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Review: Sudeley Castle and Gardens

Attraction - Historic house or stately home

Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, GL54 5JD, United Kingdom

Pretentious - more exhibition than stately home

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2244 reviews

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  • 2014
  • Husband

50 people found this review helpful

OK, I hadn’t done my homework properly before visiting Sudeley Castle. Knowing it is one of the few castles still lived in by the family, we were expecting to see a range of stately rooms. We were bitterly disappointed as the tour is more of a rather boring museum display and you see few rooms. Rooms you do see, don’t exactly grab the imagination either. Their website is gushing. The reality doesn’t live up to it. Great play is made in their advertising leaflet that David Starkey is their historical advisor and Roddy Llewellyn the garden consultant.

The first castle was built by Ralph Botelier in the C12th from the spoils of his fighting in the Hundred Years War. He was also responsible for St Mary’s Church in the grounds. In 1469, Edward IV confiscated the castle and gave it to his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester. He was responsible for building the now ruined banqueting hall. After Richard’s death, the castle passed to Henry VII. Henry VIII visited with Anne Boleyn. Edward VI granted the castle to Thomas Seymour who had married Katherine Parr. Thomas renovated the castle for her. Sadly she died after childbirth and was buried in St Mary’s Church. Lady Jane Grey was Thomas Seymour’s ward. After the plot to put Jane on the throne, the castle was granted to the Chandos family. 1st Baron Chandos entertained Queen Elizabeth here three times. Charles I found refuge in Sudeley Castle during the Civil War and the Castle was slighted on Cromwell’s orders. It lay in ruins until 1837 when it came into the possession of wealthy Worcester glove-makers, John and William Dent, who began an ambitious restoration programme. This was continued by their nephew, John Coucher Dent, when he inherited the Castle, and his wife, Emma. The castle is now the home of Lady Ashcombe and the Dent-Brocklehursts.

The exhibitions in the castle concentrate very much on the history and personalities.

It is a good five minute walk from the ticket office to the castle. This takes you past the ruins of the tithe barn with a large ornamental pond containing koi carp. The grounds are attractive with grass and specimen trees. Formal gardens with clipped conifer hedges dividing the gardens up into different ‘rooms’. Beyond the church is a lovely secret garden full of flowers. Katherine Parr is buried in the church, but her tomb was destroyed during the Civil War and the present tomb was designed by George Gilbert Scott.

Entrance to the castle is round the back into the original west wing of the castle. On the left is the children’s room with dressing up clothes and the story of Brock the Badger. On the right is a room with some (I hate to say it) rather boring Victorian artefacts and some very worthy information about Victorian Sudeley. It wasn’t exactly a gripping start to the visit.

Having shown our tickets we were directed up stairs to two rooms on the mezzanine level. One has an exhibition of Roman finds, the other an exhibition about World War One. Again, they were worthy but neither really fired the imagination. The stairs continued to the first floor. The first room had a model of the reconstructed facial image of Richard III, on display here for a few weeks before returning to Leicester for permanent display. There was a short video about finding his body. According to the web site, a permanent exhibition about Richard III will remain in the castle for the rest of the year. At the risk of sounding cynical, I’m not quite sure what this is, perhaps it is just the video?

Beyond is a Madame Tussaud’s experience with models of Henry VIII and his six wives which were used in a David Starkey TV programmes about them. This was our first introduction to the David Starkey influence. Subsequent displays were peppered by quotes “David Starkey says….” We found it difficult to join in with the assembled masses oo-ing and aah-ing over them. There is a copy of the C16th oil painting ‘The Tudor Succession ‘ by Lucas de Heere. The original is in the Museum of Wales.

The next rooms contain a display of textiles, which was the most interesting part of the Castle. There was a nice stirrup work and strapwork mirror and a strapwork embroidered box, both dated 1660. There was a C17th embroidered child’s satin Christening robe and a waistcoat reputed to have belonged to Charles I. There were C17/18th embroidered nightcap, socks and gloves. There were displays of stomachers and a lot of lace.

This leads into a room with four poster bed with Aubusson bed hangings and cover made for Marie Antoinette. On the walls are framed samplers.

The next room had a tableau of Katherine Parr, Thomas Seymore and Lady Jane Grey, but with little other information.

Beyond is the screening room with a DVD of David Starkeys’ history of the time. We gave this a miss.

Beyond is what the map shows as the Document room, This has a portrait of Edward Seymore, but no information about the rest of the contents – a criticism of many of the rooms we saw.

Beyond is the sewing room of Emma Dent, with a model of her sitting at a treadle sewing machine. Hanging up is her dressing gown. Hardly riveting stuff.

The tour now takes you down a staircase with a formidable leg iron on the wall. There is a lot of printed information about Elizabeth I on the corridor walls. I wonder how many people stop to read this. Beyond were portraits of the six wives, wearing examples of jewellery of the time. This was poorly made, looked cheap and shoddy and felt amateurish. There was little information to go with the pictures and I wondered if it was a way of filling up space. A doorway led out into a small Elizabethan knot garden – the best bit of the corridor.

At the far end was a small room with a short DVD by David Starkey on the life and loves of Katherine Parr.

Along another corridor is the library and the morning room. Both are newly opened this year, but made little impression on us. We felt both were uninspiring rooms with no information about them and very little about their contents. The stained glass window in the morning room has the red and white Tudor roses and the arms of Henry VIII. In the centre is a large Tudor table with the dispatch box belonging to Charles I which was one of the spoils of the Battle of Naseby and rumoured to have contained his letters to Henrietta Maria.

The wall paper along the corridor has deep grey stylised Royal Coat of Arms with Honi soit qui mal y pense and the Tudor rose. A definite statement of status.

The tour continues up more stairs into Katherine Parr’s outer room with an elaborate plaster ceiling with gilt on a blue background and hanging bosses. The queen’s privy is off and is a glorious reconstruction with red velvet hangings and red velvet padded seat. It was certainly an improvement than the guard robe in the walls.

At the end of a long corridor lined with uninspiring prints and pictures of the Great Exhibition is the Chandos bedroom (but I don’t know which one). This has an impressive four poster bed with a big carved chest at the foot. Display cabinets have a hotch potch of contents, including Oliver Cromwell’s ink well. Off it is a remarkably modern bathroom. Beyond is a second bathroom with a claw foot bath, which leads into the Major’s bedroom which was used by Jack and Mary Dent between the wars. Again an unmemorable room.

By the end of the visit, we felt we had been through a lot of rooms but had come away not much wiser about their contents. There were few room stewards around and those we did see were very quiet and made little attempt to engage with visitors. There was no information about the rooms part from highlighting some of the ‘Treasures of Sudeley’. According to the website there are rare copies of original books written by Katherine Parr, and her love letters to Thomas Seymour. If there are, we missed them – or else they weren’t clearly identified.

Photography is not allowed inside the Castle.

At £14 or £13 for concessions we felt this was very expensive. The gardens are attractive, but they don’t do a reduced ticket just for the grounds. We won’t be going back.

The tea room was uninspiring too.

The car park is by the Visitor Centre and ticket office. It is a 5 minute walk to the house and there is no golf buggy provided. Ask at the ticket office as disabled parking is available by the castle. Manual wheelchairs can be pre-booked from the Visitor Centre.

The Visitor centre, grounds and tea room are accessible. There are no lifts inside the castle and disabled access is restricted to the ground floor only. They do not provide photo books or DVD of exhibits for the rest of the house and the person on the ticket desk looked most surprised when I asked. They do however admit a carer free.

There is more information about access here.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 7 Comment(s)

  • ESW
    over 2 years ago
    I’m sorry that I have caused offence. This was not my intention and I have been somewhat surprised by the tone of some of your comments. The cut and paste was just the second paragraph, the rest of the review was very much my impression of Sudeley Castle when we visited in April 2104 and it may have changed since then. I would be delighted if you wrote your own review.

    I fully appreciate there were no lifts in the C12th and that there are all sorts of planning restrictions for listed properties making it impossible for them to install these. There are people visiting who have mobility issues - I have osteoarthritis in both knees making walking difficult - so information about disabled access is important. I’ve checked out the Disability statement on the Sudeley Castle website and it is now much more comprehensive and helpful than it was three years ago when I wrote the review. As I do try to be accurate, I’ve removed the last paragraph and added the link to their website.
  • niallo
    over 2 years ago
    The review begins with "OK, I hadn’t done my homework properly before visiting Sudeley Castle. Knowing it is one of the few castles still lived in by the family, we were expecting to see a range of stately rooms" and the reviewer claims not to understand when I commented that her review was based wholly on expectation.... really?
    No idea what to expect other than some grandiose image of their own construction not at all based on the available information.
    Then we are ' offered' a mammoth exercise in copy and paste from the website or guide book.

    If any attention had been paid to exhibits , e.g.the 'worthy' WW1, example she would have learned that it was the story of members of the family and quite poignant. I'm guessing she was too busy making notes...And as for the comments about disabled access...all disabilities are mobility based apparently...and back in the 12th century they didn't have lifts.
    I'm appalled at the arrogance of this review, saddened that nearly 2000 other venues have had the misfortune to be reviewed by such a closed mind, disappointed that no one else who has visited Sudeley has felt that there was an issue here....
    I will say it again, it's a nice day out, the village and locality are beautiful, the pubs aren't pretentious and provide good quality food.
    It's a manor house with some ruins, a chapel containing a wife of Henry VIII and excellent gardens.

    ESW need to get over yourself.... you are NOT the next Bill Bryson!
  • ESW
    almost 3 years ago
    I'm sorry my negative review seems to have disappointed you niallo. I'd gone expecting big things of Sudeley Castle and was very disappointed. I'm not quite sure that I understand the comment that my review is 'wholly based on expectation, not fact'. I tried to describe honestly what we found.

    I'd agree that Winchcombe is an attractive village and has a nice church.
  • niallo
    almost 3 years ago
    So the above review is wholly based on expectation not fact,

    I'm happy to say that it is lovely, the tea rooms are really rather good and compare very favourabley with those at National trust and English heretage.

    The village is beautiful.

    Go , see for yourself...... make your own decisions
  • ESW
    over 4 years ago
    I understand that HHA members now pay half price for entry.

    To be honest we did not think it worth visiting, especially if we'd had to pay!
  • Su
    over 4 years ago
    We have yet to visit here, it's been closed when we've gone in wintertime!
  • ESW
    over 5 years ago
    HHA members used to get free admission the the castle, However from 2015, they just get a 50% discount.

    English Heritage members get a 20% discount.