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: see https://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

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

Our lake is an important part of the landscape and castle grounds and was created soon after the castle was finished by damming up two streams that ran through the valley below. Generally, after works fifteen years ago to strengthen the bund or bank, it has stood the test of time quite well. It is now home to coarse fish, duck and herons.

At weddings, we use the far bank for as a base for firework displays, with the reflection in the water adding value to the proceeding as far as the party is concerned. When we are open for visitors, there is a good walk around its banks, with great views of the castle and plenty of benches for those wanting, or needing, to take their time. There is a syndicate of fishermen who enjoy the peace and quiet, put what they catch back into the water and keep an eye on what is going on.

The overflow is in the form of a weir, made of stone and “limecrete”, a concrete where the cement is replaced by lime. It was designed by the architect of the castle, Robert Smirke, but in the last few years it has been leaking round the side and a number of stones have become dislodged. After exhaustive advice and comment from the Environment Agency, English Heritage, Natural England, Herefordshire Council, a civil engineer and our architect, we drew up a plan, which met everyone’s approval for its restoration and were fortunately awarded grants towards the cost by Natural England and the Country Houses Foundation.

The contract went to Treasures of Ludlow: www.treasureandson.co.uk and the image shows work cleaning the stones on the top of the dam. When digging up the floor of the pool below the weir itself, the men found a cavity full of eels, which were all caught and released in to the lake. Otherwise, they have found the leak, which they hope they can stop. In the meantime, the water bypasses the weir and flows out through a sluice. The lake is emptier than usual with the level lowered for the work. It does not look quite so good, but it makes mealtime easier for the herons.

JH-B      1st Nov 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

Despite competition from elsewhere, we decided to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with two days of activities and a special display of historic Jaguars and Land Rovers to encourage visitors to leave their televisions and have fun on a day out.

We had some junior swing boats and a hand operated carousel for younger children, my traction engine (Ransoms Simms & Jeffries General Purpose Agricultural Engine from 1915) making a nice smokey smell and occasionally barking into action in a tug-of-war, a miniature steam railway offering short rides, Cat Weatherall, a children’s storyteller,  a paper crown making workshop, skittles and other lawn-based challenges, brought by the Eastnor Cricket Club, rowing boats on the lake and to compere the day, Jem Maynard Watts, a stilt walker and juggler.

We had a quiet day on Sunday due to the weather and the draw of the great Thames pageant, but Monday was much busier and we had a good crowd. In fact, at times the house was almost too full, with the risk that visiting dogs might have been squashed, but luckily all went well. Some of the rowers may have thought they were training for the next pageant as they spent rather too long exploring the far reaches of the lake, and so others had too long a wait for their turn, but the tug of war worked well, although the engine seemed to lose 2-1 each time, which we put down to age.

Overall, the hard work of the team in our office paid off, and almost everyone had a good time despite cool and sometimes wet weather. T he mood was celebratory.  We had 3500 visitors over the holiday period.

James Hervey-Bathurst    22nd June 2012

We are celebrating the Jubilee weekend with two days of Garden Party and Fête around the castle, aiming to evoke the 1950s and encouraging visitors to come in period dress. The bunting is up, and the gravel has been raked.

Queens Bedroom

There will be rowing boats on the lake, with swing boats on the land. The courtyard will have a display of vintage Land Rovers and Jaguars, with a children’s entertainer to amuse the crowd. My traction engine will be pitting its weight and strength in a tug of war, encouraged by the music of a 50’s band.

Even if the sun does not shine all the time, we are sure people will have a great time.

JH-B     1st June 2012

Our first Chilli festival took place, as planned, on 6th & 7th May.  The weather was not ideal, and one of our normal car parks was waterlogged, so we used another field across the road in the park.  On the day, that too proved to be softer than expected, but our visitors found harder ground nearby and cheerfully, in most cases, walked the extra distance to the house.

There was an amazing selection of stalls, selling hot sauces and chutneys, curries and chilly-flavoured vodka and chocolate as well as Welsh cheeses, Herefordshire cider and perry and traditional potato chips.  We hired an entertainer, who walked about on stilts and juggled around the courtyard: he also did a great job amusing the queue at the main entrance. T here was a trail for children and a DVD showing in our exhibition room describing the building of the house, which started 200 years ago.

We attracted about 4500 visitors over the two days, most of whom went round the house where we had a fire blazing in the Great Hall.  It was quite a job to get people to move along at times as they were so glad of the extra warmth.  The feedback was good, and the stallholders were happy too, especially as we allowed them to drive right up to their stands and because they were placed right in front of the main entrance.

We plan to hold another Chilli Festival at the same time next year.  It was hard work for us as our office ran the event, but it was worth it.  I even got a compliment for emptying some rubbish bins!

JH-B   11th May 2012

“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

We reluctantly close for business for two weeks in February to allow our house keeping team to clean the parts not reached at other times of the year.  As we still have open fires and plenty of weddings, day visitors and private parties, there is quite a bit to do.

Carpets are lifted and cleaned from both sides, books dusted and chairs and tables checked for wood worm and polished.  Tapestries can be gently vacuum cleaned and picture frames dusted, stone floors scrubbed and wooden floors waxed.  Our housekeeper, Rosemary, checks on the condition of curtains and other soft furnishings and then tells me, with rather a nervous look on her face, that something needs repair or replacement.   I feel we can afford it, I then tell Lucy, my wife, and she gets it done; she works as an interior decorator and can resist the temptation to go for materials that are cheap (and so would lower the tone of the place).

I wonder if, 200 hundred years ago when the foundation stone was laid, if any thought was given to how the higher level windows might have been cleaned?  Perhaps, in those pre-Health & Safety days, small boys were lowered from the roofs on ropes and told to do it, or, more likely, the window frames were removed from the inside and the replace once the windows had been cleaned.

Nowadays, we use a cherry picker for the job and for cleaning the higher levels of the Great Hall, which is nearly 60ft (17m) high.  It all went well this year until the cherry picker’s engine ran out of fuel and stranded the cleaner at a great height and unable to return to earth.  Luckily, he had mobile reception and could be rescued, just before the office closed.  Something to bear in mind for next year’s risk assessment…

JH-B 12th March 2012

When my ancestor, John Somers Cocks (Baron Somers), wanted to build a spectacular mansion in the style of a castle, he already knew of the young Robert Smirke, who had just finished building Lowther Castle, near the Scottish border, for the Earl of Lonsdale, and who had worked in Herefordshire and Gloucestershire. He had also just completed the new opera house in Covent Garden, to critical acclaim. Smirke also had a reputation for efficiency and keeping with in budget, so there were several reasons why he was a good choice. In a reference letter to Lord Somers, Lord Lonsdale wrote that his architect was entitled to every commendation” and “entirely free from the faults that are generally imputed to architects”. (I imagine they are the same faults today).

Smirke then produced a few watercolours giving an artist’s impression of how the finished castle might look in the dramatic landscape of the Malvern Hills. In the one shown here, an impressive bridge over an artificial channel looked very fine, but even Lord Somers, who was keen to impress, felt it was excessive and eliminated it from the final design. Smirke was allowed to add a conservatory at Lowther, but here his design for a similar addition was omitted.

Our archives contain good records of the work and building accounts. The first stone of the foundation was laid on 24th April 1812, six days before Louisiana joined the USA and just over two weeks before the British Prime Minister, Spencer Perceval, was assassinated in the lobby of the House of Commons. The first cut stone was laid on 23rd June 1812, after which Lord Somers gave a dinner for the workmen, which cost him £43. There is no record of how much of this was spent on drink, but it sounds quite a generous affair.

Work went until 1824, when it was decided to stop, plans for new stables, an even grander staircase as well as the conservatory had been dropped for financial reasons. Some of the larger interior rooms were not completed until later, the Gothic Drawing Room in 1849, for example. In 1821, Lord Somers’ political as well, perhaps, as his construction work had been recognised with the grant of an Earldom, so he may have felt he had done enough.

The full story of the design and building of the castle will be told in a special exhibition in the tea room yard this season. It is being prepared by our archivist, Hazel Lein, and a local historian, David Whitehead.

JH-B
26th January 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.

The imminent arrival of autumn is marked first by the migration of the house martins back to Africa. They have been here since the early summer, re-using their mud nests under the projecting crenelations at the tops of the towers and over the octagon bay.  They are most welcome visitors as they seem to keep the fly population under control, and when they go, the flies come into some of our rooms in force, but quickly get hoovered up.

We start to light fires in the Great Hall in October. Their effect is largely cosmetic, given the space they are required to heat if the central heating is not on, but the effect on visitors is very beneficial, and they certainly seem to feel warmer, particularly after braving the chill of the Entrance Hall.

We turn on our central heating very selectively. There are about 12 separate zones and five boilers, so we can avoid unnecessary heating in areas not being used. We use oil at the moment, so the cost has increased very rapidly in the last two years. We are careful, but have to make sure our customers are warm at all times.

One of the clearest harbingers of the winter months is the arrival of our cat in my basement office, having spent the warmer months mostly outside. Normally, she settles in a redundant antique wicker filing tray on a table next to the radiator, but when the radiator is turned down as I try to save fuel, she seeks another warm place. My laptop is her preferred choice at the moment. Whilst I can use a separate keyboard and screen, I am nervous that she will press the Send button with a paw and a message will be sent before I have checked it. I tolerate a certain amount of this foul weather friendship, but eventually lose patience and move her on. She is quite forgiving, luckily.

JH-B    20th November 2011.

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

Mud Runner Classic, the 10km off road run at Eastnor Castle, took place on Sunday 16th October and even in the current dry conditions the muddy swamps were numerous and very thick!

There was also a Junior race of 5 km for children aged 5-15 years which was a tough but fun course filled with challenging mud troughs and obstacles.  200 children took part this year and appeared to love every minute of it!

The main race had a record number of entries and the atmosphere was fantastic with a large number of spectators to cheer the runners around the course.  What inspired many of the runners was the amazing achievement of the first wheelchair competitor for Mud Runner.   Rick Rodger’s, from South East London, is a disabled athlete who showed how a team of determined people and an off road wheelchair (The Mountain Trike) can overcome just about any obstacle!

Rick described the day as a blur of adrenalin fuelled madness!  Accompanied by the wheelchair designer Ed Elias and a team of his friends they put the Mountain Trike through its toughest test to date and it survived!  Rick said that the highlight of the day was coming down the river bed with everyone cheering on the banks as the finish line came into view (finish time was 3:39:46). Ed is also looking for more people willing to compete in future Mud Runner events on the Mountain Trike.

Men’s Results     Female Results
James Bingham – 55:46   Roz Viner        – 1:06:59
John Pullen    –  55:49   Niki Morgan   –  1:08:20
Colin Brearly   –  57:54   Holly Blount    –  1:09:17

Junior Boys Results    Junior Girls Results
James Southall      – 19:43   Sophie Beckingham  – 23:12
Joshua Matthews –  20:07   Hattie Barnett          –  24:44
Jacob Payne         –  21:44   Briony Bishop           –  25:38

For further information: www.mudrunner.co.uk

ITV approached us to ask if we could host an episode of Ant & Dec’s Red or Black programme. Luckily, there was space in the diary, so we quickly said we would be delighted to have them. They have written about it on their blog though we are not quite in the Cotswolds but can see them on a clear day in the distance.

We love having TV and filming at Eastnor. They are challenging and different, but a great way to use the house and to get ourselves known to a wider audience. In an earlier TV film of a ghost story, my brother, George, was used as an extra and had to stick his big toe out from behind a cupboard door, which was the limit of his exposure, but apparently he enjoyed it and did not need an Equity card for the work, which I suspect was unpaid.

We have had a good run with TV programmes this year, after a visit from John Craven on Countryfile,  Ruth Watson on Country House Rescue and Dan Cruickshank on the Country House Revealed. We have only had brief appearances, and so we have not enjoyed the surge in visitor numbers enjoyed by Highclere Castle as a result of Downton Abbey, but one day perhaps…             JH-B   25th June 2011

Lillias Guyon wrote to us last November proposing her services as a restorer of gilding.  There is not too much gilding here, except on the picture frames.  Most of our paintings have been moved about, on and off display, sometimes going to exhibitions (from where they usually return in better condition), re-hung, sent away for cleaning etc, and as a result, many frames have been chipped and damaged.

I used to think the odd chip did not matter.  However, as the number expanded, the overall effect was to make the collection look scruffy.  There was a time when we wanted people to think we had only old paintings from the family collection, and so an element of what the auction houses call “Country House Condition” was fine.  But now our visitors pay more and like to see the place looking well cared for.  So Lillias’s services come at a good time.

Like most people, I receive a lot of unsolicited offers through the post.  I called Lillias because she wrote by hand (legibly), she lived not too far away and, as others often say they do, she said she often passed through Ledbury.  She sent a good, not too glossy brochure, and when we met, she seemed happy to start work without producing a condition report as it was obvious to both of us, on inspection, what the condition of the paintings was.  I just hope the condition of the frames does not then make the paintings themselves look scruffy.

JH-B    April 2011