Grimsthorpe Castle has been the home of the de Eresby family since 1516. The present owner is Jane, 28th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, grand-daughter of Nancy On Sunday 14th May 31 members of Chelmsford National Trust Supporters Group set off to Bourne in Lincolnshire to visit Grimsthorpe Castle. By the time of our arrival the sun had come out and it promised to be a beautiful day.
In 1516 Grimsthorpe was given to William 11th Lord Willoughby de Eresby as a wedding present from Henry VIII. It has remained in successive generations of the same family. The present owner is Jane, 28th Baroness Willoughby de Eresby grand-daughter of the late Nancy Astor. The long and continuous occupation by the Willoughbys is reflected in the remarkable collection of art and furnishings in the house today. The whole estate covers approximately 3,000 acres. The head of the Willoughby family has held the hereditary role of Lord Great Chamberlain of England for over 400 years and is the monarch’s representative in the Palace of Westminster.
During the First World War the park was used by the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force as an emergency landing ground. During the Second World War the central part of the park was used as a bombing range. In 1944 the castle housed a company of the Parachute Regiment while it was recovering from operations in Italy and training for what became known as Operation Market Garden.
As our tour wasn’t until the afternoon we strolled through to the gardens. To the east of the castle we passed a formal rose parterre lined with small box hedges and entered the walled ornamental kitchen garden which was very impressive. To the south was a formal lawn with topiary squares and a small water feature. Grimsthorpe participates in World Topiary Day and the topiary birds atop the clipped hedges were beautifully displayed. Walking on through the wildflower woodland garden we came to the walled garden where an exhibition of lettering art was on show.
From the south terrace there were spectacular views of the parkland leading down to a large lake. People were enjoying the extensive grounds on such a beautiful day. Some members enjoyed a walk down to the lake.
Our tour of the Castle started in the Vanbrugh Hall with its spectacular double level arches and very elaborate chimney piece. The encompassing interior space mirrors and Arcadian screens at the east and west ends separate the main hall from the double staircases with their impressive ironwork balustrades.
We then went upstairs to the State Dining room which showcased an exhibition of items from past coronations, including costumes, coronets and furnishings, to celebrate King Charles III coronation.
The highlight of the exhibition being a Norman Hartnell dress and headband worn by Lady Jane Heathcote-Drummond Willoughby when she was a maid of honour at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The dining table was laid with Sevres and Meissen porcelain.
Our guide then took us through the King James room, named after the full length portrait of King James I and his queen, Anne of Denmark who visited Grimsthorpe in 1611. This room contained a pair of Louis XIV Boulle side tables and a collection of George III urns of Derbyshire Blue John.
The large State Drawing room was one of the original Tudor rooms with an oriel window dating from the 16th century, a Palladian overmantel and coffered arches to the bays. The room was remodelled in the 1920s by the Countess of Ancaster and decorated with furnishings from Normanton Park. A splendid stucco ceiling was created as part of the redecoration.
The Tapestry Drawing room was thought to be the family’s privy chamber for receiving selected important guests. The room was hung with 18th century Soho tapestries by Joshua Morris in the 1730s. Henry VIII reputedly held a council meeting here during his stay in 1541.
The Gothic bedroom contained a four poster bed decorated in crimson velvet, the canopy suspended from a gilt wood frame and embroidered with the cypher of King George IV in silver gilt originally hung over the King’s throne in the House of Lords. Next door was the Tapestry bedroom, named after the three Brussels tapestries of country scenes which hang in this room. The guide informed us that Queen Camilla slept in the bed on a recent visit to Grimsthorpe.
We then went downstairs to the Chinese Drawing room with its 18th century bow oriel window. The room was a mix of classical, Gothic, Rococo and Chinese styles. The walls decorated with Chinese wallpaper depicting flora and fauna among bamboo.
The final visit was to the Chapel decorated in 17th century plasterwork. The chapel was on two floors, the upper level where the family worshipped and a very impressive pulpit on the ground floor.
At the end of the tour it was straight back to our coach where Marc was waiting to transport us back to Chelmsford after a very enjoyable day.