Herstmonceux Castle is a magnificent sight as you enter the castle grounds via the long drive and see her standing tall in the centre of the moat. Built from 1441 onwards, the castle is one of the oldest significant brick buildings still standing in England. The castle and its parks and gardens are also Grade II* listed.
What’s in a name?
Herstmonceux is a curious name. A settlement at Herst was recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. By the end of the 12th century, an Idonea de Herst had married Ingelram de Monceux (who was Norman) and the manor “Herst of the Monceux”, or Herstmonceux was born.
A mixed history
By the 1440s, the Monceux family were important people in the court of Henry VI and a suitably grand home was built by the then descendent, Sir Roger Fiennes. It would have been grand indeed and Sir Roger also bought Hever Castle. A century later, however, another descendent was hanged for murder and robbery of the King’s deer, and the Herstmonceux estate was temporarily confiscated by the Crown. Although restored to the Fiennes family later, by the early 18th century, the family had fallen on hard times and were forced to sell Herstmonceux for the sum of £38,215. The castle was bought by a lawyer but sadly by 1740 the castle began to fall into ruin and the inside of the castle was subsequently demolished. It wasn’t until 1912 that Colonel Lowther decided to restore it.
In 1992, a former student of Queen’s University in Canada, Alfred Bader, bought the castle to allow the university to provide an international experience for its students. In 2022, the Bader International Study Centre was renamed Bader College and it hosts undergraduate students studying arts, science, or commerce through the Canadian University Study Abroad Program (CUSAP), as well as graduate students studying Public International Law or International Business Law.
Because of its use as a college, the castle isn’t always open to the public but they do offer occasional tours. Their website hasn’t been updated since Covid so it’s worth contacting them for more information. Provided there are no events on (they host lots of weddings) you can however enter the large central courtyard by crossing the bridge over the moat, and there are entrances front and rear. The walls are clad with wisteria and corridors lead off to your left and right. What an incredible setting for a wedding!
The gardens are open throughout the summer (from February to early November). These include 300 acres of woodland with beautiful themed and formal gardens. The formal gardens are to the rear of the castle and include the walled Elizabethan Garden (with its impressive long border), a sundial and Rose Garden, a Shakespeare Garden, an Apothecary Garden, a Shady Garden, and a Magic Garden. Further afield there is a “folly pond”, an orchard and a wildflower meadow, and a look out for the 300-year-old Sweet Chestnut trees. There’s also a tea room and shop. Dogs on leads are allowed.
The Herstmonceux Observatory Science Centre
Just outside the main gates to the castle is the well-known Herstmonceux observatory. This is an interactive science centre and is also a Grade II* Listed Building. The Royal Observatory was founded by King Charles II in 1675 and an Observatory was built at Greenwich. The Admiralty took over the funding of the Observatory from the Board of Ordnance in 1818. It remained Admiralty funded until 1965 when the Science Research Council (SRC) was formed and brought the funding of all UK astronomy under the same umbrella.
In April 1946 it was announced that the Observatory would be moving to Herstmonceux and the name was changed to The Royal Greenwich Observatory Herstmonceux. The transfer began in 1947, and by 1958 the Royal Greenwich Observatory was fully up and running at Herstmonceux. The Royal Greenwich Observatory remained at the site until 1988 when it relocated to Cambridge.
Since 1995, the Observatory Science Centre has been part of Science Projects Ltd (a company with charitable status dedicated to the promotion of science for everyone). The Centre is an interactive science centre and home to six historical telescopes which were left behind when the Royal Greenwich Observatory finally closed its doors at Herstmonceux. At least 3 of the telescopes are operational and can be used by visitors. They also have a year-round programme of science-based projects and activities. It’s a great one for the kids or grand kids!
Herstmonceux Castle sits on the edge of the Pevensey Levels, not far from the 1066 Country Walk, Pevensey Castle and Battle. It’s well worth a quick detour and if you’re in the area, you might also want to pop into Henners Vineyard nearby for a glass of Sussex wine and pre-ordered cheese and charcuterie boards.
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