At my birthday meal last Friday, my friend Kate and I decided to take a trip somewhere the Saturday after. Given my recent purchase of a year’s membership to the National Trust, and receiving a voucher allowing me to take one other person for free, we decided to go visit a nearby National Trust property. En route to Aberystwyth last month, I passed by Welshpool and a sign to Powis Castle, having never been before, I suggested going there.
Powis Castle is a medieval fortress and castle built a mile south of Welshpool, with a world-famous garden of formal terraces, statues, yew hedges and other colourful plants and bushes.
Visitors have the option to park in Welshpool and walk through the castle parkland amidst herds of deer, or drive to the formal car park at the side of the castle. We chose the former and after failing to park the car near the Welshpool entrance (resulting in some minor paint work damage to Kate’s car), we wisely decided to opt for a pay and display car park in Welshpool Town Centre.
A Little History
Powis Castle was built in the twelfth century as a medieval fortress for the Welsh princes of Powys. In 1266, Owain ap Gruffydd ap Gwenwynwyn, the last hereditary prince of Powis was granted the title of Baron de la Pole and resided at Powis Castle, after renouncing his royal claim.
In 1587, Powis Castle was sold to Sir Edward Herbert, an English nobleman who modified the castle adding the Long Gallery.
In 1644 During the English Civil War, Powis Castle was captured by Parliamentary troops and not returned to the Herbert family until after the restoration of the monarchy.
William, the 1st Marquess of Powis remodelled the interior of the castle in the 1660s adding the Grand Staircase and the rooms on the first floor such as the State Bedroom. In the 1680’s the Marquess laid out the terraces in the garden before going into exile with King James II in 1688.
Following the exile of the Marquess of Powis with King James II, Powis Castle was granted to the 1st Earl of Rochford in 1696, until the 2nd Marquess of Powis was re-instated and the castle returned to the family in 1722.
In 1784 Lady Henrietta Herbert married Edward Clive, son of Robert Clive (Clive of India), the British officer who is credited with securing India for the British crown. Following the union of the Herbert and Clive estates in 1801, Edward Clive changed his surname to Herbert and used the Clive fortune to pay for long overdue repairs to the castle and improvements to the park and garden.
In the early twentieth century, final alterations were made to the castle by George Charles Herbert, 4th Earl of Powis, who redecorated much of the castle in Jacobean style. His wife Violet made improvements to the gardens, resulting in a tea room being named after her in the gardens. Following the death of George Charles Herbert in 1952, the castle and grounds were bequeathed to the National Trust.
Unfortunately, like Penrhyn Castle, I was unable to take photos inside Powis Castle. In fact, I was severely chastised and told to turn off my phone, whilst responding to a text message in the ballroom. Thankfully the National Trust Images website had a selection of photos of the inside of the castle, some of which are below:-
The Grand Staircase
The Grand Staircase was created between 1674 and 1687, the stairs themselves are too fragile to use nowadays so we were unable to walk up them, having to use the back staircase to access the upper level and the State Rooms. The room features painted walls and ceiling. The ceiling was probably painted in the 1670s by an Italian artist, and depicts the coronation of King Charles II’s Queen, Catherine, a Catholic like Lord Powis. The walls were decorated about thirty years later with two scenes of classical mythology: Vulcan making weapons for Achilles on the left and The Triumph of Neptune on the right.
The Dining Room
The Dining Room is the first of the rooms remodelled in Jacobean style in the early twentieth century. The 4th Earl of Powis asked for the creation of a new formal Dining Room in a style in keeping with an “ancient castle”.
“When you look at furniture like this you realise how much we’ve lost. The fireplace for example, how intricate the wooden carving is, nowadays you’d just go to ikea”.
– Wise words from Kate
The Dining Table wasn’t set up the same degree as Tatton Park and Penrhyn Castle, the table did however have something that has become a pet hate of mine; fake electric candles. It may just be snobbery on my part, but I feel they make it look tacky. It is a fine dining room but again lacks a chandelier, though like Penrhyn Castle the absence of a chandelier is in keeping with the age/style of the building/room.
The Library and the two Drawing Rooms are located on the first floor. After walking up the back staircase from the Dining Room, the first room we entered was the Library. The Library is one of several grand rooms dating back to the 1660s around the Elizabethan Long Gallery. The ceiling was painted in 1705 incorporating portraits of the 2nd Marquess’s daughters, for example Lady Mary Herbert who is depicted as Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom.
In 1841-2 the current bookcases were installed to shelve books the 2nd Earl of Powis bought in France.
I’m a big fan of libraries, determined to have a library and study of my own some day. I thought the Powis Castle library to be a little small despite holding three thousand books. It is nonetheless a very pretty library, Kate in particular was fond of the fake bookcase door.
The Oak Drawing Room
The Oak Drawing Room was the main drawing room to which Sir Edward Herbert and later the 1st Marquess of Powis and guests would retire to after dining in what is now the Blue Drawing Room. The room was remodelled between 1902 and 1904 for the 4th Earl, with Jacobean panelling. The plaster work ceiling was based on the sixteenth century plaster work found in the Long Gallery.
The room is also decorated with the coats of arms of the successive Herbert owners of Powis Castle.
The Blue Drawing Room
The Blue Drawing Room was the original great chamber/saloon and dining room where important guests would have been entertained by the 1st Marquess. The room was later turned into a second drawing room. The panelling was painted blue in the early twentieth century but may date back to the 1660s due to its similarity to the panelling in the State Bedroom. The ceiling again, similar to the Grand Staircase, Library and State Bedroom is painted and depicts peace banishing war from the four continents.
The State Bedroom
The State Bedroom dates back to the 1660’s and has changed very little since. The bed sits in an alcove railed off from the rest of the room by a balustrade echoing the formal etiquette of seventeenth century Versailles. The sofa, chairs and stools were covered with silver leaf and upholstered in 1725 with scarlet silk cut also used to upholster the bed.
Though the room looks quite bright in the photo, with the curtains drawn to protect the already damage tapestries, the room was quite dark. The ceiling like the Grand Staircase, Blue Drawing Room and Library is ornately decorated, the State Bedroom ceiling depicts the Apotheosis of the Virgin and St Joseph.
The Long Gallery
The Long Gallery allows access to the other bedrooms in Powis Castle. It is one of the oldest surviving rooms in the castle, decorated by Edward Herbert in 1587-95.
It is adorned with family portraits and rather bizarrely; sculptures of Julius Caesar and Roman Emperors including Augustus, Tiberius and Caligula.
The ceiling in the Long Gallery, rather than being painted has sixteenth century plaster work. I think I prefer this to biblical paintings, which can sometimes look a little garish, decorative plaster work seems to me, much more subdued and tasteful.
The formal dances of the seventeenth century required a long rectangular room, large enough to hold a sizeable number of people. In 1774 George, the 2nd Earl of Powis commissioned the creation of a new wing of Powis Castle to house a ballroom, designed by Shrewsbury architect T. F. Pritchard. George celebrated his 21st birthday in the new ballroom in 1776.
Rather than a ballroom, Kate and I both agreed that the Ballroom at Powis Castle would make a fine library, on a par with those at Tatton Hall and Penrhyn Castle. I found the Library at Powis Castle to be a little small for my liking.
The door at the end of the Ballroom leads to what is now the Clive Museum, a collection of Indian weapons, ivories, textiles and ornamental silver and gold objects. One item of interest in the Clive Museum is a gold tiger head set with rubies, diamonds and emeralds.
The tiger head came from the throne of Tipu, Sultan of Mysore which was broken up after the British stormed his palace at Seringapatam in 1799.
After perusing the Castle and the Ballroom/Clive Museum, Kate and I had a look in the shop. As you entered there is a table full of a familiar book: “Houses of the National Trust”. I had seen this book in Waterstones at Birmingham several weeks ago, priced at £30, thinking this too expensive, I looked on Amazon which was selling it for £19.50. It has since been on my Amazon Wish List. The shop at Powis Castle was selling the book for £10, I of course, promptly bought the book which now graces my bedside table.
I have decided to split the Powis Castle blog post into two, the second of which will focus on the gardens and the many photos taken by myself.