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South East Hever Castle, Kent - the childhood home of Anne Boleyn

Hever Castle is on the tick list of many visitors to England as it was the childhood home of Anne Boleyn and where she was wooed by Henry VIII. As a bonus, for those wanting to stay in a castle, there is also a range of accommodation to stay in.

It is everyone’s dream of as perfect medieval castle with a moat.


There has been a castle here since 1270 but the original castle would have been a wooden structure with a gatehouse and walled bailey. The present building dates from the C14th and was extended in the C15th when it belonged to the Bullen (Boleyn) family, one of the most powerful families in England. They added wings to the original stone gatehouse forming a courtyard and turned the stark stone castle into a comfortable family home.

Hever has its place in the history books as the childhood home of Anne Boleyn who was courted here by Henry VIII. A few years after her execution, it was given to Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. After her death it passed through a series of different families, Waldegraves, Humphreys and the Meade Waldos, who all made alterations. In the C19th part of the north east corner of the castle collapsed and it gradually fell into decline.

The castle was bought in 1903 by the wealthy American, William Waldorf Astor, later Lord Astor, who began a massive restoration project of the castle and grounds. Traditional techniques were used and he created his dream of what a Tudor castle may have looked like, but with modern plumbing, electricity and central heating. He entertained lavishly and the Tudor Village, often referred to as the Astor Wing, was built behind the castle to house his many guests. This was reached by a covered bridge and was carefully designed so the castle remains the dominant building with a collection of apparently separate cottages and houses, typical of a small village. These were connected by corridors and service areas and provided sumptuous accommodation.




The castle was opened to the public in 1963 to raise money for its upkeep. The castle and estate were bought by Broadlands Properties from the Astor family in 1983. They have continued the improvements of the Astor family. The castle and grounds remain open to the public although it is also run as a conference centre and wedding venue. You can even have bed and breakfast in the Tudor Village.

The castle is entered by a bridge across the moat into the gatehouse, still with its portcullis.



This leads into the central courtyard with its timber frame buildings.


Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside the castle, so I have given links to pictures on the Hever Castle website.

Visitors follow a set route round the inside of the castle which does get very busy. A plan of the first floor can be found here.
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The first room is the INNER or GREAT HALL with its smell of wood smoke deeply embedded into the stonework. This was originally the kitchens but was turned into an impressive entrance hall by Lord Astor. The ceiling feels quite low for the size of the room. Walls are panelled and elaborately carved wooden pillars support the even more heavily carved gallery. This apparently was inspired by the choir screen in King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. What works there, doesn’t work here and it felt over the top. Furnishings are C17/18th and there are portraits of Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI as well as Anne and her older sister Mary, hanging on the walls. There is more detail on the video here.

This leads into the very comfortable DRAWING ROOM. This was originally the Tudor larder and dairy but was converted into a drawing room by Lord Astor to entertain his guests. Again the plaster ceiling feels low for the size of the room making it feel a bit claustrophobic. Walls are panelled with oak inlaid with bog oak and holly with designs of flowers and birds. Again watch the video for more information.

Next is the DINING HALL which was the Great Hall in the C15th. Originally it would have been a lot higher, but Thomas Bullen, Anne’s father added a Long Gallery above it. The linen fold oak panelling installed by Lord Astor, gives an intimate feel to the room. The massive carved stone fireplace has the Bullen coat of arms. Pewter plates and tankards are displayed above it. The large dining table is still used for private or corporate entertainment. Video here.

The LIBRARY is a very attractive room with specially designed carved bookcases. The books were bound for Lord Astor in calf and Moroccan leather and gilt tooled with his coat of arms. Again it is a comfortable room with deep pink easy chairs. Scattered round the room are examples of Tunbridge Ware, decorative inlaid wooden boxes, which all have pictures of Hever Castle, and were popular tourist souvenirs in the C19th.

The MORNING ROOM was originally a private retiring room in Tudor times and still has the original C17th panelling and stone fireplace with the initials of Henry Waldegrave, one of Hever’s owners. The small china cabinet behind a doorway was originally a priest hole. There are examples of C17th and C18th needlework including a small mirror with an embroidered stumpwork frame with Charles II and Catherine de Braghanza.

The tour continues up a stone spiral staircase to the first floor and ANNE BOLEYN’S BEDROOM which still has its C15th ceiling. The room is sparsely furnished with a bed frame proclaiming Anne Boleyn’s bed. It isn’t, as most of it dates from around 1600 and was probably put together in Victorian times when there was a revival of interest in Anne. On the wall is the classic portrait of Anne with her ‘B’ pendant.

Beyond is the BOOK OF HOURS ROOM with two beautifully illuminated prayer books belonging to Anne. Called Book of Hours’ from the short services to the Virgin Mary which were read at eight fixed hours during the day as well as containing a calendar of church festivals. One of these is believed to have been carried by Anne to he execution and contains the inscription ‘Remember me when you do pray that hope doth lead from day to day. Anne Boleyn.’ In another display case is a coif believed to have been worked by Anne. The walls are panelled and covered with large tapestries.

Next to it is the QUEEN’S CHAMBER with portraits of all Henry’s six wives and a portrait of Henry. Against the wall is a 1600s prie dieu. There are figures of Henry, Anne and her sister Mary. The bed was bought by Lord Astor who believed it was part of that slept in by Anne Boleyn.

An oak panelled corridor with views down into the courtyard leads to the STAIRCASE GALLERY. This was added by Thomas Bullen around 1560 above the entrance hall to give access between the two wings of the house and the Long Gallery above. it is a long room with a plaster ceiling with narrow wooden beams forming a pattern across it. Large windows look down into the courtyard. The long walls are lined with chairs. A display cases contains examples of C17th or C18th baby clothes and C17th embroidery.

Beyond is HENRY VIII’S BEDROOM. It isn’t known if this was the room used by Henry, but it is the largest bedroom in the castle. It was restored by lord Astor as a room fit to be used by a king with oak panelling on the walls and ceiling. The heavily carved tester bed isn’t the bed used by Henry, although it is the right date and splendid enough to be used by a king. Over the fireplace is a wooden carving of Henry.

The WALDEGRAVE ROOM is perhaps the most genuine of the Tudor rooms visited. The Waldegraves owned the castle after the death of Henry VIII. It is a cosy room with wood panelling on the walls and ceiling and a lovely late C15th four poster bed with red velvet hangings. It is furnished with items of a similar date. The Waldegraves were Catholics and a small oratory was built behind the panelling for them to practice their religion in secret. This has a beautifully carved altar with crystal candlesticks and cross. A Jacobite rhyming sword is displayed in a cabinet. This was made in support of Prince Charles Edward
and the 1745 Rebellion. Only five are known to still exist. On the blade is the inscription “With this sword thy cause I will maintain; And for they sake O James breath each vein”.

A wooden staircase leads to the third floor with a display cabinet at the top with examples of early C19th Crown Derby plates and English silver spoons.

The LONG GALLERY was built by Thomas Bullen and extends across the width of the castle. It was used for displaying their wealth, entertaining guests and for taking exercise in bad weather. The simple wood panelling is Elizabethan. The plaster ceiling is a C16th reconstruction for Lord Astor. The windows contain the coats of arms of previous owners of the castle. Along the walls are high backed William and Mary chairs. They may not have been very comfortable but were probably very good for the posture. Portraits include many characters who made their mark on English history including Margaret Beaufort, Edward IV, Elizabeth Woodville and Thomas Cranmer.
Video here.

A short flight of stairs leads into what is described as the ASTOR SUITE. Rooms contain pictures and memorabilia of the family. There is Lord Astor’s desk with an old fashioned telephone as well as his paint box.

The three small BEDROOMS were created for the daughters of the house in 1968 after severe flooding damaged the ground floor and much of the Tudor Village. These are quite small rooms and simply furnished compared with the rest of the house.

The tour returns to the ground floor of the GATEHOUSE down a narrow stone spiral staircase. This is the oldest part of the castle and was the family living area in the C13th complete with garderobe emptying into the moat. It contains the portcullis weights and examples of swords and armour. There is also a gruesome display of instruments of execution and torture. These include body presses, thigh scourges, leg manacles, and beheading swords. There is a C19th man trap as well as neck traps.

There is a lot to see inside the castle and it takes a minimum of an hour to go round. It is very much Lord Astor’s interpretation of what a Tudor castle may have looked like and I found this didn’t work for me in the the Great Hall. I felt the Tudor and Edwardian styles were fighting each other. Despite their name, the Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII rooms contain nothing directly linked to either. It does get very busy and this can detract from the enjoyment. In many ways this is a place to be enjoyed from the outside.


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Hever Castle gardens

Hever Castle is surrounded by extensive gardens and a lake
There is an interactive map here.

When William Waldorf Astor bought Hever castle, there was only a modest garden around the castle. Not only did he completely restore the castle and build the Tudor village, he also extended and landscaped the surrounding area and turned an area of marshland into a lake. This was a massive undertaking, all done by hand with a workforce of 800 men. It took two years just to dig out the lake. This can be enjoyed by rowing boat, canoes or pedalos or even trip on the ‘African Queen’ steamboat.

If time allows, it is worth walking around the LAKE, beginning at the wonderful water maze. As well as opportunity to observe wildlife, there is a reconstructed Japanese Teahouse to sit and enjoy views across the lake.


The walk ends at the boathouse and loggia, where an Italianate Piazza over looks the lake. The Nymph Fountain was inspired by the Trevi Fountain in Rome.


There are many other water features around the garden, including the Two Sisters pool and the Half Moon pond with its fountain fed from a cascade.


As well as the moat around the house, there is a second OUTER MOAT, with its water lilies.



The gardens are designed to complement the Tudor origins of the castle with a TOPIARY WALK leading up to the main entrance. This is great fun with the trees cut into a variety of shapes, including a pig.



The TUDOR GARDEN is to the east of the castle next to the maze and is a series of small interconnected gardens with neatly trimmed yew hedges, including a herb garden and knot garden.




The famous Tudor Chess set is here, formed from golden yew. In front of the chess man is an astronomical instrument dating from 1710 which was used to measure the altitude of the sun, moon and stars and was used to tell the time and work out latitude.




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Hever Castle Gardens cont...

A bit further from the house and beyond the second moat is the even more impressive ITALIAN GARDEN designed to display Lord Astor’s collection of Italian sculpture. This ends in the impressive Loggia which overlooks the lake.


The garden is surrounded by tall stone walls. Carefully trimmed hedges or stone arches draw the eye to pieces of statuary.



On the north wall, there are small bays breaking up the long border. Facing south these get the full benefit of the sun and many half hardy plants thrive here.



Along the south wall is the pergola walk with shady grottos where ferns and other shade and moisture loving plants thrive.


In the middle of the Italian Garden, surrounded by tall hedges, is the SUNKEN GARDEN with its lily pond.


The BLUE GARDEN is a small secret garden tucked away behind the Italian Garden and reached by a small flight of steps. As well as colourful borders, this also includes a rock garden.



Near it is the ROSE GARDEN planted with over 4000 roses. This is at its best from June until September, with. bushes planted to form solid blocks of colour.


This is very much a garden for all seasons and is planted to provide colour and interest throughout the year from displays of spring bulbs through rhododendrons, azaleas, roses and dahlias to autumn colours.



The gardens are always busy. Once you get further away from the house and the formal gardens, you begin to lose the crowds.


Allow plenty of time to enjoy the gardens - several hours is needed to see all of them, especially if you visit the two mazes and do the walk around the lake.


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St Peter’s Church

Although St Peter’s Church stands right outside the main entrance to Hever Castle, many people ignore it in their rush to visit the castle and gardens. This is a shame as it is a very attractive C14th church where Anne Boleyn worshipped and it also contains the tombs of Anne’s father, Thomas Bullen, and her baby brother.

There has been a church here since Norman times although nothing remains from this church, apart from some reused stones in the walls. The north aisle was rebuilt first around 1292, followed by the rest of the church in the mid C14th. The Bullen Chapel was added in 1465, when the Bullen family took over Hever Castle. The church was restored in the late C19th when the porch was added, chancel roof replaced and new pews and font added.

Surrounded by its churchyard, St Peter’s has a square tower at the west end with a witch’s hat style or ‘broach’ spire.



Entry is through the south porch



Inside it is a very pleasant church with plastered walls with exposed stonework round the windows and arches. The north aisle was the first part of the church to be built and this is reflected in the round Norman style pillars of the north arcade. The arches above are pointed, reflecting the later Early English style.


The roof timbers are the original, although the oak boarding over the chancel was replaced in a C19th restoration.


The lovely stained glass window of the Good Shepherd above the altar, dates from 1898.


The Rood screen separating the nave from the chancel was probably removed during the Reformation, although the door leading to the stairs to the rood loft still survives. Beside it is a small squint. On the wall above is the opening which would have given access to the rood loft. Near this the remains of an inscription which was uncovered during the late C19th. Not easy to read, the third line is “man shall not live by bread alone”.


The font at the back of the church is late C19th.


The pulpit with its carved wooden panels and sound board is Jacobean.




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St Peter's Church cont...

Off the side of the chancel is the Bullen Chapel with its Tudor fireplace and Tudor chest altar. At the back is another strong box.




The stained glass window is in memory of Gavin, Second Baron of Hever, 1986.


Between the chapel and the chancel is the the massive tomb slab of Thomas Bullen who died in 1538. On the top is Thomas in his full robes and insignia as a Knight of the Garter, with the badge on his left breast and the garter round his left knee.



Thomas’s Coat of arms are in the top of a window in the chancel.


In the chancel floor, next to his tomb, is a small brass cross, the memorial to Henry, the infant son of Sir Thomas.


Also in the chancel floor is the lovely brass of Margaret Cheyne, 1419, with two winged angels on either side of her head.


On one of the window ledges in the chancel is a small brass to William Todde, 1585.


The large painting on the south wall of the chancel represents Christ before Caiaphas and was painted by the Victorian artist Reuben Sayers and was given to he church by his daughter.


The painting on the north wall of the nave is c16th and is a painting of the Angel of the Resurrection . The artist is unknown, but it is from the school of Tintoretto.


Most of the stained glass is C19th. On the south wall of the nave is a window commemorating Sir Frederick Bramwell, a distinguished engineer. It has an image of St Dunstan who was a skilful goldsmith.


Opposite on the north wall is the memorial window to William Waldorf Astor, First Viscount Astor, who was responsible for the restoration of Hever Castle.


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