We are pleased to reveal our exciting, unique addition to the children’s playground – a brand new Land Rover Defender!  The full size Defender was donated to Eastnor Castle by Land Rover to celebrate over 50 years of vehicle testing on the estate.  The Land Rover has been fully child proofed and it sits alongside the existing tractor and motorbike, however, it doesn’t have an engine so will not be going for any fun rides! 

David Littlewood, General Manager “We are very proud of the Land Rover and are hoping it will prove to be extremely popular.  It’s probably the first time a brand new Land Rover has been used in a playground and I am sure it will survive all the inquisitive children playing with it.  We are grateful to Land Rover for the enormously generous gift and hope they will be on the estate for the next 50 years”.

A new zip wire also be installed in the playground as part of the upgrade and will be ready to welcome the first visitors of the season on Good Friday for the annual Easter Egg Hunt.

In an alley off the south end of Ledbury High Street are the discreet premises of Tilley Printing. It is a Victorian establishment, now owned and run by Martin Clark, and he supplies us with printed writing paper for our guest bedrooms and other materials from time to time, including invitation cards to my 21st birthday party, my brother’s and my eldest daughters (sadly, not repeat business).

Although Martin is seen standing next to a relatively modern machine, he also uses an Albion Press, manufacturer by A Wilson & Sons, London, from about 1850 and a Wharfedale Printing Machine by Payne & Sons, Otley, one of the machines which is said to have transformed the printing industry in the second half of the nineteenth century.  The Tilley machine dates from about 1895, according to Martin, and is still driven by a belt off the original line shafting, which itself is now driven by an electric motor, a replacement for a paraffin engine and before that a steam engine. (The covered-over hole for its chimney is still evident in the roof).

Tilley Printing was started in about 1870, when Luke Tilley, a local stationer and photographer, took over the business from a Mr Bayliss. It is open for business on weekdays, and is occasionally open at other times e.g. for Herefordshire Art Week.  To secure its future, Martin has taken on an apprentice, Anneliese Appleby, a former art teacher.  Her training is being sponsored by the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust a charity of the Royal Warrant Holders Association.

We hope it all works out as we should like to continue using Tilley Printing and its perfectly good, but old machines for as long as we can.

JH-B  14th September 2014

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.

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

We have had a number of fashion shoots in the past. The first was with Kutchinsky with the famous Norman Parkinson, followed by one for Tatler and then a German lingerie company (which required extra heating). Luckily, the Miss Selfridge team came to Eastnor during a warm week and were able to shoot inside and out, without any special arrangements having to be made.

One image shows Katie Pearson and Nicola St Louis sorting out some of the 8 rails of clothes, referred to generically as “garments”, before taking them back to London for the official launch of the latest catalogue. Over sixty images were saved by Jackie Dixon, the photographer and a selection will eventually be offered in catalogue form and on line.  They were able to use quite a number of areas in the house and grounds, but I do not expect it will be obvious that we are the location.

The other image shows the Octagon saloon converted into garment warehouse for the shoot. It is the ideal room for it as it is sparsely furnished and used for breakfasts, lunches, dancing and drinking and corporate off-site meetings. Until 1939, it was used by my grandparents as their drawing room as my grandmother did not like the Pugin Gothic Drawing room next door. It has a carpet which was re-made new in China, a copy of the Indian original made in Amritsar for the room in the 19th century, and a bust of my father, who used to receive Land Rover guests there before they set up their main centre in the old kitchen gardens: /  he would have enjoyed the latest spectacle.

The Octagon Salon at Eastnor Castle

We have loved having Miss Selfridge here, and I am only sorry my wife and daughters have been away this week, though there were no cast-offs for them to pick over. Perhaps they will buy from the catalogue instead.

JH-B  5th July 2013

Smallwood Architects and the Historic Houses Association (HHA) have teamed up for a summer photographic competition this year to celebrate the HHA’s 40th anniversary.  First prize for adults is £1000, second prize is £500, and the winner of the 17 and under category will receive an iPad.

The competition will run from 1 July – 30 September 2013.

To enter, simply take a photograph (maximum 8MB) of the exterior of an HHA property and email it, with your name, contact details and the name of the house, to hha@smallwoodarchitects.co.uk before 1 October 2013.  Photographs can be of a whole building or any external part of a house or outbuilding. The competition is for amateur photographers and entry is limited to one image per person.*

This exciting competition will highlight the beauty of some of Britain’s outstanding country houses and raise awareness of these important buildings.  We are truly fortunate to have so many beautiful houses spread the length and breadth of the country and we hope this competition will help to bring many of them into the public eye.

Entries will be displayed online at the Smallwood Architects Flickr site for the duration of the competition. Visit https://www.flickr.com/photos/smallwoodhha.

Some members of the judging panel include Richard Compton, President of the Historic Houses Association, Mira Bar-Hillel, of The Evening Standard, Jonathan Dinnewell, Managing Director, Smallwood Architects and Mark Hedges, the Editor of Country Life.


An exciting new festival of children’s literature, which will take place in the grounds of Eastnor Castle near Ledbury. The focus of this event is the performance of children’s literature, through drama, storytelling, illustration, arts and crafts and audience participation.

Hooked on Books will see an impressive line up of children’s authors who will be reading from their books, including:

Polly Alakija – Monday 12th to Thursday 15th August
Sally Pomme Clayton – Monday 12th August 
Hannah Shaw – Tuesday 13th August
Jessica Souhami – Wednesday 14th August
Paul Cookson – Thursday 15th August

Competition for local children

As part of the event we are promoting a short story writing competition for local children. Children are asked to write a castle-themed story of no more than five hundred words. Furthermore each entry should be supported by a front cover illustration, using whichever media is preferred.  Whether it be knights in shining armour, damsels in distress or ghostly ghouls,  stories must be set in a castle and above all, be original and entertaining.

Prizes will be awarded for the best short story and illustration in the following categories:

Children aged 5-7 years
Children aged 8-11 years

The best short story in each category will win a £25 book voucher, a Family Privilege Pass for free entry for 2 adults and 3 children to Eastnor Castle and Grounds for 12 months and an Eastnor Castle goody bag.

We will also select one overall competition winner, who will receive all of the above and have their short story beautifully produced in hardback form to keep as a memento. Furthermore, the winning story will be read by one of our guest authors during the Hooked on Books festival.

Entries must be sent to:

Sarah Littlewood, Castle Office, Eastnor Castle, Ledbury HR8 1RL

Please ensure that the name, postal address, telephone number, email address and Age of the child is written on both the story and the accompanying illustration.

All entries must be received by Friday 19th July and the winners will be notified by Monday 29th July.

For any queries please telephone 01531 633160 or email enquiries@eastnorcastle.com

We have long had a business relationship with Jaguar Land Rover, so I wondered if there might be some connection between JLR and the Jacksonville Jaguars, but apparently not.  The Jacksonville Jaguars are a football team from Jacksonville, Florida, and the cheerleaders are what they say they are.  The current “roster” of girls was over in the UK for the photo shoot for their next year’s “Roar” calendar.

State Bathroom

They started in London with very early morning shots at Piccadilly Circus and in other locations, including iconic images with telephone boxes, taxis and London Buses.  They then came on to Eastnor for a couple of days for a different series of images and were very happy to use the house as they found it, with the addition only of two old Louis Vuitton suitcases as props.  I missed most of the visit, but they seemed to enjoy being in an English castle, which in some ways looks not too much different from those they might have seen replicated in Disney World in Orlando.  Our staff enjoyed their visit too as they were very enthusiastic, as Cheerleaders should be, and obviously had a bit of a party here.

A photo shoot like this is, unfortunately, not regular business for us, though we have had Tatler and Kutchinsky fashion shoots in the past as well as some glamour photography for other magazines.  On such occasions, we find the heating has to be on, even in summer, but it is a small price to pay.  It is a creative way to use the house and a great way to earn foreign exchange through a tourism-type service.

We hope it will lead to repeat business next year, but in the meantime it will give great exposure not only for the girls, but also for the castle and its interiors, though the eyes of viewers of the calendar may be more readily drawn to the beautiful Cheerleaders rather than the setting of the photographs.

JH-B 2nd June 2013

We have held small steam rallies at Eastnor for some time, organised by Bob Hayter, the estate joiner; they are still popular with visitors of all ages, if slightly preferred by men and boys.  We invite a number of local engine and other vintage vehicle owners to bring their machines to the courtyard and encourage them to invite visitors to inspect them at close quarters, making sure they do not burn themselves on hot pipes etc. Anthony Brandt gave rides in his Stanley Steam car, which runs almost noiselessly compared to the modern equivalent, though Satnav is not a feature.

The Aveling & Porter steam roller in the foreground of the image is unusual in that it still belongs to Herefordshire Council, though it was retired in the 1960’s.  As a boy, I remember seeing it sheeted up for the night on the Ledbury-Bromyard road, the fire banked up and ready for an early start the next day, so it is good to see it still in working order and cared for by an enthusiast.  We had two other rollers on display, and three traction engines, one of which, a Foden, had been repatriated from Tasmania before restoration.

After one of our visiting traction engines broke down and another went home after the first day, I decided to bring out my showman’s living van to supplement the display.  It dates from the 1920’s and belonged to the Connell family, who were based in the West Midlands.  It is smaller than many, with a living room with Hostess coal stove and bed room, with narrow and short double bunk.  I had it repainted and decorated by John Pocket, although it is now in need of a repaint despite a sheltered life in a shed.  However, it proved a very popular exhibit, and visitors appreciated the unspoilt interiors panelled with American walnut and my set of almost vintage enamel crockery.

We will invite more engines and exhibits next year, and I hope my own Foden tractor will be back in action with its new boiler.  We were delighted that we had 3000 visitors over the two days.

JH-B   2nd June 2013

After a very successful first year, the Chilli Festival at Eastnor Castle, near Ledbury, is back on Sunday 5th and Bank Holiday Monday 6th May.  This year, there will be even more stalls and entertainment, showcasing all things Hot!

Over 40 exhibitors will be exhibiting and demonstrating their products in the Castle Courtyard Chilli Market and visitors will be able to try and buy delicious products such as curry sauces and pastes, pickles and jams, chilli-flavoured chocolate, cheese and vodka, as well as grow-your-own chilli plants. There will also be a number of specialist hot food suppliers selling authentic Asian curries and other spicy foods.

David Littlewood, General Manager at Eastnor Castle said “We are really excited about our second Eastnor Chilli Festival. This year we have a new Chilli eating competition, organised by the Clifton Chilli Club, for those who are brave enough! Younger visitors are also well catered for with the new Easy Peasy Children’s Cookery Theatre, our specially designed Chilli Trail and the much-loved Eastnor Stilt Walker and Fire Juggler.

We are also delighted to welcome a number of new local exhibitors, including Fat Man Chilli from Preston-on-Wye and his curry sauces, plants, jellies and chocolates, Chilli Pepper Plantation from Bromyard and their grow-your-own chilli plants and Becky’s Bhajis and Dips from Rushwick in Worcestershire”.

In our cookery theatre, Rayeesa from Mordiford, will be demonstrating Indian cookery skills; vegetarian cookery will be the focus of Our Lizzy from Malvern and Marina Ibrahim will be showing visitors how to make delicious Egyptian mezze.

To create a real carnival atmosphere, there will be live musical entertainment from local Mexican band – Los Squideros from Hereford and the Pantasy Steel Band will be entertaining crowds with their traditional Caribbean music.

The second Eastnor Chilli Festival will be open from 11am to 5pm on both days and admission prices are Adults: £9.50, Seniors: £8.50, Children: £6 and a Family Ticket (2+3) is priced at £25.  Discounted tickets are available on-line.

Further details visit  Eastnor Castle or call 01531 633160.

We are nearly ready to open for the Easter weekend, starting on Good Friday at 11am.  We are running our popular Easter Egg Treasure Hunt, which this year extends the egg pun to: Easter mEGGa  Hunt, with clues around the castle and grounds giving visitors the chance to win a very large chocolate egg; if consumed too fast, there will be a definite breach of the Government’s healthy eating campaign, but it will be delicious…

Behind the scenes, a lot has to be done before we open the doors.  Spring cleaning has to be finished, ropes and signs put up, the DVD for visitors unable to walk up the stairs checked, the dog bowls filled (we welcome dogs in the house with well-behaved owners), items sent away for restoration returned and put in their places. Outside, we have put new gravel in the courtyard and car park, repainted the village signs, restored the lake weir and tidied up the many fallen branches brought down by the earlier snow falls.  The tea tables will have been placed in the tea room yard, though it may be a bit chilly for those who normally like to sit outside, and the visitor centre will be clean and ready for action.  We have arranged for visitors with Privilege Cards to be fast tracked through the entrance, which should be good for them and shorten any queues.  The shop has been restocked, though if this weather continues, the demand for ice cream may not be too high.

The daffodils, if not covered by snow, should be out, and the playground ready for action, with its repaired swing and the Burma bridge, which was very popular last year when it was new.  We have planted a lot of young trees in the grounds, something future generations should appreciate if the rabbits and squirrels do not get them first.  At least there is no drought at the moment, so they are having a good start.

We hope to have a busy weekend, whatever the weather.  My coal-fired traction engine should be in the Courtyard in steam on Easter Day, and a wood fire will greet visitors every day in the Great Hall, giving a genuinely warm welcome in what may be EGGstreme conditions for the time of year…

JH-B  25th March 2013

Last year, under the Higher Level Stewardship scheme, we accepted a grant managed by Natural England to help restore the machinery in Clencher’s Mill, an old water mill on the estate about a mile from the castle. We had maintained the mill building, and the machinery, including the water wheel dated 1820, had luckily remained in situ as opposed to being removed for scrap. The mill had worked with water power until the 1920s, when the miller and the farmer, who farmed the land where the water entered the mill leat, had a row, and the supply was cut. The machinery then was powered by a tractor until the 1940s.

We were encouraged by Alan Stoyel, the local representative of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings-Mills section, who wrote a synopsis of the why the mill was important within the Herefordshire context and by the John Masefield High School in Ledbury who wanted to bring students to see sustainable plant in action as part of the school curriculum. English Heritage were helpful too and an important part of the grant approval process. We were keen to start in the autumn, but the bat survey revealed we were not alone in the mill, so we have had to wait until their hibernation ended before moving in.

We selected Dorothea Restorations the trading company of Wallis Conservation Limited, as they had experience of our sort of mill and were based not too far away. In the first image, you will see the wheel house with a large gap at the top where the water should be held in a pen trough or launder before being released through a sluice onto the overshot wheel. In the second image, you see Zenon Jurkow on the left and Julian Beel on the right, preparing to assemble the new oak boards of the replacement launder.

After being empty for almost 90 years, the pond and leat have needed a lot of additional work, some of which will be funded by the Malvern Hills AONB Sustainable Development Fund.  In another blog, I will describe some of what we have had to do to link the pond again with the stream and the regulatory hurdles we have had to cross.

JH-B   11th March 2013

Big Chill Festival at Eastnor Castle

The Big Chill first came to Eastnor in 2001 as a small festival with a dedicated following of fewer than 10,000 fans.  It was not a festival that aimed to attract huge crowds to mainstream acts, but rather specialised in up-and-coming performers, including a number of DJs.  The festival also had a cinema, poetry area and arts trail, and as we soon discovered, delicious food stalls and some very good shops selling clothes, music etc. The audience mostly camped in fields we made available around the main site which was in the Deer Park.

The licensing authority was generally supportive as they were keen to see an event like this come to Herefordshire and bring the delights of the county to the attention of a wider audience, whilst local people, who were understandably nervous of  the possible noise and disruption, were willing to give it as chance, perhaps encouraged by the prospect of free tickets if they lived close enough to be affected.  All went well at the first Festival, although the event caterers bought all the bread from the local supermarket on the Saturday morning, which was not popular with regular customers.  On the other hand, the organisers also spent several hundred thousand pounds with local suppliers and recruited local students to work on the site during the festival, so the economic benefits were well appreciated.

Over the last ten years, the Big Chill grew bigger, but it kept its relaxed attitude and low-profile security. At its height, it attracted 25,000 festival goers, with a further 5000 working on site.  It became an important event in the Herefordshire summer calendar and a useful way for us to fill the Park programme over the month of setting up and dismantling. More famous acts included Leonard Cohen, Lillie Allen and Kanye West when the main stage area was heaving with spectators.  The weather never let us down, amazingly, and the Park recovered, free of litter, after a few weeks.

After missing 2012 because of a clash of dates with the Olympics, sadly the Big Chill decided it should close.  It had not attracted quite enough visitors and competition in the middle of the summer for the few headline acts every festival needs was too intense.

I am very sad it has gone as it was an exciting event and unfailingly attracted my elder children to come home for the weekend!  I understand the tradesmen of Ledbury will miss it too, but we are on the look out for a replacement event…

JH-B  10th February 2013

Our first major restoration project followed the damage caused to our towers by the hurricane in January 1976. The force of the wind blew some of the battlements off the tops of three of them, and there was no option other than to repair them. We managed to get by over the following ten years patching up the roof as we went along, but in 1986, the keep stonework that had suffered from many wet and freezing winters began to show signs of collapse, so we started on a new phase of major work.

My mother instructed Ian Stainburn a local architect based in Ledbury with experience of similarly challenged ecclesiastical buildings and dealing with English Heritage a grant was offered, and work started before there was any serious damage. We then went on to replace crenelations that had been removed from the tops of the four chimney towers, which restored the original appearance of the roofscape in a very satisfactory way. In further phases, we replaced most of the roofs across the rest of the house, using lead where previously short-term, but effective, asphalt had sufficed. We also removed, with some regret because it had been so effective, asbestos cement corrugated sheeting, which had been very low maintenance and invisible behind the parapets, and put slates in its place.

Much of this high-level and high-cost work has been grant aided by English Heritage and, latterly, by the Country Houses Foundation. Although there will always be more to do, we decided, after 25 years during which we had also restored much of the interiors, to apply for a Georgian Group award in the category: Restoration of a Georgian Country House, sponsored by Savills. The timing coincided with Ian Stainburn’s retirement, and at a ceremony held at Christie’s in London;  we shared first place with Boconnoc in Cornwall.

We were delighted to have been recognised in this way and with the report in Country Life and the article on 28th November. It has been hard but satisfying work; we hope the house is now in a condition in which it can sustain itself in the future as long as we keep it well maintained.

James Hervey-Bathurst       10th December 2012

The monument to members of the Somers Cocks, my mother’s family, stands on an outlying hill in the Malverns range, just inside the Eastnor Deer Park. It is visible for miles and is a popular resting place for walkers on the footpath that passes by. The views are long, with Wales in the west, the Cotswolds in the east and the Forest of Dean in the south.

Last year, we repaired damaged stonework and had scaffolding all the way to the top, making the monument look more like a pagoda from a distance. The cost of the work was grant aided by English Heritage and the Country Houses Foundation. The views from the top, if you had the courage to get there, were even better, and last year the weather was better too, so Nimbus Construction enjoyed the job.

This year, we have been re-carving the indistinct lettering and having it blacked with paint to increase legibility. The work is being undertaken by Philippa Fawcett from Bristol and her two assistants, Chris Baker and Richard McPhail. In the image, Philippa is shown with Richard.

Two hundred years ago today, ie 8th October 1812, the son of Lord Somers, Edward Charles Cocks, was serving on Wellington’s staff in the Peninsular War and was killed at the siege of Burgos. His father, who had just started building the castle that April and had already commissioned his architect, Robert Smirke, to build the monument too, immediately dedicated one of the panels on the monument to his son, so it is highly appropriate that we should be returning the elegant and moving words that record his short life to a condition in which all can read them.

JH-B    8th October 2012

Due the popular demand of our last Wedding Showcase we are opening our doors again on Sunday 7th October from 11am until 3pm.  We have a few places left, please register your interest here.

When our old house, Castleditch, was demolished in 1814 while the castle was being built, the stables survived and the stable turret clock remained in place. The stables themselves were replaced in 1911, and for some reason the clock was re-sited onto a building next to the estate office, where it ran until the late 1950’s. When we renovated the building in 1990 and converted it for use as the Eastnor Pottery, we removed the turret clock and its tower and rebuilt it over the then castle shop in our tea room yard, but with an electric rather than the original mechanism. But we kept the old clock, its bell and weights.

Then, we were contacted by Chris McKay, an enthusiast and restorer of turret clocks, who saw ours and told us it dated from about 1600. The clock is made from wrought iron, and it was modernised, relatively speaking, in about 1670, when it was converted to pendulum control, an invention that came from Holland. We know this because the pendulum was very short with a very large arc of swing.

At the time the conversion to pendulum was made, the dial was converted to have two hands with the addition of a minute hand.  Originally, the clock was situated just behind the original one-handed dial, but the clock must have been moved so it was about five feet below the new dial. In 1938 the clock was restored by Walter Leadbetter of Ledbury.It seems likely that the winding wheels were replaced at that time.  Leadbetter has stamped his name on the back of the pendulum bob.  The gears behind the dial seem to date from that period as well.

Eastnor Castle clock is a very important historic legacy since it was an old clock that was converted to pendulum very soon after 1670.  There are only about 4 or 5 clocks like this in the country. We will find a way to display it in due course so that it can be run when we are open to visitors. It is wonderful to see such an old and simple piece of machinery running, and the tick-tock is quite soothing.

What is the “Titanic” connection?  George Leadbetter, father of Walter, was a keen radio man and made his own receiver.  On the morning of 15th April 1912 George and Walter (age 15) picked up the Titanic’s CQD (SOS) call.  George went round to the police station to report what they had picked up, but they laughed at him in disbelief.

James Hervey-Bathurst, with contribution from Chris McKay – Sept 12

Our summer family events and activities at Eastnor Castle may be a good place to start looking. We know that families need more than our house and grounds to visit, much though I like them myself, so we use them as a backdrop for special events and activities which should appeal to all members of the families and particularly to mothers with children to entertain and preferably tire out during the long summer holiday.

This Sunday (15th July) we have gun dogs at work and ferret racing, which is always highly entertaining, though only private betting is allowed.!  From this Sunday, we are open every week, Mondays to Thursdays inclusive, as well as on Sundays until the end of August, when we revert to Sundays only until 30th September.

From 22nd to 26th July, we have a Children’s Treasure Trail around the grounds, an excellent way to enjoy a hunt among the trees and lawns and take exercise, mental and physical. The following week, from 29th July to 2nd August, we have Explore the Elements-WildPlay, where children explore the elements of earth, wind, fire and water, under supervision, of course. Wind permitting, they should be able to make and fly their own kites, or perhaps run fast enough to make them rise into the sky.
The rest of August is pretty busy too, with:

* All the Fun of the Circus (without having to run away and join one), where you can try your hand at circus activities, including tight rope walking, at low levels
* Roald Dahl’s The Twits will be performed on Sunday 12th August at 3pm-book now
* The Eastnor Flying Potter will lead the making of fantastic clay creations from 12th-16th August
* On 19th August, we have the Church Fête with jazz musicians on the Valley Lawn
* From 20th-23rd August, WildPlay are back with PlayWild, outdoor activities with a camp fire, den building etc
* Over the August Bank Holiday weekend (Sunday 26th and Monday 27th), we have Animal Adventures, mixed in with a falconry display and ride on a road train.
* We finish the holidays with Summer Sunday Fun, with traditional lawn games and the Valley Lawn zip wire in action.

If more than one of these appeal to you, perhaps our Family Privilege Pass (£58 for 2 adults and three children) would be a sensible investment, though it excludes “The Twits”. We expect the events to carry on even if the weather is bad, and some are in tents anyway, but be prepared for rain unless the jet stream has shifted by then.

JH-B    13th July 2013

“Chilly” is an adjective that was long associated with Eastnor Castle before we restored the central heating system.  We kept the word association going with the “Big Chill”, which last year celebrated its tenth anniversary at Eastnor.  We will miss the festival this year as it is having a rest while many of its faithful customers will be watching the Olympics or going abroad to avoid them, but we look forward keenly to its return in 2013.  In the meantime, we are organising our own Chilli Festival, not as much to keep the theme going, but because we think it will be an excellent new event for our visitors to the Castle.

We have seen the success of the chilli festivals at Levens Hall through our membership of the Historic Houses Association and felt the distance between Cumbria and Herefordshire was enough to allow us to follow their example without competing, so now we look forward to having 40 exhibitors set up their stalls in the Courtyard.  Visitors will be able taste and buy curry sauces and pastes, pickles and jams, chilli chocolate, cheese and vodka.  There will be specialist hot food suppliers selling curries and other spicy food.

Local suppliers will include Monkhide WinesThe Velvet Bean and Ambalama Spices, Rayeesa, a curry expert will lead cookery demonstrations in a covered area, Los Squideros, a Hereford-based Mexican band, will provide live entertainment, and for children there will be a Chilli Trail, stilt walker and fire juggler.

We have had a lot of interest so far, I hope it will be a great success… and also that someone will be selling bananas to absorb the heat!!

JH-B     22nd April 2012

Land Rover is celebrating 50 years of using the Eastnor Castle estate in Herefordshire as its centre for off road testing and development. Tucked away in rural Herefordshire, this historic piece of English countryside is still an important tool in the research and development of new Land Rovers as well as offering a completely unique Land Rover driving experience to members of the public.

In 1961, Land Rover first chose the 5000 acre Eastnor Castle estate located near Ledbury, Herefordshire to assess the off-road credentials of their vehicles. Half a century on, the tradition continues, with Eastnor playing a pivotal role in the research and development of Land Rover’s outstanding all-round capability and class-leading off road performance.

As well as the cars themselves, Eastnor has been instrumental in developing an impressive collection of Land Rover technologies; such as Anti-lock Brakes, Adjustable Air Suspension, Electronic Traction Control, Hill Descent Control and Terrain Response® – many of which were world firsts in the 4×4 sector.

The tradition of testing all Land Rover models at Eastnor continues to this day.  The Range Rover Evoque was the most recent model to complete its off-road apprenticeship and a large part of the Evoque’s technology, including MagneRide™, was proven on the estate, where ride dampers were tested extensively.

Terrain Response® offers drivers optimal vehicle set-up (electronic and mechanical), and performance, under a variety of off-road conditions.

Whether driving in mud, ruts, rocks, sand, grass, gravel or snow, Terrain Response® has the appropriate setting, and will optimise ride height, engine torque Response®, Hill Decent Control, Electronic Traction Control and transmission settings, ensuring a safe and controlled passage across any terrain. The Eastnor estate provides the ultimate test for all these conditions and is instrumental in the continuing development of this technology.

Eastnor has been used as not only an ideal off-road engineering ground, but since 1989, as an off-road learning centre for the emergency services, explorers, humanitarian societies such as the British Red Cross and, more recently, the general public.

Customers and fans of the brand can now book drive experience days to hone their on and off-road driving skills with tuition from a team of highly qualified Land Rover Experience instructors. Eastnor is one of over 30 centres around the world, and hosts over five and a half thousand visitors every year participating in half or full days, beginner and intermediate training as well as exciting night drives. Over a third of these visitors have travelled from overseas, keen to experience Land Rover in its heartland.

After a long gestation period of nearly ten years, a new carpet has been delivered for the Pugin Drawing Room at Eastnor Castle.  It replaces one that was worn out over 50 years ago and will enhance the enjoyment of the room by the many visitors and wedding guests that pass through it every year.

The carpet was designed by Hazel Fox (pictured above) and Lucy Hervey-Bathurst. It was hand made in Turkey by Asad Carpets, owned by Adam Munthe, a local Herefordshire man, whose family owned Hellens in Much Marcle. The patterns are based on fragments of the originals and on designs incorporated in other decorations in the room, once described as Pugin’s finest surviving domestic interior.  Pugin is best known for his interior designs for the Houses of Parliament.

We are delighted with the result. The design fits very well in the room, and the quality of manufacture is superb. The colours go perfectly with the decoration of the room. I  expect people will think it has always been there.

We have waited a long time to complete this project, but it has been worth it.  Our Pugin Drawing Room is used by private parties and is also licensed for weddings, so the new carpet will be enjoyed by a large number of people, including 30,000 members of the visiting public.

JH-B  28th Oct

Just as we thought it was safe to look away and concentrate on other projects, a section of plaster fell down into the road through the Portcullis arch. Luckily, no-one was hurt.  We had looked at repairing it when we re-roofed the portcullis in 2008, with the generous assistance of the Country Houses Foundation but had decided it could wait as it was still secure.  We were right, up to a point.

We decided to knock all the plaster down after inspecting the supporting timbers, which, after years of what architects call ingress i.e. leaks to ordinary people, were rotten.  But at least they were dry following the replacement of the lead valley gutter above.

Our Works Department swung into action and erected scaffolding, from which they could safely measure up for the replacement timbers, which we then cut out in out workshop. They were fitted in a day and netting added to keep away nesting doves, who would certainly have moved in, uninvited, before the plaster was replaced.  With the approach of spring cleaning and the house closing, the scaffolding will be re-erected and the job finished.  The men said the enjoyed the job as it was out of the ordinary.

Ironically, one event we held while the ceiling was down was for our architect, who had supervised the original repair, but we did not draw the job to the attention of his guests.  It would not have been fair to imply any failure on his part.  He said it would need doing sometime, and he was right. It is always nice to be able to blame someone, but there was no chance this time.              JH-B        25th February 2011

As the image shows, we are one of the few historic houses to welcome visits from dogs. They enter free of charge as long as they bring an owner on a lead. This year, our records show we have had 380 dog visitors.

My mother started it. She loved dogs and thought it was perfectly reasonable for them to come in. Although the temperature in those days at Easter opening was a lot cooler as the heating was not on and the Hall fire not lit, few dogs mistook the interior of the house for the outside, and accidents were rare, if they happened at all.

Today, some dogs are even an added attraction for other visitors, being easier to relate to and appreciate than some of the obscurer but still, I think, very interesting objects we have on display. On hot days, they welcome the cooler areas, and of course we would lose business if the owner had to stay outside with a dog that could not be left in a car.

So it is good for us and the dogs, and we have earned our place on the Dog Friendly Britain website.

 JH-B  17th November 2010

We often entertain customers of Land Rover in the castle as well as on the woodland tracks and steep slopes on the estate.  This time, our guests were the families who had bought the limited edition Range Rover Autobiography Black and had a night at Eastnor as a reward from Land Rover.

This is the sight that greeted them on arrival.  Some makes of 4 x 4 are accused only of going off-road on the pavements of Kensington & Chelsea, so the 14 steps of our Entrance Hall presented a sterner challenge, but not for long.  The Range Rover reached the required level quite easily, and the doors were then closed. All went well, and there was no trace of vehicular ingress when the car left to return to its natural habitat at the end of the visit.

Meanwhile, the guests, who were probably longing to get driving to learn the capabilities of this superb, 313 hp, V8 powered car, had to change for dinner, meet me and then have a brief guided tour before sitting down to four courses in our State Dining Room. The food and wine helped them forget the alternative entertainment for the evening, but they had a very good day’s off-road driving the next day, provided by Land Rover Experience.  I enjoyed my evening with them very much as they were great enthusiasts and definitely having a good time. I hope sales keep up…

JH-B    9th October 2010

My grandfather left the army in 1919 after serving in France with the Life Guards.  He inherited Eastnor Castle from his cousin, Lady Henry Somerset, in 1920, but the house came without a butler.  He contacted his old regiment to ask if there were any men about to leave who might want the job, and Alistair Birtwhistle’s father, Passmore, applied and got the job.

Passmore (“Birt” or “Mr Birt” to me as he stayed on, in a different role, until the 1970s) married a girl who also worked at Eastnor and lived in the village.  Alistair, one of his two sons, was brought up here and has now retired to Cheltenham.  He is a talented woodturner and is occasionally tempted back here to do some work for us.

His memories of Eastnor as a boy are clear, and the picture shows him emerging from a cupboard on the guest bedroom landing, where, in 1937, he had been told to hide with his brother so that they could catch a discreet glimpse of Queen Mary as she passed by. Inevitably, they were spotted but not ticked off, at least as far as Alistair could remember.

I look forward to hearing more stories on his next visit. 
JH-B   24th September 2010

The cottages at Eastnor are, with one or two exceptions, let to people who live and work locally and some for the estate. It is better to have cottages lived in all the time rather than just at weekends, and many families looking to buy in the area like to rent for a time while they look for a suitable property.

However, we decided to change our policy for Peacock Villa and Golden Gates Lodge. The first was formerly a gamekeeper’s cottage and is in the top end of the deer park on the edge of a wood, just off the Worcestershire Way. When last occupied, it had well water and electricity supplied by a diesel generator. There was no central heating. Access was ideally by a 4×4 so although habitable, it was not particularly comfortable by modern standards. When the last tenants left, we decided to defer re-letting until we could budget for a full make-over.

The process has been completed, electricity installed, water supply upgraded and a full refurbishment has taken place and now transformed in to holiday lets through Stately Holiday Homes.

The second, Golden Gates Lodge, is in the middle of the Park, straddling the limestone ridge that runs from the foot of the British Camp to the main entrance of the Castle. It is now available for let and we hope they will prove a useful add-on to our business and add to the tourism offer of Herefordshire.

We were asked if we would host this event at the end of April, a regular now in the Herefordshire calendar and we were delighted to do so. My grandmother had been involved with the Red Cross most of her adult life, starting when her family home at Marsh Court, Stockbridge, was turned in to a nursing home during the First World War, so there was a strong family connection.

The event was spread around the grounds, but visitors also had free access to the castle once they had paid for their entry ticket. The stalls mostly sold plants and gardening-related produce. About 2,500 attended, in coolish weather after a hot spell, but it was dry and bright. There were certainly more women than men, although those men that did come were given plenty of plants to carry back to their cars so they had a useful role.

After a successful day, the Red Cross had raised about £32,000 and the organisers, who had worked very hard to ensure all went well, were very pleased. It was good for us to be associated with such a successful event and to have the chance to welcome so many local people for a good cause. We hope they will come again. We host four or five charity events a year, and this has been one of the best.

JH-B
28th May 2010

When we asked Donald Smith, the restorer we use for painted ceilings, to touch up the Library ceiling this year, he reported a sagging area. On closer inspection, one of the ribs which form the frame of the 44 painted panels, executed when the Library was redecorated by George Fox in the 1860s, had cracked and dropped. Something serious was obviously happening.

We first had a Health & Safety moment and checked to see if the damaged section was about to drop. It appeared secure, so we did not have to support it from below, which would have been quite tricky given the height of the room. We then cleared the furniture from the Queen’s Bedroom above the crack and lifted the floorboards. But before we could see what the problem was, we had to hack away the lathe and plaster layer of sound proofing, which insulates the sound of footsteps, in the days before fitted carpets, in the bedroom from the company in the room below.

Then, we found the cause of the problem straight away. The ceiling was suspended from beams by nails driven in from below. The nails were hand cut (nothing but the best for my forebears) and tapered. A combination of the weight of the plaster and drying out of the wood had caused a few nails to start to pull out of the wood. Their shape did not help.

We could not lift the ceiling back, so after consultation with architect, engineer and our Clerk of Works, Alan Smith, we decided to secure it all with angled brackets. We used Graham Walker and his team from Ledbury to do the work. One of them was thin enough to fit under the floor in the gap above the ceiling to reach the areas inaccessible from above. We hope it will now be secure for the indefinite future but have taken the chance also to photograph all 44 painted panels just in case.

JH-B 11th May 2010

Fundraising Eastnor Castle Event

Last Bank holiday weekend, we hosted a fund raising zip-wire event where supporters of the Noah’s Ark charity were sponsored to take off from the top of our north-east tower, cross the lake and arrive, luckily quite safely, on the far bank. The zip wire, which is reputed to have a breaking strain of 20 tons, was set up by D3, otherwise known as Outside, who are now based at Eastnor and organising a range of challenging activities for their clients on the estate.

The event was well supported and Noah’s Ark raised over £7,000.00 to support their work. No-one lost their nerve, although getting through the trap door onto the top of the tower proved a serious challenge for some as the opening is rather narrow. The ride on the wire is great once you have recovered from the nasty moment of stepping through the parapet off the top of the tower. The wire is the longest of its type in the UK, and we will be using it again later in the summer.

Meanwhile, below the wire and on the route back to the house from the landing point, there is a great display of flowering shrubs and wild flowers, including azaleas, rhododendrons and wild garlic, looking their best in the spring sunshine and helping to calm the nerves of the riders.

It was a great event, and we hope others will put this challenge on their agenda.  J H-B

Welcome to Eastnor Castle’s Blog –  our online diary update of what’s happening and what’s new.

We will be covering all manner of subjects from special events at the castle through to restoration work and news on the grounds and arboretum. So whether you have been to Eastnor Castle before or have yet to come and visit us, we hope there will be something of interest for everyone.