Behind the scenes of Sudeley Castle during the winter months
PUBLISHED: 14:40 18 March 2019 | UPDATED: 14:40 18 March 2019
As stately Sudeley prepares to reopen its doors, we take a peek behind them to see how this sleeping beauty is cared for during the winter months
Spring is in the air and Sudeley Castle is ready to re-open its doors to the public after the two-month closed season. However, it’s been anything but quiet behind the scenes for this beautiful sleeping giant, as a dedicated team of conservationists has given dozens of hours of their time to prepare the castle for its reawakening.
Sudeley Castle is brimming with rich history, and with that comes hundreds of treasures, jewels, paintings, books, ornaments and curios that tell its fascinating one thousand year story. Spring cleaning this magnificent residence is no small feat – from polishing tiny buttons and delicate jewellery, to cleaning Henry VIII’s magnificent costume and the elaborate gowns of his six wives.
“We start preparing for the spring opening the moment we shut the doors for winter,” explains general manager Wendy Walton. “Each year we give the whole castle a thorough clean, methodically working our way through each and every item in the entire exhibition, whether that be polishing armour, dusting paintings, cleaning pottery and antiques or re-hanging delicate items from our textile collection.
“It’s a huge undertaking but one that is incredibly important, not only to ensure we are looking our best when we re-open, but also because we are responsible for protecting and preserving the hundreds of artefacts in our care.”
Each winter the castle focuses its efforts on a different conservation project, in addition to the general deep clean. In previous years, a blue silk gown from the 19th century, belonging to Sudeley’s former chatelaine Emma Dent, has been sent to a team of specialist textile restorers for repair, cleaning and preservation.
The castle’s exquisite Sheldon tapestry, reputed to have been woven in the 1650s, has also previously been sent away to a specialist team for conservation and repair works.
This year the castle library is the focus of their efforts. Refreshing this room alone is a mammoth undertaking. Home to more than one thousand delicate old books, it takes four volunteers three full days to remove every single book from the shelves, air each individual page and gently dust the covers and shelves.
“Some of the books in here are almost 400 years old,” explains Kim Gibbon, head of visitor services at the castle. “We’re lucky enough to have some extremely rare editions, but many are also very fragile, so we have to take great care to look after them.”
Some of the most precious books in the castle collection, such as Katherine Parr’s personal prayer book, are removed from their stands in display cabinets and laid flat to rest the spines. Similarly, the Bohun Book of Hours, which consist of several works from varying dates bound together for Henry VIII, is also of huge historical significance and requires annual TLC. “It pre-dates the Black Death and is one of less than 10 of its kind in the world,” Kim explains. “To have a book this rare in our collection is remarkable and so we take great care to ensure it is properly looked after.”
Kim has worked at the castle for eight years and has overseen many such projects in that time. “Everything here is part of Sudeley’s rich and varied heritage,” she says. “Many of the items we have here are totally unique and we are simply the current custodians of them. We have a duty to look after our collection to ensure it stands the test of time and continues to look its best for many years to come, for future generations to enjoy.”
Located just outside Winchcombe, Sudeley Castle and gardens is the only private castle in England to have a queen buried within the grounds. The last of Henry VIII’s six wives, Katherine Parr, lived and died in the castle, where she still remains today, entombed in a beautifully-restored 15th-century church within the award-winning gardens.
Today the castle is home to Elizabeth, Lady Ashcombe, who this year celebrates 50 years of living at Sudeley after moving there in 1969 with her husband Mark Dent-Brocklehurst.
The castle has changed a great deal over that time, after first opening its doors to visitors in 1970. Since then it has welcomed hundreds of thousands of visitors and hosted hundreds of beautiful weddings, including that of Elizabeth Hurley and Arun Nayar in 2007 and, more recently, actress Felicity Jones’ marriage to Charles Guard’s last year.
2018 was also the year that the castle unveiled its huge new fun fort and a fascinating exhibition showcasing treasures from its one thousand year history. The exhibition continues this year and includes a remarkable collection of priceless objects and curiosities, including royal love letters, a Victorian pedometer and a long-lost Roman stone God. Numerous items of historic significance are also on display, such as a lock of Katherine Parr’s hair, her prayer book and an intricate lace christening canopy believed to have been worked on by Anne Boleyn for the christening of her daughter, Elizabeth I.
This year Sudeley Castle has once again lined up an impressive calendar of events and entertainment, promising to be its busiest and most ambitious season to date. From jousting knights and circus performances, to Easter egg hunts, music festivals and an archaeological dig, there is plenty to see and do at Sudeley Castle this year.
What’s in store for Sudeley Castle this year...
Mother’s Day Weekend at Sudeley Castle
March 30 & 31
Treat Mum like a Queen, with Mother’s Day offers in the restaurant and products in the shop, you can be sure of a special day out.
Giant Easter Egg Trail at Sudeley Castle
Get into the spirit of spring and join the Castle’s egg-citing Easter egg trail.
Spring Grand Sale
An exclusive homes and gardens sale, including indoor and outdoor furniture, decorative accessories, gifts, fashion items and more.
Sudeley Castle Joust Weekend
May 11 & 12
The castle’s epic annual joust tournament returns for the May Bank Holiday weekend. With two dramatic shows a day, be prepared for spectacular action, stunts, falls, fights and galloping horses. knightsroyal.co.uk/shows
Giffords Circus at Sudeley
Much loved Gifford’s Circus returns to Sudeley as they make their annual tour of the Cotswolds. With their magically chaotic family-friendly show, suitable for all ages to enjoy, be sure to book tickets early at giffordscircus.com.
Tudor Garden Archaeological Dig
May 21 – June 2
Archaeology group DigVentures will continue to unearth a long lost Tudor garden during a two-week public dig at Sudeley Castle. What other secrets of Sudeley will they discover? Buy tickets for the amazing opportunity to take part in the dig itself at digventures.com.
The Party at the Castle
A series of summer evening concerts are set to take place in the beautiful grounds of Sudeley Castle. Headline acts will include stage musicals legend Alfie Boe, 90’s songstresses All Saints, Pop Idol winner, Will Young, DJ Sara Cox and comedy double act, Dick and Dom. Book tickets here.
Father’s Day Weekend at Sudeley Castle
June 15 & 16
Treat Dad like a King with a visit to Sudeley. With Father’s Day offers in the restaurant and products in the shop, you can be sure of a special day out.
Fantasy Forest Festival
July 20 & 21
Join a host of costumed characters for a weekend of music, fantasy, entertainment and wonder, which promises to be like ‘dreaming with your eyes open’. Find out more at fantasyforest.co.uk.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream Outdoor Theatre
A new, open-air theatre experience at Sudeley Castle as The Lord Chamberlain’s Men perform Shakespeare’s enchanting comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream within the atmospheric castle grounds and ruins. Find out more at tlcm.co.uk/.
Classic Car Rally
Classic car owners and enthusiasts are in for a treat as Sudeley Castle hosts its annual classic car rally against the spectacular backdrop of the castle and gardens. A host of vintage vehicles will be on display throughout the day.
For more information, and to plan your visit to Sudeley Castle, visit sudeleycastle.co.uk.