I’ve been wanting to visit Sudeley Castle for ages and we finally went in December 2016 for their Spectacle of Light event. It was a fantastic event which you can read more about here, but we were a bit disappointed that the tickets for this event didn’t include access to the castle, just the surrounding grounds. Anyway, after we had finished wandering around the beautiful grounds we knew we would have to come back very soon to visit the rest! We chose a fantastic day to visit – bright sun and clear skies, and best of all, perfect conditions to take some photos!
The Tithe Barn is one of the first things you come across when you follow the path from the visitors centre. It is pretty stunning for a building which doesn’t have many walls left!
A tithe was a compulsory payment to the church and represented a tenth of a person’s income. Tithes were frequently paid in agricultural goods and this barn was a store for these goods.
The barn was built in the 15th Century by Ralph Boteler but was destroyed by troops in the Civil War. Surrounding the barn are lovely flowers and shrubs including foxgloves, primroses and hydrangeas. Next to the Tithe Barn you will find a pond full of koi carp, along with your first views of the stunning castle.
After visiting the Tithe barn you wander along the path until you come across “the Dungeons“. Above the Dungeons is the beautiful castle terrace where you can look out to the Isbourne Valley to Spoonley Wood, the site of a Roman Villa. The mosaic which appears on the terrace is an exact replica of one of the Spoonley Wood floors.
Next you will come across the Mulberry Garden which lies alongside the terrace and was planted by Emma Dent in the 19th Century.
Mulberry trees were special to Emma, as she was the daughter of a silk manufacturer, and the leaves of a mulberry tree were the only source of food for the silkworms. There is in fact only one mulberry tree in the garden, however there look to be more than this because several trunks grow from one root.
The Dungeon Tower is next to the Mulberry Garden and is listed as an Ancient Monument in its own right.
The basement area, (which you no longer can go down to unfortunately), housed the original dungeons which went down a total of three levels! In the 19th Century the tower was converted to stabling and offices. A human skeleton was found during the restoration works under the stones and another skull was discovered when the Mulberry Garden was planted. Unfortunately, to this day, it remains a mystery who the remains belong to….
The Royal Ruins are so beautiful to look at and great to photograph with the sun beaming down on them! During the War of the Roses, Sudeley Castle was confiscated by Edward IV, who gave it to his notorious younger brother, the Duke of Gloucester, (more commonly known as Richard III.)
Richard recreated this area of the castle and built a huge and spectacular banqueting hall in the north east corner, the evidence of which still remains on show today. The huge gothic windows which formed part of the banqueting hall are particularly stunning.
A large hole can be seen on the far side of the Octagon Tower in the corner, caused by a cannonball during the second of the two sieges Sudeley endured during the 17th Century. After the war, the winning side ordered the castle to be snubbed and, as a result, most of the inner yard, including the banqueting hall, was destroyed.
The ruins are now covered with plants and flowers including clematis and roses.
On the ground floor and mezzanine exhibition levels within the castle you will find a children’s museum, which includes a display about Brock, the family’s pet badger, and period-style costumes for the children to try on. Other exhibitions start at the Old Stables which show Sudeley’s timeline and some prehistoric and Anglo Saxon artefacts which have been discovered on the estate over the years. And if all that isn’t enough, you will also find a WW1 exhibition here!
In the upper exhibition levels in the room called the Long Room you will find the Richard III exhibition. In 2013, Richard III’s skeleton was discovered under a Leicester car park. As a result of this discovery his head was forensically reconstructed and in the Richard III exhibition you will find a model of this work. Richard was the owner of Sudeley at the time he rode out of the castle to lead his brother’s army into the battle of Tewkesbury. The model looks out through the Long Room windows towards the ruins of his beautiful banqueting hall….
The Richard III exhibition leads into the Tudor Room. After Richard III came the Tudor’s, and the castle was owned by all three of the Tudor Kings at some point – Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Henry VII.
Henry VIII stayed here with Anne Boleyn and later, his widow, Queen Katherine Parr, came to live here with her new husband, Thomas Seymour, who had been granted the castle by Edward VI. Katherine Parr is buried in the beautiful church within the gardens.
Along the corridor from the document room is the old Sewing Room, which is still used for the conservation of textiles today.
Next you will come across the West Wing Rooms. These small areas haven’t long been opened to the public. In the West Wing rooms you can find some very rare documents, including an extremely important book known as the Bohun Book of Hours. The book contains works which were probably put together for Henry VIII including musical scripts and manuscripts. To this day it is not known how the Book of Hours came to be in Sudeley’s collections.
You leave the West Wing by going down the staircase known as the Haunted Staircase, which forms part of one of the most ancient parts of the castle.
Sudeley’s housemaids often used to take the long way round to avoid using this staircase! There are said to be three ghosts haunting the grounds at Sudeley – the first is said to be Queen Katherine Parr, seen wearing a green dress, in the library and the gardens. The second is thought to be lady by the name of Janet, who was the housekeeper of the Dent-Brocklehurst family, and has been seen on the Haunted Staircase and in the South Hall. The third ghost is said to be a white hunting poodle called “Boy” who belonged to Prince Rupert of the Rhine and was given the run of the castle during the Civil War. Alongside these three, there were also reports of a darker, more evil presence which resulted in a shamanic exorcism which, hopefully, seems to have done the trick so far!
After you come down the Haunted Staircase this leads to the Queen Elizabeth Corridor. This corridor connects the east and west wings of the Castle. Along the corridor you will find the story of Queen Elizabeth I’s three day visit to the castle in 1592.
Around halfway down the corridor there is a door leading to the Knot Garden. It is a stunning garden and the pattern is based on the pattern of dress worn by Elizabeth in the famous portrait known as The Allegory of the Tudor Succession, a famous group portrait of the Tudor dynasty which was previously in the Sudeley collection.
Beyond the Knot Garden, in a corner in the ruins, is the small Queen Elizabeth Garden. This is the oldest surviving part of the castle, with walls as old as the 12th Century. A beautiful tableau has been created here, showing Elizabeth in her Presence Chamber, ready to make a formal entrance to one of her banquets being held in the adjoining banqueting hall.
If you return back to the Queen Elizabeth corridor you will reach the film shed, where a short film is shown about Lady Jane Grey, known as the tragic Nine Day’s Queen.
When the Castle was renovated by the Dents, the converted the East Wing into their principal rooms (I think I would have too, as they have stunning views of the garden and church from here!). The South Hall then became the main staircase of the house, and contains some beautiful Dutch Painted glass, dated between 1580 and 1620.
The Morning Room is a beautiful sunny room and is said to be the favourite of Mary Dent-Brocklehurst, the present owners mother-in-law. Despite being called the Morning Room, this room is still regularly used by the family in the evenings. Other rooms you can visit include the Library, Chandos Bedroom, and the Katherine Parr Ante Room and Katherine Parr Privy.
St Mary’s Church was formerly called the Castle Chapel. It was built in the 15th century and originally had a covered gallery linking it to the Castle. The lost gallery between the old chapel and the Castle has been recreated by a series of arches.
Katherine Parr and Lady Jane Grey are represented by topiary figures draped in ivy and roses, as they often took this route. The last time they visited St Mary’s Church together was when Lady Jane was Chief Mourner at Katherine’s funeral. Awfully, Katherine’s widower, Thomas Seymour, did not even attend his wife’s funeral. Katherine Parr is the only Queen of England to be buried at a private residence, and you can visit her tomb inside St Mary’s Church.
Strangely, her coffin was unearthed in the 18th Century beside a wall of the old chapel, and when it was opened her body was still almost perfectly preserved! Her remains were laid to rest again at Sudeley under a beautiful effigy, when St Mary’s church was restored.
The garden immediately surrounding St Mary’s Church is called the White Garden, with its colour symbolising the purity of the Virgin. Along the South wall you will find white roses, peonies, clematis and even a white passion flower.
To the South of the Church lies the Queen’s Garden which is bordered by double yew hedges. A new rose garden was added to the site in 1989, as roses were the emblems of the Lancastrian, Yorkist and Tudor royal dynasties which the Castle is closely associated with.
In a corner between the castle and the church is the small East Garden. This garden was inspired by Marvell’s poem, “The Garden”, written during the Civil War. It was designed to be a “calm and meditative refuge based predominantly on shades of green”.
The walled Secret Garden can be found to the north of the church. This garden was replanted in 1979 to celebrate Lord and Lady Ashcombe’s marriage, and then replanted again in 1998 to celebrate the marriage of Lady Ashcombe’s son, Henry, to Lili Maltese.
You can find the Pheasantry on the far side of the secret garden which is thought to contain the largest private collection of rare pheasants in the country. You will also find a pair of Snowy owls and an Eagle owl here! When we visited the Pheasantry we managed to make a very pretty peacock friend who followed us nearly all the way back to the car! He seemed to bask in the attention thats for sure! Little scamp!
A path from the pheasantry leads over the canal to a small Tudor Physic Garden which contains some of the plants that were used for medicinal purposes when Katherine Parr lived at Sudeley. Many of the plants in the garden are actually highly poisonous if not expertly prepared, such as Monkshood and Deadly Nightshade!
Further along the path is the Herb Garden which was created by Sir Roddy Llewellyn in 2011 with planting designs by Jekka McVicar. The final tableau at Sudeley, which you can find at the edge of the Herb Garden, is of Emma Dent. She is depicted in topiaries of yew and is relaxing in a quiet corner of the garden reading a book! I don’t blame her!
As you can tell, there is so much to see and do at Sudeley Castle, and I’ve not even covered everything! A fantastic day out for all of the family and a place I would definitely re-visit very soon!