of a causeway jutting out to two small islands in the smooth blue-green lake formed by the intentional damming of the River Len. The lake created by flooding the valley in the 13th century effectively created a moat around the castle. The view from the lakeshore and through the trees is enchanting.
The earliest part of the stone castle was built in 1199 by Robert de Crevecour, one of William the Conqueror’s lords. De Crevecour owned the Norman stronghold for 175 years beginning in the 11th century. During that period there would have been a Keep on the smaller island and a Bailey with domestic buildings on the larger island. The two islands would have been linked by a drawbridge that could be drawn up for protection when under attack or siege.
Only a few architectural features survive from the 12th century such as the window at the end of the banqueting hall and the cellar beneath the Heraldry room.
The retaining wall surrounding the larger island dates from Eleanor’s time. The wall could be surveilled from D-shaped bastion towers called Drum Towers, the remains of which can still be seen today. The north-east tower retains its original height. The Keep which was located on the smaller island and housed apartments for the King and Queen was also developed during this period and was named the “Gloriette” from the Spanish term for pavilion. The Keep would have been the most protected part of the castle. The rooms were built around a small courtyard with a small fountain. This area was restored and recreated in the early 20th century.
King Edward III (1358-1377) also broke with tradition and did not grant Leeds Castle to his queen, though he made several improvements including new outer gates with two portcullises and a new drawbridge.
The castle museum rooms in the Gloriette, are restored to reflect the Tudor period and contain several authentic 15th and 16th century artifacts.
The Queen's Room: Restored as it would have appeared in 1420 during the period of Catherine de Valois’ occupation of Leeds Castle, the Queen’s Room is a Day Room where the Queen would sit on a chair beside the bed and receive guests. Beds at this time were very expensive and owned exclusively by royalty and nobility and would have impressed her visitors. The fireplace was installed at the time of Henry VIII and has the Tudor Rose and Dragon insignia carved in the stone.
The ceiling beams are decoratively carved and the wall hangings are designed with the initials HC for Henry and Catherine.
The Gloriette remained the principal royal apartments, and an upper floor was added. Grand fireplaces decorated with royal arms and Spanish motifs were installed.
The Queen’s Gallery: This gallery reflects the period of Henry VIII and his Queen Catherine of Aragon. The fireplace was moved from upstairs and has the initials of the King and Queen and symbols of the queen (Castle of Castile and pomegranates) carved in the spandrels.
The Italian marble statues of Henry VIII and his three children were carved during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign around 1569. The long refectory table is 17th century Italian and came from a monastery.
Over time, the Jacobean Manor House was remodeled and updated according to the style preferences of the Georgian era as Leeds Castle passed through the illustrious families of Culpepper and Fairfax who held great land holdings in Virginia. Later, distant relatives owned Leeds Castle until the beginning of the 19th century.
In 1821, Fienns Wykeham Martin inherited the castle and commissioned a survey of the castle which returned the news that the castle was in a ruinous condition.
The gatehouse, inner gatehouse, Maiden’s Tower and Gloriette were repaired and reinforced and the Jacobean Mansion was demolished and replaced with a neo-Tudor Style building. The resulting new construction was finished by 1823 and was named the New Castle.
You enter the castle museum compound through the New Castle and are welcomed first into the Heraldry Room where you will find a timeline of the history of Leeds Castle and the people who owned it along with portraits and artifacts.
Lady Baille created an Inner Hall inside the New Castle with a great stone staircase, transformed the Great Hall into a Library, restored the Banqueting Hall to its full size, turned the Chapel into a Music Room.
Lady Baille died in 1974 and left the castle and grounds to the Leeds Castle Foundation for the public to enjoy.
Named after the family who owned Leeds Castle in the 17th century; the Culpeper Garden was originally the site of the Castle’s kitchen garden.
During Lady Baillie's ownership it became a cut flower garden, but in 1980 garden designer Russell Page transformed it into a large cottage garden. With its informal layout and low box hedges as a border this very English garden features Roses, Lupins, Poppies and Lads' Love, with exotic blooms mixed in to create a profusion of color and scent.
Beyond the gardens, the estate grounds offer a variety of attractions and learning experiences for the whole family.
It is set in a square, and yet, when seen from the mound or the air, the pattern is circular, this is unique to Leeds Castle and adds to the difficulty in solving it.
Once you’ve reached the middle of the Maze, you can return to civilization through an underworld grotto, complete with macabre forms and mythical beasts created from shells, minerals and wood.
Click Here to learn more about visiting or staying at Leeds Castle in Kent, England!