Stately Homes of England 2012

Day 01,                      April 29th

Arrive in London and transfer to your hotel.  This afternoon we visit Kensington Palace, built in 1689 by the joint Stuart monarchs, William III and Mary II.  The Palace was also used by Queen Anne, and the Hanoverian monarchs, George I and George II.  Parts of the Palace are still inhabited by members of the current Royal Family, including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  Kensington Palace has recently been renovated with a new exhibition devoted to Queen Victoria (who was born at the Palace, and lived there until becoming Queen at the age of 18) opening alongside the Kings’ and Queens’ Apartments.  This evening we meet for our Welcome Dinner.

Day 02,                      April 29th   

This morning we drive north out of London to the county of Norfolk, and check into our lovely country house hotel.  This afternoon we visit Houghton Hall, residence of Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole.  The Walpoles were already Lords of the Manor by 1307, but did not build their first house on the site until later in the 14th century.  In the early 19th century Sir Robert Walpole wanted a house to reflect his status, and so began work on a splendid mansion in the 1820s, hiring architect William Kent to create the  magnificent interiors for which Houghton Hall is famed.  (William Kent was also instrumental in designing the interiors of Kensington Palace and Hampton Court Palace for King George I, and added his mark on a number of stately homes of this period.)   Houghton Hall is currently occupied by the 7th Marquess of Cholmondeley, direct descendant of Sir Robert Walpole, and his family.

Day 03,                      April 30th

After breakfast we visit Holkham Hall, home to Viscount Coke and his family, heir to the 7th Earl of Leicester.  Holkham Hall was built in the Palladian style by William Kent for Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester in the 1750s, and is described as having the finest Palladian interior in England.  This afternoon we drive to the market town of Stamford, famed for its beautiful mediæval stone and timbered buildings.  Our accommodation tonight is in the town’s oldest inn, which has been the site of a hostelry for more than 1,000 years.  The site of the inn originally belonged to the Abbots of Croyland, and the present inn incorporates the structure of two religious houses, including one belonging to the Knights Hospitallers, which housed pilgrims and Knights of the Holy Sepulchre on their way to Jerusalem during the Crusades.  Later guests included King Charles I, King William III and the novelist, Sir Walter Scott.

Day 04,                      May 1st  

Today we visit the spectacular Burghley House, home of the Cecil family.  Burghley was built by William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer and close advisor to Queen Elizabeth I, between 1558 and 1587.  Burghley is one of the finest examples of Elizabethan architecture, and also has a suite of rooms remodelled in the baroque style, with carvings by Grinling Gibbons.  The park was laid out by Lancelot “Capability” Brown in the late 18th century.   After lunch we continue our journey northwards to the Peak District and to our comfortable country hotel, our home for the next two nights.

Day 05;                      May 2nd  

This morning we visit one of England’s most famous stately homes, Chatsworth House.  Chatsworth is the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, and has been in the Cavendish family for 16 generations since Bess of Hardwick (wife of Sir William Cavendish, and builder of Hardwick Hall) settled at Chatsworth in 1549.  Bess’ original Tudor mansion hosted Mary, Queen of Scots several times during her imprisonment by Elizabeth I.  The house was re-built by the 1st Duke between 1687 and 1707, with the north wing added by the 6th Duke in the early 19th century.  Capability Brown transformed the gardens in the mid-18th century from the original Elizabethan garden, while Kew Gardens-trained, Joseph Paxton, head gardener from 1826 to 1858, had the greatest influence on the garden as we see it today.  This afternoon we visit Haddon Hall, home to Lord Edward Manners and his family, and one of the seats of the Dukes of Rutland.  Haddon Hall is a fortified mediæval manor house dating from the 12th century.  It has been owned by the Manners family since 1567.  Described as the “most perfect house to survive from the Middle Ages”, the house is surrounded by terraced Elizabethan gardens.

Day 06;                      May 3rd

After breakfast we visit Hardwick Hall, one of the greatest Elizabethan houses remaining.  The house was designed for Bess of Hardwick by Robert Smythson in the late 16th century.  Bess of Hardwick was the richest woman in England after Queen Elizabeth I, and the house was a conspicuous statement of her wealth, power and taste.  The house was a very modern design, with enormous windows at a time when glass was an expensive luxury.  The amount of glass in the house led to the rhyme “Hardwick Hall: more window than wall”.  The house stayed in the Duke of Devonshire’s estate until 1956 when it had to be given to the Treasury to cover some of the 80% death duties payable on the death of the 10th Duke.  In 1959 it was given to the National Trust to be opened to the public.  This afternoon we drive south to our country house hotel near Aylesbury for two nights.

Day 07,                      May 4th

Today we visit probably the grandest house in all England, Blenheim Palace, home of the Dukes of Marlborough.  Designed by Sir John Vanbrugh as a gift from a grateful nation to John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, for his military triumphs, the Palace was built between 1705 and 1724 in the English Baroque style.  The Palace was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.  The gardens were initially laid out by Vanbrugh, but reached their apogee under Capability Brown in the 1760s.  In recent history the Palace is famous as the birthplace of Sir Winston Churchill.

Day 08,                      May 5th

This morning we drive back to London to visit Syon House, home to the Dukes of Northumberland.  Syon House has had a long and convoluted history since it was an abbey in mediæval times.  The current house was designed for the 1st Duke in the 1760s by the combined might of Robert Adam and Capability Brown.   Tonight we end our journey with a delicious dinner in London.

Day 09,                      May 6th          

Our adventure ends today with our flights home.



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