Memories of Althorp

Posted by: Donna Smith, Contributor on Friday, September 8, 2017 at 7:00:00 am
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I recently relived a myriad of memories that surrounded recent events involving Britain’s Royal Family.

Between the announcement of a new royal baby for Prince William and Princess Catherine, and Prince George’s first day of school, this month also marked a dark day in their history with the 20th anniversary of the untimely passing of Princess Diana.   

These events brought back memories of visiting Althorp, the childhood home of Lady Diana Spencer, Princess of Wales.

A few years ago, I was touring English cottages with a small group and was fortunate to experience a private showing of Althorp and the estate.  To our surprise, we were greeted by the current ninth Earl Spencer, brother of Princess Diana, and invited to tea.  I had a nice conversation with Lord Spencer, as he had returned home only a week before from my hometown in North Carolina where he was endorsing a furniture collection of replicas from Althorp.

Althorp has been home to the Spencer family for over 500 years, going back to the reign of Charles I.  The Spencer’s arrived with their flocks of sheep in this rich grazing land in 1486, and built their home here in 1508. Since then the gently rolling hills, pastures and plantations of oak have been the backdrop to their lives.

The mansion is located about 70 miles from London. It contains 31 bedrooms and many great dining rooms with crystal chandeliers and decorated ceilings. Althorp houses numerous works of art by Rubens, Van Dyck, Reynolds, Gainsborough as well as other rare and extraordinary paintings.

Guests to the estate have included nearly every King and Queen of Britain for the past 400 years, Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev and Nelson Mandela. It has been noted that the Spencer’s once came to the rescue of a distant cousin that had fallen on hard times.  That cousin turned out to be the great-great-great-grandfather of George Washington!

The 15,000-acre estate includes farms, cottages, woodlands and villages.  The island in the center of Althorp’s Oval Lake is the burial site of Princess Diana. Our group had the privilege of walking around the lake and to visit the memorial temple to pay our respects.

The formal gardens were laid out over 350 years ago by the same designer of the gardens of Versailles in France.

I especially remember seeing all the sheep and the rare black fallow deer as we entered the country estate gates and the beauty of this magnificent manor.

I have always been fascinated with the history of Britain and the Kings and Queens past and present. It was an honor to visit the estate at Althorp and learn of its rich British heritage.  

 


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