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Eastnor Castle Tour

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    THE ENTRANCE HALL

    The entrance is flanked by portraits of 1st Earl Somers on the left (John Harrison Jnr), the creator of the house, and by the 12th Earl, later Duke, of Shrewsbury (Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt) on the right. Lord Shrewsbury was a great friend of John Somers, the Lord Chancellor, from whom much of the distinction and wealth of the family were derived. The Somers had married into the Cocks family, who had owned land at Eastnor since 1600. The wooden benches and chairs, which are early Gothic in style, were made to Smirke’s design for the house. The medieval suits of armour are part of the collection acquired by the family in the 1870s. The hall was redecorated in 1989, but the unusual 19th century frieze was retained.

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    THE GREAT HALL

    This is the symbolic heart of the baronial castle and would be used from time to time to entertain guests, tenants and employees. As early photographs show, however, the Hall was furnished and decorated in the 1860s by G E Fox, who introduced the marble columns in the gallery and painted wall decoration, said to be taken from the design on a Saracen banner captured in the Crusades and preserved as an altar cloth in Toulouse Cathedral. However, Smirke’s simple Gothic benches and an oak chair remain in their original places.

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    THE RED HALL

    The shields around the Hall door are 14th century Austrian pavises, used to shelter crossbowmen when re-arming their weapons. The Dutch clock is 18th century; the knight on horseback is Italian with the Visconti crest on his shield. The sea chest is Elizabethan (16th century). On the right are North Indian armours, captured at the battle of Goojerat in 1849 by my great- great-grandfather. Eastnor is included in the Anglo-Sikh Heritage Trail to encourage British Sikhs to explore their long military connections with the British Empire. The ceiling was redecorated in 1991 when the panels were painted with crests of families related to the Somers and the Cocks in the 20th century to carry through the heraldic theme of the two adjoining rooms.

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    THE STATE DINING ROOM

    Smirke originally installed Gothic arches at each end and over the doors; they can be seen in the early water colour and 1910 photograph on display. My grandmother removed the arches in 1933 to create a better space for pictures. The room was redecorated in 1990, when new curtains and curtain poles were fitted and the mirrors and additional pictures brought in from other rooms or purchased. The original dining-room table is of Cuban mahogany. The chairs, benches and fire screens were also designed by Smirke for the room and evoke an earlier style of English furniture. The ceiling was decorated in the 1850s and features crests of families with which the Somers and Cocks were either closely or tenuously linked.

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    THE GOTHIC DRAWING ROOM

    This room survives largely unchanged from the time when it was redecorated by the Crace brothers to the designs of A W N Pugin for the 2nd Earl in 1849. The massive chimney-piece by Bernasconi and family tree depicted above it provide the focus, while the chairs, table, desk and bookcase were all designed by Pugin, with the Somers’ ‘S’ and coronet inlaid in the table and bookcase doors. The chandelier was exhibited at the Great Exhibition in 1851 and made by Hardman of Birmingham from an original in a Nuremberg church. Hardman made the firedogs too, and Minton produced the tiles. Pugin, responsible for much of the original decoration in the Palace of Westminster, designed the new decoration for this room in 1849.

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    THE OCTAGON SALON

    The chandelier is Dutch and the new carpet, replacing one similar to those in the Long Library and Little Library woven in India, was machine-made for the room in China in 1994. The portraits are all by G F Watts and include Ellen Terry, the actress whom he briefly married, 3rd Earl Somers, a friend of the artist (portrait above the Library door) and his daughters, Lady Henry Somerset and her sister, Adeline, later Duchess of Bedford. The Octagon was redecorated in 1990, with decorative paintwork by Laura Jeffreys. We found the two fireplaces stored in the cellar where they had been placed in 1932, when the room was redecorated and one, larger fireplace installed. My grandmother’s idea was to try to keep the ladies and gentlemen together round one fireplace after dinner. We do not know how well it worked!

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    THE LONG LIBRARY

    Designed G E Fox to the 3rd Earl’s specification, the shelving and inlaid woodwork were made in Italy and assembled on site by Estate workmen. The 17th century tapestries illustrate scenes from a poem dedicated to Catherine de Medici, which compares her life to the story of Queen Artemisia and her son, Lygdamus, and came from a palazzo in Mantua. The tapestries between the windows depict mythical scenes, and the ceiling is painted with emblems of various qualities representing virtues and their corresponding vices.

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    THE LITTLE LIBRARY

    The walnut shelves were bought in Siena from the assembly hall of the Academy of the Intronati. A sign on display records that they were designed by Josef Posi and date from 1646. The mirror over the chimney-piece is framed by pearwood carvings formerly at the family home in Reigate. The Burroughes and Watts billiard table dates from the early 20th century and is regularly used by guests. This room was redecorated in 1990, using a material of Victorian design from Watts of Westminster, reprinted for the purpose.

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    THE STAIRCASE HALL

    The 16th century tapestries were bought and hung here in 1990 to take the place of portraits now in the Dining Room. The largest of these depicts the meeting of Anthony and Cleopatra. The set of three Bruges tapestries show Judith with the head of Holophernes, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and Susannah and the Elders. The staircase was designed by Smirke with cast iron banisters. The bust of Charles, 3rd Earl Somers, is by Sir Edgar Boehm. The wooden chandelier came from the Palazzo Corsini in Florence, and the hall chairs are Venetian, bearing the arms of a 17th century doge. The dragon benches are of the same period.

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    THE STATE BEDROOM

    This was the 3rd Earl’s bedroom and is hung with panels from the Royal School of Needlework. The large altarpiece with tabernacle over the wardrobe is partly by Ridolfo di Ghirlandaio. The Last Supper is from the studio of Jacopo Bassano and The Baptism of Christ over the entrance by a follower of Tintoretto. The bed is Italian and belonged to Cardinal (now Saint Robert) Bellarmine (17th century). The wardrobe and chest of drawers are 17th century Genoese. The Latin motto of the Cocks family, “Spes nescia vinci” on the chimney piece means: “Hope knows no defeat”.

Contact us on 01531 633160 or email enquiries@eastnorcastle.com