Stroll Through History at Hever Castle & Gardens
Mark Bibby Jackson visits Hever Castle & Gardens in Kent and discovers there is much more to the historic building than tales of a lovestruck king and a queen who lost her head.
There is something about the story of Anne Boleyn and her ill-fated marriage to Henry VIII that has survived the ages. This is quite literally the stuff of Hollywood. But what of the place where Anne Boleyn lived. How kindly has time served Hever Castle?
History of Hever Castle & Gardens
Although Hever Castle is best known as the childhood home for Anne Boleyn, although it is believed she was born in Blickling Hall Norfolk, the original building long predates Henry VIII’s second queen.
A country house was built in the 13th century, with the existing gatehouse dating back to 1270. In 1462, Geoffrey Boleyn added a Tudor home within the walls. Some of the original timbers remains. Apparently, Hever Castle also has the oldest working original portcullis in England.
In 1505, the property came into the possession of Thomas Boleyn. Here his daughter Anne was taught, apart from a brief period when she joined the court of Margaret of Austria at Mechelen in 1513. Henry VIII used to stay at neighbouring Bolebroke Castle while courting Anne, although one of the rooms at Hever is made up as Henry’s bedchamber.
After the death of Thomas Boleyn, in 1539, Hever Castle belonged to Henry who bestowed it upon Anne of Cleves, his fourth wife, the following year as part of their divorce settlement. The second queen of Hever fared somewhat better than her predecessor, living here for 17 years.
After that Hever fell into disrepair until it was acquired by the American millionaire William Waldorf Astor in 1903. Nearly all of what you see at Hever Castle now was created by Astor, who used it as a family home, including the Tudor village, or Astor Wing, behind it.
Hever Castle Tour
There is an interesting audio guide to accompany your tour of the castle, which takes you from the inner hall with portraits of both Boleyn sisters and Henry VIII, as well as a watercolour by Winston Churchill, who stayed here. From here you enter the Drawing Room where Astor entertained guests. Filled with Edwardian furniture, this feels very different to the rest of the castle.
Nearby, is The Great Hall with a wonderful tapestry woven in the mid 16th century. Built in 1383, this room demonstrates how Hever Castle has changed with the times, and includes a stone fireplace installed by Astor.
Hever Castle Gardens
However, for me the real beauty of Hever Castle Kent lies outside its confined walls.
Astor also transformed Hever Castle Gardens, creating the Yew Maze, Italian Garden and lake. Even on a busy day in half term when the place is swarming with busy schoolchildren enjoying the unseasonal sunny spring day, the Italian Garden proved a wonderful oasis from the noise. The gardens should be particularly beautiful during April to May when 40,000 tulips will be in full bloom.
From the Italian Garden I continued my walk around the lake. Advertised as being an hour’s walk, in truth it took barely half that time. At times I found myself lost in my own thoughts with only the occasional pedaloo to keep me company.
This is another of the many attractions of Hever Castle & Gardens; despite its space, it is relatively compact. Parking is close to the castle, so there is no lengthy walk, or shuttle bus, to reach the main building as is often the case with historic buildings. The gardens themselves are really quite manageable, with plenty of fun activities for the kids including a Water Maze that even tempted me.
My stroll through history had stimulated my appetite, so we stopped at the Pavilion Café for an excellent and wholesome brunch served by the most flexible and polite staff – they were worth the visit on their own – sat overlooking the lake. It was quite magical.
Hever Castle Tickets
Online tickets for Hever Castle cost £20.80 (Castle & Gardens), Garden only £19.05 (Gardens), and £55 (family of four).
Hever Castle Opening Times
The Gardens open at 10:30am, with the Castle at midday. Closing time depends on season. See the website below for further details.
Hever Castle Hotel
Either stay in the luxury B&B located in the Astor Wing and Anne Boleyn Wing, or at Medley Court holiday cottage, attached to the Astor Wing. To book, click here.
Where is Hever Castle & Gardens?
Hever Castle is located in Hever, Kent, near Edenbridge, some 30 miles south-east of London. The postcode for Hever Castle is TN8 7NG. If arriving by train, Edenbridge Town station is three miles away.
Hever Castle & Gardens
Hever, Edenbridge, Kent TN8 7NG
All images Mark Bibby Jackson.