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Arundel Castle ducal splendour revived: to open this special issue on the collections of the Dukes of Norfolk, John Martin Robinson explores the family's principal seat, Arundel Castle, Sussex, which is both a medieval monument and a magnificent Victorian country house. Under the present duke, it has been painstakingly refurbished and the family's great collection redisplayed in its entirety for the first time.

Arundel Castle is two buildings in one, as is recognised by its being both a scheduled ancient monument and a Grade I-listed building. The Norman castle, with significant work dating from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, survives to its full extent, with a 100-foot-high motte and outer earthworks begun in the 1060s, a stone gatehouse of around 1070, shell keep of around 1140, an almost complete curtain wall round both baileys, and a remarkably well preserved barbican (Fig. 1). (1) All this is overshadowed, however, by the vast gothic house built in the south bailey between 1875 and 1900 by the 15th Duke of Norfolk to the design of Charles Alban Buckler. Described by Mark Girouard as 'enormous, feudal, ducal', (2) this is probably the most significant Victorian gothic-revival house to survive still lived in, completely furnished and magnificently maintained. In recent years the interior has been refurbished and the whole of the family collection put on display for the first time.


The condition and presentation of the house today are remarkable and could not have been predicted 40 or 50 years ago, when such full-blooded Victorian architecture was out of fashion and much of the interior whitewashed and the furniture removed.

The house was begun in the heyday of Victorian imperial power in the 1870s and also at the height of the Norfolk family fortunes, derived from industrial investment in Sheffield. The 27-year-old Henry, 15th Duke embarked on this vast project (which cost well over half a million pounds--570,377 [pounds sterling].17s.10d--the equivalent of more than 50 million [pounds sterling] today) (3) in anticipation of his marriage in 1878, and in fulfilment of his father's intentions in the 1850s. These had not been carried out because of the 14th Duke's early death from cancer in 1860, when Henry inherited the premier dukedom, estates in seven counties, the hereditary office of Earl Marshal and the lay leadership of the English Catholics, all at the age of 13.

Duke Henry chose as his architect C.A. Buckler, the third generation of an Oxford dynasty- of antiquarian goths, a Catholic convert, herald and the most scholarly architect of his generation.

Duke Henry and Buckler formed a design collaboration that lasted for nearly 30 years and resulted in a staggeringly consistent evocation of the mid-13th century, inspired by English and French sources from the reigns of Henry III and Louis IX (both of them pious aesthete ancestors of the Howards). This archaeological approach was combined with a characteristically Victorian interest in industrial technology Arundel was one of the most progressive houses of its day, with a steam-pumped water supply, a hydraulic lift, fitted bathrooms, 60 water closets, 1000 electric light-bulbs, concrete foundations, a Merryweather fire system and hot air or water-coil central heating.

Many of the greatest Victorian craftsmen were involved in the project, including John Hardman of Birmingham and Dunstan Powell (A.W.N. Pugin's son-in-law) for stained glass and metalwork; Thomas Earp and Boulton of Cheltenham for stone carving; Rattee & Kett of Cambridge for joinery; and Minton of Stoke-on-Trent for heraldic encaustic tiles. (4) The result is a posthumous vindication of Pugin's architectural vision and a romantic demonstration in stone of the long Fitzalan Howard family history and associations on this spot, where they and their ancestors had lived since 1138.

Although Arundel Castle became the principal ducal seat only in the 19th century, in itself a manifestation of the Romantic movement, the Howards had acquired it by marriage to the Fitzalans in the reign of Elizabeth I and used it as an occasional residence in the 17th and 18th centuries, when their principal homes were in London and Nottinghamshire. Just as the building was reconstructed in the last quarter of the 19th century, so the contents were much augmented at the same time. The complete family collection has been concentrated at Arundel only in recent years, following the sale (and demolition) of Norfolk House in London in 1938 and subsequent transfer of its finest contents to the castle, and the more recent return of the entailed chattels from Arundel Park House in 1995. The Victorian rooms and the way they are now arranged represent a late-20th-century, postmodern response to the austere 19th-century architecture, and the variety and range of the contents that form its counterpoint.

Like most of the great English houses, Arundel remained fully lived in and staffed up to 1939. During World War II it became one of the south coast defences, and part was occupied by the army from June 1940 until July 1945, with English, American and Canadian soldiers passing through (one bathroom was reserved for the exclusive use on Saturdays of WAAFs from Ford Airfield). The Barons Hall was used for entertaining the troops with dances, concerts and various shows. The family of the 16th Duke continued to live in the south wing, but many of the contents were stored for the duration, fireplaces were bricked up and the stonework whitewashed, except on the main floor. (5)

After the war, the castle was re-arranged and reopened to the public in 1947, but the rooms were not all returned to their previous character. What would now be called an 'attic sale' was held in the Barons Hall in 1945; this included four-poster beds and other furnishings then out of fashion. (6) The east wing, planned in the 1870s as a self-contained family house for private occupation when there was no house party staying, was not lived in again after the war, but was used mainly for storage or museum display. The Victorian state bed was placed in the ante-library and some old oak pieces were shown in the library, from which all the furniture designed for it by Morant had been removed.

In 1959, Bernard, 16th Duke and his wife, Lavinia, decided to move out of the castle to a new neo-Georgian house in the park, designed by Claud Phillimore, which was furnished with some of the best paintings and Norfolk House furnishings, as well as new acquisitions of good Georgian furniture bought from London dealers. (7) They had four daughters but no son, and as the male heir was a distant relation it was assumed that the castle would not be lived in again. Negotiations were begun for it to pass to the National Trust on the duke's death.

In 1975, however, when Duke Bernard was succeeded by his cousin, Miles Lord Beaumont (the great-grandson of the 13th Duke), the new 17th Duke was strongly opposed to this idea and was keen to preserve the castle independently and to maintain the historic Fitzalan Howard family connection. To this end he and the executors set up an independent charitable trust to hold the castle, and 30 acres of the immediately surrounding grounds, with its own endowment produced from the renewal of the leases of the Strand Estate in London, which fell due at that time. The major contents of the principal rooms were transferred to the trust on a long loan agreement. This was the first time that a historic country house had been preserved in this way. The scheme, which has been copied by several other major houses, including Chatsworth, Burghley, Wilton, Harewood and Grimsthorpe, has proved a flexible and practical vehicle for maintaining, and opening to the public, large houses belonging to families with the means to endow them. At Arundel, general public opening has been doubled since 1975 from three to six days a week, seven months a year, and a successful education programme initiated for primary-school children, those following the national curriculum, and more advanced specialist study days for adults.

At the same time, the castle's condition and appearance have been improved. Substantial structural repairs were carried out in 1976-77 under the supervision of the architects Seeley & Paget. (8) The roof over the dining room was rebuilt, and that of the Barons Hall re-leaded, much stonework repair was carried out and the central heating converted to gas. But the rooms were left largely as they were when re-opened in 1947. In subsequent years the stained glass windows were cleaned and part re-leaded and all the pictures and books were professionally conserved. It was only after the marriage of Edward, the present duke, to Georgina Gore in 1987 that they decided to move back to live in the castle and to tackle the interior after 30 years when it had hardly been inhabited. Further structural repairs, carried out under the direction of Russell Taylor, include total re-wiring and renewing the leadwork of the south front and library roofs (the latter date from 1800).

In the past two decades most of the rooms have been re-decorated (as the re-wiring has been completed) and the collections redeployed in a way which makes more sense historically as well as improving the visual and aesthetic experience for the visitor. The lead in all this has been taken by the Duke and Duchess, the latter being responsible for the interior decoration, with advice from outside specialists, design consultants, and research in the archives. The Royal Armouries advised on sorting and redeploying the armour, the British Library on the books, the National Portrait Gallery on pictures, and the late Clive Wainwright of the V&A on the restoration of the 1846 furniture arrangement in the library. Annabel Westman was a consultant on historic upholstery, and three interior designers have worked with the Duchess on the decoration. David Mlinaric was responsible for advising on the private apartments (with the architect Vernon Gibberd), many of the bedrooms and the wall colours in some of the public rooms. Edward Bulmer completed the bedrooms and advised on colours in the Big Drawing Room and the Duke's study, while more recently Robert Kime has helped with textiles. Most of the paintwork, including graining and stencilling, has been executed by Charles Hesp. (9)

The collection at Arundel is composed of three principal parts. The original core is the remnant of the 14th Earl of Arundel's great 17th-century collection. Though much was lost in the vicissitudes of Stuart political uphcavals and Howard family quarrels, there remains at Arundel a group of superb Van Dvck portraits, some of the marbles, including Greek altars, a classical votive foot and the Dieussart busts (see pages 46-53), as well as books and relics, such as Mary Queen of Scot's rosary beads and Charles V's pageant shield by Girolamo da Treviso, from the Medici armoury. (10) More significant are the mid-18th-century chattels from the two 18th-century great houses of the 9th Duke and Duchess, Worksop Manor, in Nottinghamshire, and Norfolk House in London. The contents of the former came to Arundel (by canal and sea) when it was sold in 1838 and the latter in 1938. These include splendid sets of scat furniture and pairs of unique Italo-English rococo pier tables (see pages 54-63). Finally, the 19th century brought a complete refurnishing of the castle by Morant in anticipation of Queen Victoria's visit in 1846, and Duke Henry's acquisitions of the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s, which include items from the Brett, Beresford-Hope and other older English collections. (These latter were bought with the assistance of Charles Davis, the Bond Street dealer who also advised Sir Richard Wallace and Alfred de Rothschild.) (11)

Duke Henry's acquisitions, on a scale comparable to the late 19th-century Anglo-American millionaires' collections, are perhaps an unexpected element in the ancestral home of an ancient family. They were bought specially to embellish the new gothic rooms and include quattrocento panel paintings, Flemish and German wood carvings, including a rare Flemish triptych from the Beresford-Hope collection (see pages 40-45), arms and armour and much continental furniture of the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries whose rich marquetry, gilded carving and coloured marbles bring a welcome richness of tone to the castle's subdued palate of natural woods and Painswick stone.

It has not been possible to reinstate everything to its late-19th-century position, partly because of the influx of the contents of Norfolk House and Park House. The chapel, with its undisturbed aura of Victorian piety, dining room (Fig. 2), which has decorative arrangements of arms on the walls, and the Barons Hall (with 16th-century continental furniture and flail-length portraits) survive largely as Duke Henry envisaged. The library (Fig. 4) has also been reconstituted on the evidence of 19th-century photographs, with all its Morant furniture returned and a carpet rewoven to the original pattern and colours. Elsewhere, the aim has been to re-create the spirit of the Victorian interiors rather than an exact reconstruction. The re-arrangement of the gallery contents in 1947, for instance, with a chronological ducal picture hang incorporating the portraits from Norfolk House, displaced the armour. The gallery has been kept in its 1947 guise, although with the marble busts on half columns reinstated at intervals to pace it and the pictures re-arranged and re-lit (under the direction of Charles Marston-Smedley). The better armour is now shown in the guise of an historic armoury (Fig. 3) with standing figures and trophies in the room at the screens end of the Barons Hall. 'Second XI' armour and 'old oak' furniture, together with stags' heads and retrieved taxidermy, have been used to furnish the ground-floor corridor (Fig. 9), formerly empty and starkly painted white, and the adjoining Front Hall (Fig. 8), which also has the Greek altars from the Arundel Collection (rescued from round the swimming pool), conserved by Chichester Cathedral Works.


The white paint applied to 'lighten' the stonework in the mid-20th century has been cleaned off everywhere and the plasterwork repainted in the Victorian tones in the main rooms and the bedrooms. In the latter (Fig. 7), all the fireplaces have been restored to use (they were bricked up during the war) and Minton files put back (fortunately they were stored in the cellars and not thrown away in 1940). 18th- and 19th-century beds of character have also been bought to replace those sold in 1945, and the surviving Victorian textiles augmented with new fabrics in old patterns by Pugin and Bodley from Watts & Co. Missing light fittings have been copied and post-war surface wiring replaced by concealed runs in the original Victorian ducts.


The Small Drawing Room (Fig. 6) has been repainted by David Mlinaric to display three Canaletto capricci commissioned for Norfolk House and not hitherto seen by visitors (Fig. 5). Another important picture brought back from Park House and shown to the public for the first time is a swagger Reynolds of the Prince Regent with a black page, acquired through Duke Henry's first wife, Lady Flora Abney-Hastings, the grand-daughter of Lord Moira, to whom George IV gave it. This has been cleaned and placed in the Big Drawing Room alongside the family full-lengths by Mytens, Lely, Reynolds and Gainsborough to form a group of English portraits not matched in any other room in England.


The revival of the principal rooms was completed in spring 2006 with the redecoration of the ante-library. Dating from 1800, with a good Perpendicular-revival heraldic chimneypiece added by Buckler in 1878, it had been painted white all over, giving it a thin, institutional quality. The ceiling has been oak-grained to bring it into harmony with the other state rooms, and the walls stencilled in the 'Norfolk Pattern' (copied from a Watts fabric) in crimson on a painted stone ground. Here have now been hung three of the portraits by Van Dyck commissioned by the Collector Earl between 1635 and 1639, including that of Elizabeth Stuart, Countess of Arundel, recently purchased from Greystoke Castle, the home of another branch of the Howard family.

It is salutary to think that if Arundel had gone to the National Trust in 1975, it would have been preserved largely in its etiolated post-war state. None of the resurrection of the past 30 years would have been possible, nor would the collection have been reconstituted and displayed in the castle as it is now.

The photographs illustrating this article are by Mark Fiennes and are reproduced by kind permission of His Grace the Duke of Norfolk

(1) R. Alan Brown, Castles from the Air, Cambridge, 1989, p. 39.

(2) Marc Girouard, The Victorian Country House, Oxford, 1971, p. 174.

(3) Arundel Castle MSS. Letter from the Agent to the Duke, 1906, saying how much it all cost.

(4) Arundel Castle MSS, MD21, 22, MD1728, MD2022, MD2664, MD2269, MD2232, Buckler drawings, correspondence and accounts 1875-1900; Clive Wainwright, 'Arundel Castle from 1850', Connoisseur, March 1978, pp. 172-85. The Builder, 8 July 1905,132, The Building News, 1882; pp. 286-87; The Building News, 12 June 1894, p. 68.

(5) John Martin Robinson, The Country House al War, London, 1989, p. 143; Lady Winefride Freeman, Arundel Castle: History, and Guidebook, pamphlet, 1947.

(6) Christie's sale catalogue of decorative furniture to be sold at Arundel Castle, 19 and 20 September 1945.

(7) John Martin Robinson, The Latest Country Houses, London, 1983, pp. 127-31.

(8) Arundel Castle MSS, Seeley & Paget, papers relating to restoration 1976-78.

(9) John Martin Robinson, 'A Shilling for the Ducal Show', Country Life, 23 April 1998, Arundel Castle MSS. Proposals for redecoration by David Mlinaric and Edward Bulmer and others.

(10) David Howarth, Lord Arundel and His Circle, New Haven and London, 1985.

(11) Simon Swynfen Jervis, 'Charles Davis, The 15th Duke of Norfolk, and the Formation of the Collection of Furniture at Arundel Castle', Furniture History, roe XLI, 2005, pp. 231-48.

Arundel Castle is open to the public this year until 27 October. For further information, telephone +44 (0) 1903 882173, or visit

John Martin Robinson is Maltravers Herald of Arms and Librarian to the Duke of Norfolk.
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Author:Robinson, John Martin
Article Type:Cover story
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jun 1, 2006
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