was the location for this year's visit to a place of local
interest for the Wargrave Local History Society.
Situated just south of
Newbury, although just in Hampshire, the Castle is set in extensive grounds of
about 1000 acres. The estate was established in the 8th century by the Bishop of
Winchester, and in the 1370s the then bishop, William of Wykeham, rebuilt the
Bishop's palace there. However, the lands were taken over by the Crown in 1551,
and then passed to private ownership in 1572. The estate then passed in 1679 to
Robert Sawyer, and by marriage to the 8th Earl of Pembroke. In the mid 18th
century, two 'follies' were erected - 'Heaven's Gate' and 'Jackdaws Castle',
both of which are still to be seen from the house., whilst in 1770 the grounds
were laid out by 'Capability' Brown., for its then owner Henry Herbert, later to
become the 1st Earl of Carnarvon. The house was rebuilt around this time, to
look like a classical mansion.
The house, however, as it now appears is
the result of remodelling carried out by Sir Charles Barry in the early - mid
19th century, for the 3rd Earl of Carnarvon. (and it was at this time that the
name was changed to Highclere Castle). Some features of the house show
similarities to other of Barry's work of the period, such as the Palace of
Westminster and the Reform Club, also in London. From the entrance hall, of
gothic style, we entered the Library - a grand room with architectural features
as found in the Reform Club. The detailed work, however, was undertaken by
Thomas Allom, following Barry's death in 1860. Noted furnishings include a
Carlton House desk and another desk that had belonged to Napoleon Bonaparte.
From there, we moved to the Drawing Room, with its light green silk wall
coverings, many 'family portraits', before moving to the 'Smoking Room', as used
only by the men, of course, with pictures of Venice that were mementoes of the
'Grand Tour'. Moving on through the 'morning room', featuring a rare bureau made
in 1765 by Pierre Langois, we reached the 'stone staircase, and thence to the
first floor, with the spacious bedrooms. - all with fine views across the
parkland. They lead out from a gallery that runs around the 50 ft high Saloon at
first floor level. Returning to the ground floor by way of a majestic oak
staircase, we reached the dining room- again designed by Barry. The table itself
includes 12 additional leaves.
We then left the 'grand' part of the
house, and in the basement were able to view two exhibitions. One relates to the
work done by the 5th Earl of Carnarvon in Egypt, with Howard Carter, exploring
the tombs of the pharaohs, and culminating in the discovery of the tomb the "boy
king" Tutankhamun. Although (to pay Death Duties), many of the artefacts were
sold, some had been stored in cupboards in the passageways between rooms, and
these form the basis of the exhibition. The other exhibition shows work of the
Highclere Stud, established by the 5th Earl in 1902. The 7th Earl was the
Queen's Racing Manager, and she has been a regular visitor to Highclere.
As usual for a Society summer visit, we then partook of a pleasant
afternoon tea, and a stroll of the grounds.
The Society has recently acquired the 'Bird Collection' of
postcards of the village. This collection, assembled by lifelong Wargravians,
Derek Bird, the Society's first Chairman, and his mother Ruth, shows many
aspects of the village over the 20th century. As part of the Society Archive, it
is now secured for posterity for the village. We are always interested in adding
to our collection of pictures, documents, books, maps etc relating to Wargrave,
so if you have anything that you think may be of interest, please contact us.