Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Idol House

An enjoyable trip to Hever Castle and Gardens with Mrs Shedman to see the autumn colours. This childhood home of Anne Boleyn, formerly owned by Sir John Fastolf (the Falstaff of Shakespeare's Henry IV Parts I and II and The Merry Wives of Windsor) isn't a National Trust property as you might expect. It's now owned by a private group Broadland Properties, chaired by John Guthrie, who purchased the Hever estate from the Astor family in 1983.

William Waldorf Astor purchased Hever Castle in 1903. Upon the death of his father in early 1890, Astor inherited a personal fortune that made him the richest man in America. He grew increasingly disenchanted with America announcing that it was ‘no longer a fit place for a gentleman to live’ and in 1891 moved to England with a reputed $100 million. Between 1903 and 1908 Astor set about the restoration of the Castle, construction of the Astor Wing and creation of the lake and gardens. 

The gardens were laid out between 1904 and 1908 by Joseph Cheal & Son. Over 1,000 men worked on the grand design that was the brainchild of William Waldorf Astor. The lake was excavated and constructed by 800 men who were contracted in December 1904 to “carry on the works regularly and continuously by day and night (except on Sundays) when so ordered” and complete the work in two years! The lake was filled in July 1906.

Astor spent 15 years collecting statues, urns, sarcophagi, well-heads and columns when he was American Ambassador to Italy during the late 1800s. 

In 1905 Pickfords Removals brought the collection from Rome by sea to Chatham, and then transported it by road to Hever. A tin shed was temporarily erected to store the antiquities while the Italian Garden was under construction.

Cheal’s men referred to this as Astor’s 'Idol House’ because he went in daily to check his statues of classical gods.

1905-07: Astor’s ‘Idol House’ - the tin shed where the statues and
sculptures were kept while the Italian Garden was under construction.
(Text from the interpretation panels in the Garden Exhibition at Hever and from the Hever Castle website.)

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