Tuesday 9 November 2010

Recycling on a Grand Scale

'The times are too sensitive; just blog about Gardens and Stately Homes'. I always listen to PEVs, so in obedience here is just such a piece: about Highcliffe Castle. I have mentioned it before in a blog, but it is worth revisiting.

After the French Revolution, some great churches (like Cluny) were simply blown up in order to cart away the materials. Equally, some grand houses were just left to rot. This was a great opportunity for English Milords to cash in; and few did it better than Lord Stuart de Rothesay. Starting in 1831 he had many tons of stone shipped over to England from Normandy, chiefly from the Abbey of Jumieges and the Chateau of Les Andelys. His architect, William Donthorne, pieced them together and made a magical palace on the cliffs to the east of Christchurch.

Royals were entertained there, her Ladyship had a parish church built just over the road in the best Anglo-Catholic taste, and for almost a century it was a jewel in the crown of SW Hampshire, rivalling Highclere in the north of the county (as seen on TV as "Donwton Abbey"). The interiors too were reputedly of great splendour, with plasterwork and boiseries, and an amazing window for the entrance hall (taken from a church in Rouen). That hall was dominated by a grand stone staircase.

By the end of the second World War, even the Rothesays could not afford the upkeep. Theirs was a branch of the family which had rebuilt Cardiff Castle, created the folly of Castel Coch, and had as their principal residence Rothesay Castle on the Isle of Bute. Coal and Slate had kept them wealthy, but death duties and the war reduced their state.

In 1949 the contents of Highcliffe were sold, and the house itself became first a children's home, and then a seminary for Claretines. These religious clearly needed to keep their aspirants busy, for they demolished the stone staircase to rebuild it as a path down the cliffs to the sea. The hall thus emptied became their chapel. They did not stay long, the house fell into decay, there were fires which destroyed most of the interiors and eventually, when it was almost too late, Dorset County Council purchased the house and began to restore it (for the County Boundary had shifted, and Highcliffe was no longer in Hants).

The Needles from the Garden Front

Now it is mostly used for exhibitions and 'civil ceremonies' (aka pagan weddings). The great window has survived, though it is set above the main entrance which faces north, so the spectacular fifteenth century glass is never seen with the sun shining through it. Curious, that parts of a once-great Abbey should have come to this. It is still worth a visit - worth a detour, even.

I am attaching a few pictures - the one above is the stone frieze over the garden entrance. Perhaps another blogger from Oxford will render it into an elegant Georgian couplet. I think it's something about how pleasant it is to stand here on dry land and watch as a gale batters shipping onto the Needles .. well, not quite that, but certainly there's a bit of schadenfeude about it. Perhaps it will be a motto for those of us who escape into the Ordinariate while watching the struggles of remaining anglo-catholics from afar. I think not, though; for in reality we shall still sympathise with them, and pray for them, and hope they will not leave it too long before recognising that alia jacta est - or, as someone once said, the game is up.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your recent comments on the catholic gossip blog!

    In domino
    Jason Belch