Sussex has a wonderful selection of castles, but Arundel Castle in West Sussex is surely the jewel in the crown?
A potted history and a flying tour
The foundations of the original castle date back to 1067 when Roger de Montgomery was declared the first Earl of Arundel. He was a cousin of William the Conqueror and was awarded land in the Rape of Arundel as a reward for his loyalty. Naturally, the castle was built in a strategic position with views of the river and sea. The oldest remaining feature is the Motte, an artificial mound over a dry moat, constructed in 1068. A few years later the Keep was built.
Since then, Arundel Castle has enjoyed many twists and turns of fate and fortune. Between 1101 and 1102, it was besieged by Henry I’s men but since 1138, ownership has descended directly from the d’Albinis to the Fitzalans in the 13th century and then from the Fitzalans to the Howards in the 16th century. Meaning it has been the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk for over 850 years.
Look out for the small sign shortly after you enter the main body of the castles that sends you to the Keep. You can climb up the Keep and walk around the perimeter as well as the courtyard below. You’ll snatch fabulous views of the countryside beyond as well as the smarter newer part of the castle. There are various other things to see in this old part of the castle, including a 45 m deep well (which was breached by the Roundheads in 1644), a small chapel, various reconstructed domestic scenes, some weapons, a drawbridge mechanism, and a model of a battlefield. If you love old castles, you’ll love this bit.
War and peace at Arundel
In 1643, during the Civil War, the castle was besieged again and badly damaged. At the time, little attempt was made to repair it. But by 1787, the 11th Duke of Norfolk had begun restoration work and improvements. The folly in the extended grounds was built at this time too. In about 1846, the 13th Duke began a series of further improvements in readiness for a visit by Queen Victoria and he continued the impressive restoration from 1875 to 1905.
Back in this newer, reconstructed part of the castle, there is so much to see! Once you’ve passed an impressive array of stuffed beasts and climbed a few stairs, you find yourself in the Armoury. It’s a recreation of a Victorian armoury and the collection here is considered one of the finest of its kind. It’s very striking to look at and has arrowheads, rifles, suits of armour, crossbows, and some beautiful furniture with exquisite ivory marquetry.
The armoury leads to a large private chapel built in the Gothic style between 1890 and 1903. This is not the same as the Fitzalan Chapel that you’ll find in the grounds or St Nicholas Church which you’ll find in the town. But you will want to spend a few moments here admiring the stained glass windows, the stonework and the ceiling. If you like Lancing Chapel, you’ll like this.
The Baron’s Hall and Dining Room
A personal favourite room, the Baron’s Hall is 40 m long and 15 m high and sits on the site of the original Medieval hall (this hall was built between 1893 and 1898).
It has two huge fireplaces, stained glass windows and a fabulous collection of 16th century furniture.
It’s also bedecked in vast paintings which range in date and splendour. The refectory table is made of elm and has all sorts of curiosities to look out for. You will linger here for quite a while.
Moving on, you arrive in the Dining Room (part of which was originally Henry II’s chapel and added to the castle in about 1180) in time for dinner. The chapel was converted into a dining room in 1795 (you can tell how complex Arundel is) and the table is set for silver service.
A magnificent French clock and neo-classical urns stand to one side and from here you enter a series of semi-private rooms including the Canaletto Room which is a small (by their standards, not mine) drawing room, and the actual Drawing Room.
Forget everything you have seen so far, bookworms of the world will love the library. 38 m long, built in Gothic style and fitted with Honduras mahogany, it contains 10,000 books (some of them of huge importance) with 10,00 more in the archives.
They were in part the collections of the 9th and 10th Dukes and with its vaulted ceiling and endless bookcases, this is a room you’ll never want to leave!
Opulence and splendour
You’ll be met at every step of your visit by magnificent and achingly beautiful furniture, opulence and splendour along with the occasional private touch of the family who still live here and a vast array of paintings. If you’ve paid the £2 extra, you’ll also be allowed into the bedrooms which are sometimes still stayed in before descending to the quarters below and eventually finding your way out into the grounds.
The Collector Earl’s Garden
Don’t leave without a tour of the grounds and in particular the Collector Earl’s Garden which is where you’ll also find the beating heart of the annual Tulip Festival held here.
The garden’s centrepiece, Oberon’s Palace, is a pavilion that features a shellwork grotto and a fountain that supports a golden corona from which water cascades.
Arundel Castle is one of a kind. It’s quite expensive to visit (we paid £25 each / per adult) but it is a castle that has so much to see. If you love Sussex history, great architecture, quirky and glorious collections and places that are surely unique, you’ll love Arundel Castle.
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