Wednesday, 13 August 2014

A Triumvarite of Castles: Leeds, Bodiam, Scotney, & An Ancient Tale Of Murder Most Foul...

So I'm not trying to deliberately fill your heads with gruesome tales from our holidays, it just seems that England's ancient properties had a lot of That Sort Of Thing going on.

We'll start with Leeds (which probably does have some nasty stories, but luckily I never heard them).

I had long wanted to see Leeds Castle and when we arrived (sixty quid lighter), we were disappointed. Maybe I'm a history snob, but I like my old places to actually be old, not Victorian Things pretending. Which is essentially what Leeds Castle is. There is only one section of Old left at the far end, all the rest is 19thC.

It's pretty, and worth visiting for that reason, but it didn't touch me the way Ightham did, or Scotney, or Bodium, or Dover or Canterbury. Here are the pics....

Norman Cellar

Tudor Window

Old bit is on the left

Next on the list is Bodiam, another castle, but this one is real 14th Century. It's a ruin, although a substantial one and you can wander over all of it, including climbing up the tower which takes you past the Bodiam Bats Nursery Roost (they were all busy chattering to one another when we went and I stood and listened to them for ages) and on up to the roof where the views are fantastic.

This castle still has its original wooden portcullis in the gatehouse, an extremely rare example of its kind. It was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge, a former knight of Edward III, with the permission of Richard II, ostensibly to defend the area against French invasion during the Hundred Years War. Incidentally, F has just dug up a hammered coin from the reign of Edward I in a field near our house. Ed I was Ed III's grandfather.
Sir Ed helped Richard II put down the peasant's revolt in 1381, and built Bodiam on the proceeds of monies earnt fighting in France as a mercenary. It is indeed a martial place in more ways than one.

The changing coastline

Ancient portcullis

You can just make out the enormous well at the bottom of this tower. It was very cold in this space.

Another Door.....

I think I must have been a medieval person prior to being born in the 20th C as I'm far more at home in these kind of settings :-)

The third castle for today is Scotney, which I last visited when I was about ten. It's one of the loveliest places in England and you should definitely put it on your list if you're planning a trip to Kent.

Scotney is also a proper castle, dating from the 14th C (although there are records of the estate that date to 1137). It too is in ruins, but only because the family who owned it during the 18th C (The Husseys) decided it would look better as a ruin, so they built the current big house up on the hill above and demolished part of the old one to make a pretty ruin for them to look at. Our boys were scandalised at this- can you imagine it happening today?

Anyway, it too is a place with lots of history. Mrs Thatcher rented one of the rooms in the castle during her time in office, and from 1591-1598 a Catholic Priest called Father Richard Blount hid in a priest hole in the old castle so he could carry out the Mass without persecution. He was caught, eventually. Later, a member of the Hussey family committed suicide in the old castle and that is though to be part of the reason why the old house was abandoned. The servants of the big house lived in the old castle after the family moved out- some servants quarters, eh?

The 'new' house is open to the public now (it wasn't when I last went) because the last member of the Hussey family (Betty) has now died. She loved cats, and the house is full of references to them, from cat magazines to china cats and little poems and sayings about cats in virtually every room. Her last remaining cat outlived her and remains in the house today- it was part of the deal with the National Trust that they looked after him there. Apparently, he doesn't much care for visitors prowling about his home so nips out the kitchen window when ten o'clock chimes and he knows people will soon start to decend on him. He comes back in when the doors close later in the afternoon! 

The atmosphere in the house is lovely- it feels like a warm, happy and much-loved family house. I loved the little touches Betty had put all round it, many of them reminded me of our home here. I have a bird clock in the kitchen, and as you all know, I'm a bit fond of flutters too....


New House (Victorian)

Old Castle (14th C)

Two old doors :-)

The Priest's Hole, where Father Blount hid in the 1590s

Priest Hole with the door shut

The Priest Hole is on the right at the top of the stairs in this pic

Another Old door....:-) It looks like a little face.

Lovely ancient oak near the castle beside the moat

Picture Postcard Pretty

There is a lovely walled garden at the top of the hill near the new house. M was envious of their cabbage beds which have all been neatly netted so no pillar problems here :-) I was impressed with the Dahlias, largely because earwigs lay waste to mine so we don't grow them at home...

And finally (sorry to write such a long post, but I really want to document the holiday and move on to other things), the Murder Most Foul bit....

In Kent there is a town called Faversham which is ancient and contains lots of old houses. Back in the day King Stephen (he of snatching the throne from Cousin Maud, grand-daughter of William the Conq fame) and his wife provided funds for an Abbey to be built in Faversham (then called Feversham). The Abbey has long since disappeared  beneath the playing fields of the local comp, but the guest house remains, and it is this guest house that was the scene for the Foul Murder.

On February 15th, 1551, the Mayor of Feversham, one Thomas Arden, was living in this house with his wife Alice when he was murdered by his wife and her lover Thomas Mosby. This event inspired the first-ever English domestic drama Arden of Faversham (authorship is disputed but it remained a popular play for centuries).

If you google Alice, you will doubtless get the usual story of wicked wife plotting and committing murder with her lover and two horrible accomplices. but in Faversham itself, the info board tells a different tale.

Basically, Thomas was a bit of a git. Always away, obsessed with business and making money and corrupt to boot, embezzling funds from the Abbeys and squirreling it away, he was a rubbish husband and the fed-up Alice sought affection elsewhere. 

She was the daughter of Master Brigandine, the man who'd built the Mary Rose for Henry VIII in 1509, and her step-father was Sir Edward North, Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, which master-minded the sale of monastic property nationwide, so for this reason Thomas' murder was seen as a threat to national security and the Privy Council oversaw the trial. 

Alice pretended at first that she had no idea where her husband was and even continued with a dinner party. But later he was discovered dead in the garden at the back of the house in his PJs and Alice was implicated. She eventually confessed to several botched murder attempts and gave evidence of what had really happened that night. Thomas and Mosby were playing backgammon in the parlour at Arden house when the two accomplices (Black Will and Loosebag- you couldn't make it up could you?) who were war veterans, burst in and killed him. Alice was burned at the stake in Canterbury while Mosby was hanged in London.

There is no-where else in England where a Shakespearean era play can be performed with the actual scene of the murder as the back-drop.

I don't think I can leave you with such a gruesome tale as an end of a post, so instead I will cheer us all up again with a couple of funny pictures of F being thrown about the holiday pool by his father, and one of a comically glum-looking fish who stared up at me out of the moat that surrounds Bodiam for ages, as if trying to work out what I was. This is pertinent, because M has the most peculiar style of whistling of anyone I know, and we always tell him he looks like a fish when he does it.....

Have a great evening all,

CT :-)


  1. Awesome tour! Your photos are fantastic.

  2. Want an interesting post, thank you for taking the time to tell us all about the castles x

    1. Thanks, Chickpea, glad you enjoyed it x

  3. Agree with you totally about Leeds Castle - we reeled at the admission prices, and felt it was just a tourist trap. Liked the dog collars, though. Bodiam has the advantage of being near the Kent and East Sussex Railway. Scotney? Never been there, despite it being just along the A21 from Hastings. We pass it so often, either dreading the M25 ahead, or in a frenzy to get home after some awful journey experience!

    1. We missed the dog collars- sounds like they might have been the best bit! Scotney would be the perfect antidote to travel stress :-)

  4. A really interesting post - love the photos of the castles especially Scotney. Kent certainly looks a wonderful place to visit :)

    1. Thanks :-) Scotney is one of my most favourite places- peaceful and beautiful.

  5. What a wonderful way to visit these places with you!! It is a bit late at night for me for the gruesome story, but I liked the rest! Thank you for your lovely comment over at mine. xx

    1. Hope I didn't spoil your sleep with murder most foul stories! Hope things ease up for you soon, lovely xx

  6. Beautiful pictures of your holiday and stories to with them. I have enjoyed the tour.

  7. Thanks so much for this. I was keen on visiting Leeds Castle and now I'll not bother. We're down from Newcastle upon Tyne and were deciding what to do tomorrow. Bill (my husband) wants to see Scotney and so we shall. Love your photos - much like ones I would take of windows, doors, odd things. Must visit here again!

    1. It is pretty but expensive and for my money Scotney is the more interesting. Hope you enjoy your hols and thanks for visiting :-)


Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x