STUART REED: A grand day out in an Aladdin's cave of interest
Fareham columnist STUART REED talks about how a day out at Berkley Castle changed his perspective on coach trips
A bus trip to an old castle didn’t sound very exciting,
But a luxury coach excursion to Berkeley Castle with Lucketts of Fareham radically changed my view.
Set in acres of fertile countryside near the River Severn between Bristol and Gloucester, the castle was built after the Norman conquest to keep the Welsh out. The same family have lived in it ever since and it’s an Aladdin’s cave of interest.
Over the years, the swashbuckling Berkeleys have done many things: they fought at Culloden, found great wealth in India and the Far East, loved hunting and hired Shakespeare to write A Midsummer Night’s Dream for a wedding.
Somebody bumped off King Edward II in their dungeon, they composed music, had a high-speed railway locomotive, a Hunt class minesweeper and a Californian university named after them.
Lord Berkeley, who sits in the House of Lords today, has many tenant farmers on his estate. He encourages the arts by laying on plays and concerts within the great fortress itself.
Our guide, Harry, pointed out the castle’s many treasures. He’s a volunteer with an arduous job recycling metal during the week but loves to meet people and show them round.
We saw impressive paintings of admirals and their warships, military men and nobles of yesteryear in hunting livery. The priceless collection included a beautiful picture of horses by Stubbs.
There’s wonderful oriental porcelain and a gold embroidered duvet made for Queen Elizabeth I, who stayed there briefly but cheesed off the family by hunting and slaughtering more than a score of red deer in a single day – sounds like something out of Blackadder.
Close by the castle is the house lived in by Dr Edward Jenner, who pioneered vaccination. Vines in his greenhouse are descended from those at Hampton Court planted by Capability Brown.
Also near the castle stands the church of St Mary. Scores of plaques on its inside walls tell of lieutenants in their 20s and older colonels who fell long ago in battles in India and in both world wars.
Outside, the graveyard is packed with headstones and tombs of mayors, justices of the peace, aldermen, coroners and other local bigwigs.
Sadly, few headstones are seen of the thousands of craftsmen and rural factory workers who toiled away over the centuries on scanty wages.
No monuments tell of the hundreds infantrymen who died fighting in long-gone regiments like the Bombay Grenadiers or the South Gloucestershire Militia.
Nor are there memorials to the thousands of lowly folk who farmed the land year in year out. I’m beginning to sound like Jeremy Corbyn but it was a social education and a great day out.