Mercedes’ Marvellous Mondays… Herstmonceux Castle – A fine brick-built castle…
At the mouth of a small valley, between a ‘triangle’ on a map (If you were to draw one) is Herstmonceux Castle, situated between Eastbourne, Hailsham and Bexhill (Near the Windmill Hill area). The Castle itself is a beautiful and yet looming red brick piece of architecture which, over its life spam has seen many changes in the countryside around it but also to the structure of the building itself. The castle has also seen many owners either by being handed down through family generations or being sold and bought by others.
As the summer holidays draw on and I have exhausted my other usual hangouts, me and the mother (Nanny) decided to take the kids out for a treat, a treat of visiting a local historic castle. Now, I do remember going there as a child, a friend of mine had a family member who worked there and one Christmas I was invited up to help decorate the main lobby for the international students that would be staying there at the time. I had not been to the castle since and had long since forgotten the history and beauty that surrounds it. We turned up around 11.30am with a picnic in tow, the kids were moaning about being hungry and that a castle was boring, so to keep them quite for a few minutes we sat down for our picnic. After eating the kids noticed the gardens behind a wall and wanted to explore, finally their curiosity was peaking.
The gardens were indeed beautiful and well maintained, even after the heatwave we had been experiencing. The gardens spanned for as far as the eye could see and was home to flowers, trees, statues, a huge sun dial, bees and the view of the magnificent castle. The girls were off in their element exploring and found secret passages to other gardens and became friends with a girl statue who was sat reading a book. As they now became so excited about the gardens they soon became interested in the actual castle and asked to go inside.
Luckily for us there was a tour a little while later, so we paid for the tickets and went and had ice cream in the small but very fine tea room. The time for the tour soon arrived and we went along and met our tour guide, a lovely lady called Miranda, who when everyone arrived immediately went into the history lesson about the castle. She soon took us inside the castle where my girls became so excited and wanted to see everything. We explored the inner grounds with its courtyard and vast windows, the study room which used to be a chapel, a dungeon room, a room which now holds wedding ceremonies which has the most beautiful staircase I have ever lain my eyes on and mermaids on the ceiling. We explored the drummer’s room and the old entrance to the castle which has now been turned into a student bar and the room where the Grey Lady is said to reside. Then finally we ended up back at the lobby area, where we were shown a beautiful wooden carved door frame, where it is said the Carpenter would carve Beans into his work, an open bean pod would mean he had been paid and a closed pod meant that he hadn’t been paid. On this door frame there was one of each, did that mean he had been paid only half? Or not paid and then paid? Who knows, but the frame is gorgeous! Me, my mum and the girls really enjoyed the tour and have learnt a lot from our visit.
I have to say how great the tour guide Miranda was. My children are very excitable and hyper, and she took them under her wing as we ventured around. I do admit that although it is a more adult type tour, they do accommodate children too.
So, here’s a little history on the castle.
So how did the name Herstmonceux come about? Well it is said that there was a Lady in a manor, by the name of Idonea De Herste who married a Nobleman called Ingelram De Monceux. This apparent union led to the fusion of the two names which is what the area and castle are called by now. The Castle though was actually built by a Sir Roger who had fought for King Henry in France. The castle was built from brick which at that period in time was most unusual and it holds a rather medieval design of a moat, battlements and towers, and inside it even houses an escape tunnel (Which no one knows where the end comes out from as the tunnel has collapsed and it is said there are some noxious gases) and a dungeon or otherwise called a ‘oubliette’, which is basically a hole in the floor which people were dropped into and forgotten. When we went on a tour of the castle we were told by Miranda the tour guide that in the oubliette the prisoner would have been accompanied by some furry friends of the rodent variety, as someone recently had dropped an Easter egg down the hole which soon vanished from site.
The castle like I mentioned earlier has gone through many changes over the years with it falling into disrepair, the occupants even selling off its contents to make money (Sir Thomas Lennard with his gambling problems), and the new occupants (Robert Hare and his wife) building a new manor within the grounds as they didn’t like the dilapidated medieval ruin and they tore the walls of the courtyard area and interior down. Then the castle being rebuilt again many years later by Lieutenant-Colonel Claude Lowther and then Sir Paul Latham.
Another change was in WW2 when Sir Paul had to move out and let an insurance company move into the grounds from London as they were deemed too important to be bombed in London. Sometime later the castle was brought by the Bader’s who then joined forces with Queens University Canada who then turned it into an international study centre which it still is today.
The castle is also home to a few ghostly residents such as the ‘Grey Lady’, the legend says that the Grey Lady is actually called Grace who lived at the castle with George Naylor her father, but she was starved to death by a wicked governess. Although there is no real evidence to support that, but people have said to have seen her ghostly figure at windows and walking the halls. Another ghost is ‘The Headless Drummer’, a ghostly figure who was only two or three meters tall and could be seen either with or without his head playing a drum. It is said that smugglers at the time may have made up the story to keep nosey people away from the ruined castle.
The history is a broad one for the Castle and is well worth a visit, and they also sell a small book about the history of the castle for £3, which is such an interesting read but holds way too much information for me to put into this piece. So, get out there and go and explore it, I promise you won’t be disappointed!