Happily Ever After in Belvoir Castle
by Reynalyn Joy Gonzales (2008-02374)
Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there lived a beautiful princess…
Well, not exactly. That faraway land is actually Belvoir Valley in Leicestershire, England, and it’s the duke’s family that lives in it now. Nevertheless, it still looks like a fairytale castle, complete with the vast gardens and breathtaking views and rooms you can get lost in (talking animals not yet confirmed as of writing).
Yes, I’m talking about Belvoir Castle.
Belvoir Castle, a.k.a. Beaver Castle (for French is such a cruel language), has been the ancestral home of England’s Manners family for almost a thousand years. Currently, it is the residence of the 11th Duke of Rutland and his family. It sits on an estate around 15,000 acres and host to various events like the annual Belvoir Fireworks and Belvoir Cricket Club.
The Gothic-style castle was designed by architect James Wyatt, undertaken in 1801 until his death in 1813 (the work was continued by Rev. T. Thornton). The present structure is the fourth to have stood on the site since the Norman times, after the previous three were partially or completely destroyed in the War of the Roses, the Civil War, and a major fire in 1816.
Belvoir Castle, said to have one of the most lavish interiors of the period, boasts of its wide collection of artworks scattered all around the premises. In the Chinese Room, for instance, there is an elaborate swan cradle presented to the Duchess of Rutland by the Prince Regent.
In the ballroom are the coronation robes of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland worn in 1937 and 1953, as well as family portraits. The picture gallery is also full of portraits and miniatures, considering the fact that over 200 paintings—including a Rembrandt—were lost in the 1816 fire.
But the most compelling piece of art in Belvoir, as a visitor once said, is the sculpture of Lord Haddon in the chapel, done by his mother the Duchess after his death in 1894. It was her grief therapy, both to commemorate her son and to get over his death at the same time. How hard it must have been for her.
Other rooms include the Elizabeth Saloon, the Regents Gallery, and the Guard Room, among others. In contrast to these high-society rooms, the Old Kitchen and the Bakery takes you to a trip down memory lane, to the English life in the early 19th century. The School Room and the Nursery, on the other hand, feature games from the Regency times.
Several films and television shows have used Belvoir Castle as a location. All the kitchen scenes of The Haunting (1999 film), which I have watched in TV during high school, were shot here. The site being in Belvoir did not really mean much, architecturally speaking. My theory is that the producers just wanted to shoot in a really wide kitchen, and since the main location, Harlaxton Manor, was actually a college campus, they chose to shoot in Belvoir, which happened to be a really fancy “house” in a neighboring town in England. Problem solved!
Aside from The Haunting, Belvoir Castle was also the location of Little Lord Fauntleroy, The Da Vinci Code (representing Castel Gandolfo), Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), Jack and the Beanstalk: the Real Story (2001, representing the place where the giant bones have been discovered), and The Young Victoria (2007). All of which I have not watched.
Adding to the charm of Belvoir Castle is the fact that it is a Grade I listed building, which means that it has been placed on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, which means that it is a building of exceptional interest. How exceptional? Well, in March 2010, there were 374,000 list entries and only 2.5% of these (that’s 9,350 buildings out of 374,000) were Grade I. Belvoir Castle is one of them. It’s much like being a Heritage Site here in the Philippines, except that England probably has more budget for upkeep of their listed buildings.
According to a July 2011 visitor of Belvoir, the castle needs repairs: the walkway slabs were broken and uneven, and a window in the cellar area was propped up with a stick. So much for being a royal home and a Grade I listed building, huh.
Don’t despair, though, because these minor maintenance problems are overshadowed by the historical events that took place in the castle. Did you know, for instance, that the afternoon tea was invented in Belvoir in the 1840’s? Or that in 1900, the Belvoir head gardener invented the concept of mass spring flower bedding? You didn’t know? Now you do.
All in all, Belvoir Castle is really a modern day fairytale castle. What’s more, it’s open to the public; you can even get married there! It’s not for free though, so let’s all graduate first and have a trip there when we can all afford it.
See ya in Belvoir!