Leeds Castle

With Amberley, Arundel, Bodiam, and Bramber so close, there really has to be a good reason to travel further afield to see another castle. After all, one castle is just like any other, right?

It takes a little while for Leeds Castle to come into view after starting the winding walk along the approach path. The terrain is varied and the driveway long, just like Burghley in Stamford – but Leeds has a great number of beautiful friendly peacocks. Incidentally, Leeds Castle is near Maidstone in Kent, not Leeds in Yorkshire, and was built in 1119 by Robert De Crevecoeur to replace an earlier Saxon manor called Esledes. It became a royal palace for King Edward I at which time many substantial modifications were made. Henry VIII transformed the castle too for his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and his daughter, Elizabeth I, was imprisoned there before her coronation.

Along with Norman foundations, a medieval gatehouse, a Tudor tower, and a 20th century interior, there is also an aviary, a maze and a surprisingly well-built modern grotto. The castle itself sits on two islands in the middle of a man-made moat which was created by diverting the River Len. Black swans – just like those at Churchill’s Chartwell – can be seen all around the estate and were imported from Australia by the castle’s last private owner, Lady Baillie.

Olive Cecilia Paget was born in New York in 1899 and became Lady Baillie in 1931, when she married her third husband, Sir Adrian William Maxwell Baillie, 5th Baronet of Polkemmet. She purchased Leeds Castle in 1926 with her second husband and retained it after their divorce. It was Lady Baillie who employed Stéphane Boudin, the President of Maison Jansen (one of the greatest interior design firms of the 20th century) to create a number of exquisite interior spaces. He first visited as a weekend guest in 1936 and then went on to design a number of rooms using the highest quality materials – such as silk, gold and crocodile skin. He later restored and renovated the White House during the 1960s for the First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy.

Prior to 1974, Lady Baillie ensured that the Leeds Castle Foundation was set up so that the public would be able to enjoy her beautiful home after her death. I for one am extremely grateful as Leeds Castle really is like no other.