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Alnwick Castle dates from the 11th century and has been in the hands of the Percy family, the Dukes of Northumberland, since 14th century. The castle is one of the most visited in England, steeped in the Percy family history with gruesome discoveries to be made as well as magnificent state rooms. It is often used for filming and has starred in Harry Potter and Downton Abbey, for example. The castle also houses a number of special exhibitions, including the Regimental Museum of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers. Adjacent to the castle is the Alnwick Garden, a formal garden built around a huge cascading fountain and featuring one of the most astonishing tree houses you will ever see.
Sitting in acres of Northamptonshire countryside, Althorp has been the residence of the Spencer family for 500 years and is one of England's grand stately homes. It is packed full of treasures, including some fascinating portraits. The original Tudor house is still there, beneath the later restorations and refurbishments, but the overall feel of the place is distinctly 18th century. The gardens are lovely and regular events are held, including an annual literary festival. Althorp is, sadly, best known for the association with possibly the most famous Spencer, Lady Diana, whose last resting place is on an island in the Round Oval lake.
Althorp has limited opening - it is essential to check their website before making a special trip.
Arbury Hall is an Elizabethan manor house, originally built on the ruins of a 12th century Augustinian Priory and transformed into the Gothic style by Sir Roger Newdigate during the second half of the 18th century. It has been the seat of the Newdegate family for over 450 years and is the ancestral home of Viscount Daventry. The house stands in the middle of acres of 18th century landscaped gardens, within even more acres of lakes and parkland. Inside, the house is renowned for its fan vaulted ceilings with plunging pendants and filigree tracery.
Arbury’s main claim to fame is that George Eliot, aka Mary Ann Evans, was born at South Farm on the estate in 1819. Arbury Hall was immortalised in her book 'Scenes of a Clerical Life'.
The hall and gardens have limited opening to the public and are also available for corporate events and filming. Film credits include the film Angels and Insects starring Mark Rylance, Patsy Kensit, and Kristin Scott Thomas and the BBC TV series Land Girls.
The wider Arbury Estate includes most of Astley village and Astley Castle, which is available for hire through the Landmark Trust.
Image credit: Historic Houses
Audley End is one of the largest Jacobean mansions in England, but is smaller now than when it was first built (1605-14) by Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk. It stands on the foundations of a Benedictine Abbey and is named for Sir Thomas Audley, Howard's grandfather, Lord Chancellor to Henry VIII, who was granted the abbey in 1538. It was briefly owned by Charles II. The 1st Baron Braybrooke commissioned Capability Brown to landscape the grounds and Robert Adam to design new reception rooms. It was sumptuously redecorated in Jacobean style in the 1820s. Now owned by English Heritage, highlights include the Staterooms, Nursery, Stables (complete with horses), Service Wing and Gardens.
Balmoral is a 50,000 acre estate and the private Scottish home of the British Royal Family. It was purchased from the Farquharson family by Prince Albert for Queen Victoria in 1852, close to the Highlands they both loved. The current castle, a classic example of Scottish baronial architecture, is new - Victoria and Albert had it constructed between 1853 and 1856; the old castle was then demolished. There is limited public access to the grounds, gardens and exhibitions (including access to the castle ballroom only) between spring and early summer, when the Royal Family is not in residence. Apart from the ballroom, the castle is not open to the public. Cottages in the grounds can also be hired.
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II died at Balmoral on 8 September 2022. She had habitually spent her summers there, with her husband Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (until his death in 2021) and family. The Queen and the Prince spent their last, 73rd, wedding anniversary there in 2020. It was a place of happy memories for the Queen, from the time she first visited her grandparents, King George V and Queen Mary, there when she was a small child.
The Queen accepted Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resignation and invited his successor, Liz Truss, to form a government at Balmoral on 6 September 2022, just two days before Her Majesty’s death.
The Royal family often worship at nearby Crathie Kirk and are familiar faces in the village of Ballater.
This is where the English Parliament executed the King of Great Britain and established a republic in England and Wales. It was also a place of extravagant Jacobean entertainment. Banqueting House is a surviving relic of the great Palace of Whitehall, which was originally the medieval London home of the Archbishops of York and known as York Place. When the once powerful Cardinal Wolsey, Archbishop of York, fell from grace, King Henry VIII grabbed his London home, enlarged it, renamed it Whitehall, and it became a favourite of subsequent Tudor, and Stuart, monarchs. The current, spectacular, Banqueting House (there were predecessors) was designed by Inigo Jones, completed in 1622 and provided a venue for excessive celebration. Underneath it is a vaulted drinking den, used by James I for decadent goings-on. Banqueting House has a breathtaking ceiling, probably commissioned by King Charles I in 1629-30 and the only surviving in-situ ceiling painting by Flemish artist, Sir Peter Paul Rubens. It would have been one of the King's final sights on 30 January 1649, before stepping outside to meet his end on a scaffold that had been specially erected so that everyone could see their king die.
Say 'beaver'. The name is derived from Norman-French meaning 'nice view' but, apparently, the Anglo-Saxon peasants couldn't pronounce it.
Belvoir Castle has been the home to the Dukes of Rutland’s family since 1067 and home to the Manners family for more than five centuries. The present castle, built in the early 19th century, is the fourth to stand on the site. High on a hill, it commands magnificent views over the counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire and is considered one of England’s finest Regency houses. The house is packed with artwork, period furniture, tapestries and other treasures. And you may hear tales of witches and seiges.
The Belvoir Estate of almost 15,000 acres includes formal gardens and woodland, as well as a retail village, the Engine Yard, in restored Victorian buildings. Belvoir has also featured in several film and TV productions, including the Netflix series ‘The Crown’, as well as films such as ‘The Young Victoria’ and ‘Victoria & Abdul’ starring Judi Dench.
Image credit: Historic Houses
Part-ruined home to the Bishops of Bath and Wells for 800 years, the palace dates from 13th century and is surrounded by a moat, upon which swans glide gracefully; they are trained to ring a bell when they're hungry. Croquet is played on the lawn. The highlight, though, is the gardens. These are a delight to wander in and include the well pools that give the city its name.
Enormous 18th century home of the Dukes of Marlborough. The estate was given to the 1st Duke, John Churchill, as a reward for his military victories against the French. The house was desuigned by John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor and the park was landscaped by Capability Brown. Winston Churchill was born at Blenheim and has many associations with it - he proposed to Clementine in the Temple of Diana in the grounds. The estate is a World Heritage Site and one of the 'treasure houses of England."
Blickling is a large estate and stately home, with walks, gardens and a splendid house to enjoy. Much is made of it being Anne Boleyn's childhood home; she is even said to haunt the place, especially on 19 May, the anniversary of her execution. And she may well do so, but there is no visible trace of the house that Anne knew - so don't be fooled.
Blickling is actually recorded in the Domesday Book. Anne Boleyn’s great-grandfather, Geoffrey Boleyn (1406-63), bought the property in 1452. The red-brick Jacobean mansion we see today was built by Henry Hobart (1560 - 1626), sometime after 1616, designed by Robert Lyminge, the builder of Hatfield House. Great changes were made to the property in the 19th century. The last owner, Philip Kerr, 11th Marquess of Lothian (1882 - 1940), an influential politician and diplomat, left the estate to the National Trust. A particular feature of the house is the wonderful and unique library in the long gallery.
During the Second World War, part of the Blickling Estate became RAF Oulton, a bomber station, with service personnel billeted in Nissen huts in the grounds and officers in the house. itself. The National Trust has set up a museum on the site to commemorates this period in Blickling’s history.
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