The image shows Lowther Castle, designed by Robert Smirke for the Earl of Lonsdale and started in 1805, seven years before Eastnor. When my ancestor, Lord Somers, was considering which architect to commission for his own mansion in the style of a mediaeval castle, Smirke was an obvious candidate, and Lord Lonsdale provided a positive reference, recommending Smirke and saying he did not suffer “from the faults of other architects”, without stating what they might be, though overrunning the budget was likely to be one of them. In fact, Smirke had tendered £140,000, but only spent £110,000 to build Lowther. Lord Lonsdale was so impressed that he nevertheless gave Smirke the full contract sum.
Sadly, Lowther has only survived as a shell as many of its contents were sold in the 1950’s and the house largely dismantled, a fate suffered by over one thousand historic houses in the UK during that difficult period. But many of the best works of art were kept by the family and moved to another house on the estate, where they were available to view by appointment. The good news is that a charitable trust, is now building a gallery on the site of the castle where much of the Lonsdale collection will be displayed to visitors: see http://www.lowther.co.uk/index.php/castle-a-gardens
As the family would like to display some of the paintings and furniture before the gallery opens next year, and it is an unusual chance for us to work with another estate, we have agreed with the Lonsdale trustees to have a temporary display at Eastnor. A number of objects are due to arrive next week and will be on show amongst the paintings and other works of art in the rooms visited by the public. They will certainly add to the visitor experience, though it will not be on the scale of the great “Houghton Revisited” exhibition in Norfolk, which has been such a great success: see www.houghtonrevisited.com But it will enhance our own collection for the next season, and I hope the works of art will appreciate being back in a Smirke castle after a seventy year break. I must just make sure I do not get too fond of them while they are here…
JH-B 6th September 2013