A brief history of mad people

15 Nov

Highcliffe Castle by Dave PapeIf you ever need proof that a great deal of England’s heritage was created by people who were totally bonkers then Highcliffe Castle in Christchurch is well worth a visit.

This glorious old pile started life as a pet project of the Earl of Bute, wherever that is, who thought nothing of building a house precariously close to the ever-eroding clifftops near Bournemouth. He got his comeuppance when he fell to his death attempting to pluck some obscure plant specimen from said clifftop and the estate passed to his son.

The son, probably realising that a) country retreats are rather expensive, even if one is an Earl’s son and b) country retreats balanced on eroding clifftops are pretty fucking treacherous, sold most of the land and kept a bit back on which to build a practical, sensible farmhouse or some such.

Unfortunately his son, the elegantly titled Stuart de Rothesay, inherited the family bonkersness and vowed, at the age of 16, that he would buy back his grandfather’s land. There was obviously a shortage of fellow teens to drink alcopops and smoke roll-ups in the park with that particular summer.

So, buy back the land he did, but not before spending YEARS squirreling away bits of masonry and architecture, for some reason mainly in France. Quite how easy it is to casually make off with a random portcullis is anybody’s guess but that’s essentially what occurred.

He eventually made his triumphant return to the site of Highcliffe Castle as its owner and with a £5k budget from his wife. While she was conveniently away nursing some sick relative he let rip, spending £30k and vomiting his private masonry collection all over the architect’s original plans in the process. Lawrence Llewellyn-Bowen has a lot to answer for.

The wife’s very sensible contribution (presumably once she’d got over the shock of the state of their bank account/family home) was to plant lots of trees in the grounds which stopped the cliffs eroding quite so quickly.

Sadly the de Rothesays didn’t produce any heirs (well, there were two daughters but needless to say they didn’t count) so the house ended up in the hands of some obscure cousin. Two things stick in my mind about the cousin: 1) he was a man and 2) for some reason that completely eludes me he invited the German Kaiser Wilhelm down one day to plant a tree in the grounds.

Future crazies at the castle included Gordon Selfridge, founder of my favourite shop in London, who apparently partied very hard there and now has a pauper’s grave nearby (given the amount of money I have spent in Selfridges over the years I can quite understand how that happened).

These days Highcliffe Castle belongs to the local council. Seriously. You couldn’t make it up. It’s a must see.


3 Responses to “A brief history of mad people”

  1. Ollin November 17, 2010 at 1:57 am #

    That was fascinating. I love history and old buildings. We don’t get that much interesting stuff in the U.S. Most of the buildings around here have only been around for a couple of decades it seems.

    • zskdorset November 17, 2010 at 10:49 am #

      thanks – it was a crazy place! I love the US too though – you’ve got some fantastic modern architecture.

  2. Frau Dietz November 20, 2010 at 10:48 am #

    Brilliant post. Have to say I think the English currently have stiff competition from the Scots though: a couple of years ago, a chap I was mates with at university decided to make the most of the situation when his crumbling, er, ‘family home’ was in need of repair… Kiburn Estate Graffiti Project.

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