If you’re visiting London and looking for a castle visit to add to your list of sites to see, consider Arundel Castle in West Sussex. The castle and its grounds offer much to savor, including theme gardens, priceless art, and historic relics and architecture.
Arundel itself is a lovely market town with cobbled streets, narrow lanes, and antique shops that make you want to linger for hours. It’s less than two hours’ drive from London below the South Downs. The lovely River Arun meanders through the town, and about 65 acres of protected wetlands run alongside the river.
When approaching Arundel, the castle is hard to miss; it sits majestically on a rise above the town and includes a motte, an artificial mound, that is over 100 feet high from the dry moat. Robert de Montgomery, the first Earl of Arundel, built the Norman keep in 1068.
In 1135, King Henry I willed the castle and its lands to his second wife. After her death, ownership was passed to her husband, William d’Albini II and in the years that followed it passed to many others including Henry II, Richard I, the Aubigny family, the Fitzalan family and the Howards in the 16th century. It has been the seat of the Dukes of Norfolk for 850 years, and the Howards have featured significantly in English history from the Wars of the Roses through the Tudor period.
The 3rd Duke of Norfolk was the uncle of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, each of whom became wives of Henry VIII. The third duke only avoided being executed by Henry VIII because the king died the night before the execution was due to take place. Unfortunately, the 4th Duke of Norfolk was executed by Henry’s daughter, Queen Elizabeth I.
Though Thomas Howard was a cousin and trusted advisor of Elizabeth’s and served as the Queen’s Lieutenant in the North and commander of forces in Scotland, he was executed in 1572 for scheming to marry Mary, Queen of Scots, and supposed participation in the Ridolfi plot to put Mary on the English throne and restore Catholicism to England.
The castle was seriously damaged during the English Civil War (1642-45) when it was besieged first by Royalist forces and later by Cromwell’s Parliamentarian forces. Repairs and restoration were not initiated until over half a century later when the 8th Duke of Norfolk began to carry out some repairs. During the Regency period, Charles Howard, the 11th Duke of Norfolk, and friend of the Prince Regent continued the restoration.
When Queen Victorian and Prince Albert came to visit for three days in 1846, new bedroom and library furniture was specially commissioned for their stay. The final restoration of the castle was completed in 1900 and spearheaded by Henry, the 15th Duke of Norfolk. At the time, it was one of the first English country houses to be fitted with electricity, integral firefighting equipment, service lifts, and central heating.
A highlight of any visit to Arundel Castle is the variety of gardens to explore. From the ornamental Collector Earl’s Garden, to the hot houses filled with exotic flowers, to the delightful beauty of the White Garden and Rose Gardens, the castle’s gardens feature something for everyone. Even if you don’t particularly care for flowers, it’s hard to deny the pleasure of a scented walk in a scenic setting. If you visit in April and May, you’ll encounter about 15,000 tulips in full bloom, a virtual tulip extravaganza.
Arudel is also a great town to simply spend time strolling. Eclectic shops, including plenty of antiques shops, encourage window gazing and browsing. The cobbled streets, many sloping up toward the castle, keep the history of the town constantly in mind.
And there are plenty of places to grab a quick bite or linger over a more indulgent meal, like a cream tea with scones, clotted cream, and jam at the Swanbourne Lodge (www.swanbournelodge.co.uk). It’s a lovely Victorian flintstone building at the gateway of 1000 acre Arundel Park—the perfect place to walk off that cream tea.
When I visited Arundel, we had dinner at The Black Rabbit pub and restaurant, situated right on the River Arun, with gorgeous views of the river and Arundel Castle. It was a cool spring day, and I distinctly recall the delicious, unpretentious fare, two large hounds resting at their owner’s feet after a hike around the castle, and the fireplace warming the pub.
I also recall the view of Arundel Castle as we drove away, as impressive as my first glimpse if it on our approach, and yet more interesting after learning a bit of its history and having explored its beautiful grounds. Be sure to add Arundel to your list for a perfect day trip near London.
To learn more about the castle, visit www.arundelcastle.org, and to plan a visit to Arundel, check out www.arundel.org.uk.
Christy Carlyle is a writer, graphic/web designer, and avid Britophile. She has been lucky enough to live in both England and Ireland and to marry a Scotsman. She writes historical romance and mysteries and blogs about Victorian Britain at Romancing the Victorians.