"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Saturday, 12 June 2021

Kenilworth Castle


D and I prebooked tickets to visit Kenilworth Castle last Saturday - our first visit to an EH property in 18 months.

It was all well organised and there were even stewards on the car park.  You showed your e-ticket and membership card to someone on an outside stall and numbers were being limited in the shop.  It was busier than I thought it would be although possibly a weekend at the end of half term was not the best day to go!! Leicester's Gatehouse was closed and a steward was limiting numbers wanting to ascend one of the towers.

For much of its history Kenilworth Castle has been a royal castle and many buildings are unaltered from Elizabethan times. The first castle in the 1120' s was built on a low sandstone hill, where two ancient trackways crossed, by Geoffrey de Clinton, the royal chamberlain, who built the Great Tower and also founded Kenilworth Priory.

King John in the early 13th century added an outer circuit of stone walls and built a dam to hold back a large lake.  This created a formidable castle which withstood a siege in 1266.

The castle was soon in use as a palace and John of Gaunt, son of Edward III, created the Great Hall and its associated apartments.

Lancastrian kings visited in the 15th century to hunt and Henry V had a retreat constructed at the end of the lake called "the Pleasance in the Marsh".  

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was granted the castle in 1563 by Queen Elizabeth I and he turned it into a place where she could be entertained.

After the Civil War the fortifications were removed in 1650 and Leicester's Gatehuse was used as a residence by Colonel Hawkesworth, a Parliamentarian officer.  

The ruins of the castle were used by Sir Walter Scott as a setting for his novel "Kenilworth" which told the story of Robert Dudley and Queen Elizabeth in a romanticised way.

In 1958 Lord Kenilworth gave the castle to the town and it has been managed by English Heritage since 1984.

This field of buttercups was once the great lake next to the castle.

I hope in the future to visit just to walk around the outside of the castle - there seem to be many footpaths and it would be good to find "the Pleasance in the Marsh" or its ruins!

Leicester's Building built as apartments for Queen Elizabeth can be seen on the left of the photo and the Great Tower to the right.

Mortimer's Tower built by King John 1210-15 as the principal entrance through the castle's outer defences. It was named in the 17th century by Sir William Dugdale,the antiquarian, possibly he was referring to  Roger Mortimer who hosted a great tournament at Kenilworth in 1279.

Leicester's Building

The Stables contains a cafe and excellent exhibition - we didn't go inside this time as you can see it was quite busy.

Leicester's Gatehouse built by Robert Dudley around 1571/2.

Lunn's Tower

I had seen the recreated Elizabethan garden when I visited in July nearly two years ago but it was a lovely surprise for D as he had only seen it in January!

The garden was recreated by English Heritage in 2009 based on historical research and descriptions made, when the garden was originally created, by a Robert Langham, a minor court official.  Robert Dudley had the garden created for the use of the queen and her friends but Langham sneaked in one day assisted by a gardener.  He described all the main features - terrace, arbours, marble fountain, aviary and giant obelisks.

The fountain is the centrepiece of the garden. The original and the new fountain were/are made of white Carrara marble from Tuscany, Italy.  The base is octagonal and the central column has 2 "Athlantes" (Atlas figures holding up the sky).

Panels in the base are carved with 8 scenes from the "Metamorphoses" (Ovid's narrative poem) which reveal the lives and loves of gods and humans and describes their transformation into animals or plants.  Carvings include: Neptune with his trident, his son Triton drawn by fish, Proteus (another son of Neptune) hearding "Sea bulls", Doris and her Daughters, the Nereids (sea nymphs) and Thetis in her chariot drawn by dolphins.  Three additional panels have been added to today's fountain.

The aviary with its top painted to make it look as though it is encrusted with diamonds, emeralds, rubies and sapphires.

Robert Dudley's badge was the Bear and Ragged Staff - you see this symbol everywhere in Warwickshire.

The Great Tower

The remains of the kitchens you can see today were mainly the work of John of Gaunt.  The hearths of fireplaces can be seen together with a bread oven and furnace.  The kitchen was large enough to cater for several hundred people.

While D went up one of the towers I had a look round my favourite part of the ruins the Great Hall.  I love the way the windows look as though they belong in a cathedral with their Perpendicular tracery.  The Hall itself was on the first floor and there were stone vaulted cellars beneath.

Weathering of the Permian Kenilworth Red Sandstone!

Leicester's Building was built between 1571/2 by Robert Dudley to provide private apartments for Queen Elizabeth I whenever she visited Kenilworth on her summer progress.  She stayed here for 19 days between 9th and 27th July 1575 and on several other occasions.

Great Tower

Fireplace in the State Apartments

A huge amount of photos!  If you are still here! just a few more D took with the Canon SX50 bridge camera.  You can see me in the distance in the last picture!

It was a lovely afternoon out and good to be visiting EH properties again with my son.  I do like Kenilworth Castle - it is very atmospheric and English Heritage has done a wonderful job of maintaining it without over commercialising it.

I hope everyone is staying safe and well.

Apart from the last 4 photos pictures taken by my son the rest are taken by me with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330 bridge camera.

Reference: English Heritage Guidebook to Kenilworth Castle

Information Boards around the site.


Bovey Belle said...

What a lovely day out. Super photos too - I thought I had been there, on a coach trip years ago, but having seen the gardens I am mistaken. It must have been Warwick we went to.

Ragged Robin said...

Bovey Belle - Thanks so much. The gardens there are fairly new (2009). Warwick Castle is magnficent but sadly dreadfully over commercialised these days :(

Rustic Pumpkin said...

A lovely time out indeed, glad you have places you can pre book for guaranteed access, and can bimble about outside without having to go inside any enclosed spaces. The garden, I think, is lovely indeed. Like Bovey Belle, I've visited Warwick Castle, impressive, educational, and expensive. I would guess, as you say, it's overly commercialised nowadays, it wasn't far off it then {early 80's}. The divide between rich and poor is so marked with the fixing up of a castle just to entertain the monarch. I guess you were loaded or not, with very little in between, and I've read of gentry going bankrupt in order to entertain a royal guest.

Rosie said...

What a glorious day out. It seems ages since we visited but probably not that long as the Elizabethan garden was open. As you can imagine Paul took lots of photos of the bread oven for his bread website. It is an amazing place. I seem to remember we walked around the outskirts of the castle too. Your photos are wonderful:)

Ragged Robin said...

Rustic Pumpkin - Thanks so much - this prebooking is a good idea and places do seem much quieter than usual which for me is a bonus! I was worried about parking as car park castle free for members but normally if you pay you can also park there if not a member and it is used by people roaming around outside and not going in castle but it was well stewarded and they were looking for members' car badges!

Warwick Castle is very impressive although I was horrified at over commercialisation when we took D andE when they were little although to be fair they loved it!!!!! Yes I've heard that too about gentry going bankrupt over entertainments for monarchs!

Rosie - Thanks so much. I hope you can visit again one day - I can just imagine how Paul loved that bread oven!! There do seem many footpaths to roam around the outside.

Pam said...

When it's somewhere so lovely with lots to see then it's so easy to keep clicking isn't it! :D The garden looks great, very purple!

Ragged Robin said...

Pam Thanks so much. Yes it is very photogenic there. :)

CherryPie said...

Lovely photos of the castle.

I have enjoyed my EH membership more than ever during the past year. It has allowed spontaneous booking on the day whereas most National Trust properties close their bookings the day before.

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie Thank you so much.I didn't realise EH allowed booking on the day so thanks for that info.

Millymollymandy said...

Wow, that's a stunning castle, and even more stunning garden! I would love to visit a place like that. Good for you for getting out and about more!

Millymollymandy said...

And I wanted to say thank you for posting all the history that goes with the building (and the other places you visit). It must take you quite a while to compile a blog post!

Ragged Robin said...

Millymollymandy - Thanks so much. You would love the castle. I am getting better at visiting places outside but going inside anywhere still makes me nervous!

Thanks re: the history. I am glad you enjoy it and to be honest it makes sure I read or re-read the guidebook and take in myself some information about the place :) So it is something I really quite enjoy :)