Eastnor Castle is one of the very few intact and privately-owned Norman/Gothic castles in Europe, built by the 2nd Baron (Lord) Somers in the early 1800s.

The combination of inherited wealth, his judicious marriage to the daughter of the eminent and rich Worcestershire historian, Rev Treadway Russell Nash, prompted Somers to commission a castle to impress his contemporaries and raise his family into the higher ranks of the ruling class.

Then, if not so much now, the size and splendour of a country house evidenced the standing and fortune of any family.

His architect, the young Robert Smirke, was later well known for his design for the British Museum.

From a distance, Eastnor tried to create the impression of an Edward I-style medieval fortress guarding the Welsh Borders.

It was a symbolic and defiant assertion of power by an aristocrat in a period of fear and uncertainty following the French Revolution and during the Napoleonic Wars.

The symmetry of the design emphasised authority, distinguishing Eastnor from the more rambling, picturesque, castellated mansions of a slightly earlier period at Downton Castle (Shropshire) and Smirke’s 1805 creation for the Earl of Lonsdale at Lowther Castle (Cumbria).

By most standards, the castle is colossal, and the construction team and materials used were on a similar scale.

Eastnor Castle continues to be inhabited by his descendants today, the Hervey-Bathurst family.

Custodian of the family estate, James Hervey-Bathurst who inherited Eastnor Castle through his mother, has always harboured an interest in historical buildings and architecture and has been closely involved with the preservation of historic architecture and cultural heritage in Great Britain.

James became the vice-president of European Historic Houses and was also invested as a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in recognition of his services to national heritage.

The architecture of Eastnor Castle has changed over the years, led by AWN Pugin, George E Fox and, most recently, James explains, “The designs have come from Sarah Hervey-Bathurst, my first wife, Lucy, my second wife and the late Professor Bernard Nevill.”

The interiors, however, have remained much the same, with the exception of the Great Hall.

“The big change came with the Great Hall being furnished about 100 years ago. Generally, we have kept the historic interiors much as we found them, apart from the Octagon Saloon, which is now only sparsely furnished, but completely redecorated.”

With such a strong period style and overflowing with family heirlooms, James remarks that rather than putting his own stamp on the castle, the restoration, modernisation and upkeep are far more pressing, although he reveals he is responsible for a few additions.

“I have added four tapestries that hang in the Staircase Hall and some rugs to replace others that were worn out.

"Lucy has restored a number of rooms we have started re-using and replaced a lot of worn-out curtains and other soft furnishings and guided the restoration of the arboretum. Perhaps the new Pugin Room carpet is the defining stamp from our stewardship so far.”

The Gothic Drawing Room at Eastnor was designed in 1849 by the great Pugin, whose work culminated in designing the interior of the Palace of Westminster, and is said to be one of his finest surviving domestic interiors.

“The Gothic Drawing was the only room he designed for Eastnor; however, he also designed some of the furniture and fittings for the room; the chandelier, table, bureau, bookcase, a number of chairs and the Minton tiles for the fireplace.”

The Pugin room also boasts some magnificent tapestries, four of which came from Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire.

In addition to the antique pieces designed by Smurke and Pugin, James tells me that they also have a sublime collection of furniture from Italy.

“But my favourite piece is a Flemish ebony cabinet given to the Lord Chancellor Somers, a forebear, by his friend, Lord Shrewsbury," he reveals.

Eastnor Castle has 97 rooms altogether and, surprisingly perhaps, James admits he has a firm favourite.

“The Long Library is my favourite room because it is well-proportioned and richly decorated.”

I’m inclined to agree, although the overwhelming beauty and presence of a grand chandelier in the Gothic Room could persuade me to reconsider.

“The chandelier of which you speak is the best here, designed by Smirke and modelled on one in the Lorenzkirche, Nuremberg."

As for the cleaning?

“They are professionally cleaned every two or three years, and the process usually takes around two weeks to complete.”

A task I would not want to be charged with.

Eastnor is open to the public at Easter, over the May Bank Holidays and then on Sundays until the end of September and Mondays to Thursdays in the summer holidays, but James tells me that about three times a year, the family close the castle and make full use of the public rooms.

“Our private quarters are smaller rooms, and we mostly live in the kitchen, which was enlarged in 1992. The layout is a bit odd as we are at one end of the house, so it is C shaped.”

Housing many beautiful works of art, one of the most spellbinding must be the dramatic painting by Salvator Rosa, which has been loaned out quite often, James reveals, adding that his personal favourite is the feasting scene by Maarten Pepyn.

Fortunately for the family, their collection was still intact following a visit in 1937 from Queen Mary, who had a reputation for encouraging her hosts to offer her gifts.

“I am ashamed to say that there was nothing she seemed to admire, so we were lucky," James quips, "Or my grandfather had hidden things out of her sight.”

Living in a historic castle is a dream for many and is something James never takes for granted.

“We’re very fortunate to live in such a beautiful place, the views of the Malvern Hills are wonderful and it’s fun using the grand rooms, even if it is only a few times a year, however.

But James has had the odd embarrassing moment: “There have been a few occasions when we have had celebrities and stars here for events or filming and I have not heard of them.”

Eastnor Castle's film and television credits stretch back almost 50 years to 1969 when it was first ‘discovered’ as a film location for the movie industry by MGM studios, who were looking for a suitable ‘English Lord’s castle’ for the comedy One More Time starring Sammy Davis Jr and directed by legendary comedian Jerry Lewis.

The 1986 film adaptation of Oscar Wilde‘s The Canterville Ghost was also shot at Eastnor which leads me to ask James for details of any ghostly sightings or grisly tales.

“Not yet…perhaps I will be the first ghost?” he says.

Standing majestically at the heart of a 5,000-acre estate at the foot of the Malvern Hills, Eastnor Castle is surrounded by a deer park, lake and an arboretum of rare and spectacular trees.

Eastnor Castle also hosts some well-established events such as Eastnor ChilliFest and Eastnor Steam & Vintage, while the Deer Park is the location for two summer festivals, El Dorado and Lakefest.

The castle is also available for hire on an exclusive basis for weddings, parties, celebrations, corporate events and filming with prices starting from £2,700 + VAT.

Set in undulating countryside, with richly decorated interiors containing medieval armour, fine art and tapestries, Eastnor exhibits all the accoutrements one would expect from a historical castle.

However, what sets Eastnor apart is its family heritage and intimacy. Upon entering, it almost feels like a home from home. Or perhaps that’s just wishful thinking?

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