The History Of Eastnor CastleTHE 1ST EARL SOMERS
The family line emanates from two distinguished families, the Cocks and the Somers. The Cocks' family moved to Eastnor at the end of the 16th century. They bought the Manor of Castleditch and over the following 200 years gradually gained further land in the area.
The Cocks' married into the Worcestershire Somers' family, and it was the combination of their estates - including the valuable inheritance left by the Lord Chancellor Somers in the early 18th century and the banking wealth of the Cocks Biddulph Bank (now incorporated into Barclays Bank) - that gave the 1st Earl Somers the financial means to begin the construction of Eastnor in 1810. His cause was also aided by a judicious marriage to the daughter of the eminent and rich Worcestershire historian, Dr Treadway Nash.
At that time, the size and splendour of a country house were the most obvious indications of the standing and fortune of any family, and there can be no doubt that the imposing mass and scale of Eastnor was intended to reflect the personality and stature of its creator and pitch the family into the ruling classes for future generations.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE CASTLE
The style proposed by the architect, the young Robert Smirke, was Norman Revival. From a distance, Eastnor was intended to create the impression of a medieval fortress guarding the Welsh Borders. The symmetry of the design emphasised authority, distinguishing it from the rambling, picturesque mansions of a slightly earlier period at Downton and Lowther, the latter also designed by Smirke.
By any standards, the Castle is a massive edifice and the construction team and materials used were on a similar scale. A workforce of 250 men working day and night were employed over the first six years of construction, and in the first eighteen months 4,000 tons of building stone, 16,000 tons of mortar and 600 tons of wood were used. The stone came from sandstone quarries in the Forest of Dean by canal to Ledbury, and from there by mule. Estate timber was used as much as possible, but the major roof trusses and beams are cast iron, a material used to save timber in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars when it was in great demand for shipbuilding. By the time the building work was finished in 1820, the Castle had cost £85,923 13s 11½d - about £8.5 million in today's terms.
THE INTERIOR OF THE CASTLE
The cost of the construction of the fabric of the Castle was so great that the decoration of the interior inevitably held a lower priority. When the family moved into the west wing after 1813, many parts of the Castle must have been little more than a shell. Smirke's designs for the interior were simple and in keeping with the medieval style of the Castle. Details of his work remain in the Red Hall, Dining Room and Staircase Hall. Surviving furniture by Smirke includes the plain Gothic benches and chairs in the Entrance and Great Hall.
Gradually over the course of the 19th century, the Castle was made more habitable. In 1849, the 2nd Earl, commissioned Pugin, who had completed the remodelling of the House of Lords just two years earlier, to decorate the Drawing Room in High Gothic revival style.
The celebration of the ancient lineage of the family over the chimney-piece evoked the medieval culture of religious feudalism from which Pugin took his inspiration. Now fully restored, this room remains' Pugin's most complete interior outside the House of Parliament. The 3rd Earl undertook more lavish embellishments in the 1860's and 1870's, notably in the Long Library and the State Bedroom.