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Hampton Court Castle

Visited August 2015

Location Hope Under Dinmore, Herefordshire
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Leominster
Parking Yes
Facilities Cafe, shop, Toilets


I wonder how many people clicked on this page expecting to see pictures of a red-brick palace by the Thames, forever associated with Cardinal Wolsey and the extravagances of Henry VIII. If you were one of them, then hopefully you won't be too disappointed to find that this article is about Hampton Court Castle in Herefordshire, not Hampton Court Palace in Surrey. It is an easy mistake to make as the names are so similar, they even both have mazes, but once you have seen one you won't mistake it for the other as they are actually very different.






Originally built by Sir Rowland Lenthall in 1427 around an internal courtyard, the castle actually pre-dates Wolseley's Hampton Court Palace by 85 years. It was sold to Sir Humphrey Coningsby in 1510, and remained in the family until it was sold to the Arkwright family in the 1830's. As with most castles it has been remodelled several times over the years, including a major rebuild during the time of the Arkwrights. 


The Arkwrights  were a prominent family during the industrial revolution, when Richard Arkwright patented spinning and carding machinery which improved the efficiency of cotton mills. Despite this Arkwrights grandson John just wanted to live the life of a gentleman farmer, and set about improving the estate at Hampton Court. For many years he tried to make the farming of the estate economically viable, but found himself needing to sell off more & more land to stay afloat. Eventually he admitted defeat sold up in 1912.





The castle then had a succession of owners but gradually its condition deteriorated as no one seemed to be able to afford the upkeep. In the 1970's the BBC series 'Survivors' was filmed there, no doubt using the general decaying air of the place to full advantage.


In 1994 an American businessman Robert Van Kampen came to the aid of this sorry looking castle, and bought the entire estate in cash during a visit from London. He then started a programme of repair of the castle and the creation of absolute world class gardens in the extensive grounds.


As well as the renovation of the castle exterior, Van Kampen set about restoring the interior- not an easy task as most of it had been stripped  out or sold off by previous owners. He basically started from scratch, buying things for the castle where ever he could find them. For example the library is well stocked with books, but on closer examination they turn out to be in Swedish/Norwegian, as he managed to source a job lot of antique hardbacks in Scandinavia. He could not read the books, but they looked the part on the library shelves, and creating the look of a country house interior was more important than authenticity. The result is certainly eclectic , and although it may not please some purists, it must be remembered than Robert Van Kampen was restoring the castle as a family home, not a public property, so he did not have to please anyone but himself when it came to choosing interior design. Because of this there is a more relaxed feeling inside the castle, the tour guides are very welcoming, and it is ok to touch and take photos.





Unfortunately Robert Van Kampen died in 1999, before the restoration of the castle was complete. His family still opened the castle to the public in 2000 in  his memory. The gatehouse was built around this time, despite looking much, much older. The Van Kampen family eventually sold it in 2008, and 2014 it was put on the market again for £16 million. At this point I must confess I considered buying it, and but for a shortfall of about, well £16 million actually, I would be happily welcoming the tourists to my beautiful castle right now.


As well as the castle and gardens, there is a small play area for children, many interesting sculptures dotted around the grounds, and a fantastic maze with an observation tower in the middle. Once you have been to the top of the tower to enjoy the view, you can descend down under the maze into a secret passage leading to a waterfall, which you can actually walk behind. Once out from behind the waterfall there are some cascading steps in a woodland garden, which are both fun and scary to walk on (due to them being slightly wet and slippery) 


If this was not exciting enough, on the day we were there they had canoeing on the lake and archery sessions. This was all free for children, which was pretty good value considering the prices we have seen these on offer for at other tourist attractions ( I'm looking at you, Leeds Castle !)


Finally, the Orangery cafe, serving dishes made from produce of the castle garden, was a lovely way to round off the day. It really was an enjoyable trip to a beautiful castle.




More info:  Hampton Court Castle

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