Wessex Attractions: Berkeley Castle

Berkeley Castle was built shortly after the Norman invasion by William FitzOsbern, the Bastard's guardian and counsellor; who fought alongside him at Hastings, and was subsequently made the 3rd Earl of Wessex, the only Norman to hold the title (unless the present incumbent counts). After his death in 1071, the original motte-and-bailey castle passed to one Roger de Berkeley, and subsequently to his son Roger de Berkeley and grandson Roger de Berkeley (the Normans apparently didn't quite understand how names work).

The present castle was constructed by Robert Fitzharding in 1153, 26 years after Edward II famously died when someone inserted a red-hot poker into his plop-socket (according to Holinshed, though his account of the murder has been disputed). In the 14th century, Dickie Pearce, the last court jester in England, died after falling from the Minstrel's Gallery, thus eliciting the biggest laugh of his career.

The castle was captured by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. In the 18th century, the 4th Earl of Berkeley planted a pine tree supposedly grown from a cutting taken at the Battle of Colluden.

More recently, Berkeley Castle has been used as a filming location in many historical and period dramas, such as The Other Boleyn Girl, Wolf Hall and Father Brown. It appeared in an episode of Who Do You Think You Are? when Courtney Cox traced her ancestry back to the aforementioned Edward II. It has given its name to two Royal Navy warships, and a Castle class steam locomotive owned by the GWR (and subsequently British Rail).

Today, the castle is a popular tourist attraction, open to the public between May and October and playing host to many events such as recitals of early English music, and Tudor-era re-enactments. The gardens feature many scented roses, a lily pond, and a butterfly house with 42 exotic species flying freely. Opening hours are 11am-5pm (10.30am for the gardens). Tickets are available online. The postcode, for satnav purposes is GL13 9PJ.

Wessex Attractions: Castle Combe

Castle Combe is primarily known as a motorsports venue, but the Cotswold village from which the racetrack takes its name has repeatedly been voted one of the most picturesque in England.

The racetrack has been Wessex's premier venue for motor racing for 65 years. The circuit is 1.85 miles long.

The village is regularly used as a location for film and TV, most recently in Steven Spielberg's War Horse. The church of St Andrew dates back to the 13th century and the Market Cross (currently undergoing restoration at the time of writing) from the 14th.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is SN14 7NG.

Wessex Attractions: Winchester Military Quarter

Winchester is home to a number of regimental museums, six to be precise, which have now banded together under the label of Winchester's Military Quarter. A single ticket costing £11 gains you access to the following:

  • Horse Power: The Museum of the King's Royal Hussars
  • The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum
  • The Gurkha Museum
  • The Rifles Collection
  • The Museum of the Adjutant General's Corps
  • The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum

Horse Power tells the story of three cavalry regiments: The 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own), the 11th Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own), and their successor regiment The Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own). It features uniforms, audio-visual displays, and a diorama of the aftermath of the Battle of Balaclava (1854).

The Royal Green Jackets (Rifles) Museum features the uniform worn by Andy McNab, a touch screen display giving information on the regiment's 59 Victoria Cross recipients and a diorama of the Battle of Waterloo (1815).

The Gurkha Museum allows visitors to explore not only the history of the Gurkha regiment, but also the culture of Nepal.

The Rifles Collection is of particular interest to Society members, as the four regiments which merged to form The Rifles in 2007 covered the whole of Wessex, as well as some neighbouring counties. We had hoped at the time that the new regiment would feature the word Wessex in its name, but it was not to be.

The Museum of the Adjutant General's Corps is dedicated to the internal administration of the army, as well as featuring a display on the history of women in the army.

The Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum naturally has more of a focus on local history than the others. The "Hampshire Tigers" are the county regiment for Hampshire (in its pre-1974 boundaries) and the Isle of Wight.

The museums are all located close to each other at Peninsula Barracks, Romsey Road, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 8TS . The site also features a cafe called Copper Joe's serving light lunches from 10am to 4pm.

Wessex Attractions: Frogmore House

Frogmore House is a country house in Berkshire owned by the Crown Estates. It was built during the reign of Charles II by one Hugh May. A story that May asked the king "Your Majesty, may I build a house in the grounds of WIndsor Castle?" and he replied "Yes, Hugh May" remains unconfirmed, probably because I just made it up.

It became a royal residence in 1692, when it was bought by Mad King George's wife, Queen Charlotte. The main thing to know about Queen Charlotte is that she was really, really into botany. This is reflected not only in the magnificent gardens, but in the decor of the house. To call it "floral-patterned" would be a massive understatement. The wallpaper alone would give a person hay fever.

The gardens are home to over 4000 trees and shrubs, including tulip trees and redwoods. There is an 18th century summerhouse designed to look like a gothic ruin, and a teahouse made for Queen Victoria.

Frogmore House is home to part of the Royal Collection. Again, many of the works have a botanical theme, including artificial flower arrangements, and paintings by botanical artist Mary Moser.

Frogmore House is open to the public only in August. Bookings must be made in advance, and the minimum party size is 15. Details can be found here.

The postcode for satnav purposes is SL4 2JG

Wessex Attractions: Fyne Court

Fyne Court is a National Trust owned garden set among the ruins of a burnt-out Georgian house rumoured to be the original Castle Frankenstein!

Before I explain what I mean by that, a little overview of the garden as it is today. Set in the Quantock Hills, Fyne Court covers 65 acres. It provides a popular venue for orienteering, and three walking trails. one of which forms a part of King Alfred's Way. Species that can be found here include red deer. skylark, and Dartford warbler.

The house formerly belonged to Andrew Crosse (1784-1855), a pioneer in the field of electricity. Sir Humphry Davy visited Fyne Court in 1827, and the two of them were among the first to create voltaic piles. a type of primitive battery, Cross later experimented with separating copper from its ores using electricity. During one experiment, he noticed a number of mites, which he believed had been hatched from eggs laid in the ores. He was accused of blasphemy, usurping the role of God by "creating" the insects (which he never claimed to have done). A popular legend claims that this was the inspiration for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. It's a nice story, but unfortunately, the experiments took place some 20 years after Frankenstein's publication, so it could not possibly be true.

Fyne Court was burned down in 1894, not by an angry mob of villagers carrying flaming torches, but by an ordinary kitchen fire. Parts of the structure still remain, and the National Trust has tried to recreate the layout of the house, for example by placing doors in the same position as they would have been when the house was still there.

The postcode, for satnav purposes, is TA5 2EQ.