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10 ways to celebrate Leeds Castle's 900th birthday

PUBLISHED: 12:10 08 January 2019 | UPDATED: 13:31 09 January 2019

An aerial view of '‘the loveliest castle in the world'’ (photo: Southern News & Pictures (SNAP))

An aerial view of ''the loveliest castle in the world'' (photo: Southern News & Pictures (SNAP))

© Southern News & Pictures Ltd.

A series of special events and activities will run in 2019 to celebrate the 900th anniversary of 'the loveliest castle in the world'

This landmark year will celebrate nine centuries of history and heritage, dating back to 1119 when Robert de Crevecoeur built the original stone Leeds Castle.

Its first mention dates back to the Domesday Book of 1086, but in the 12th century it was transformed into a defensible castle by the de Crevecoeur family.

Since then, the castle has been owned by six medieval queens, King Henry VIII and his queen Catherine of Aragon, as well as being an elegant 20th-century retreat for its last private owner, Lady Baillie.

In 2019 a feast of special events, activities and launches will celebrate nine centuries at Leeds Castle.

Regular events such as the Triathlon, Festival of Flowers, Motors by the Moat and the Medieval Joust will also have a special celebratory theme.

The bedroom of Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon (photo: Matthew Walker)The bedroom of Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon (photo: Matthew Walker)

1. Podcast – January

Leeds Castle is launching a special podcast series to celebrate its 900th anniversary. The podcast will have several 15 to 20-minute episodes and be narrated by historian Robert Bathhurst (Cold Feet, Downtown Abbey), each one uncovering political factors of the time, key figures in history, marriages, children, cultural influences

and fascinating family sagas.

2. Timelines – January

As visitors walk through the beautiful Woodland Gardens on their way to the castle, they will step over new bronze timelines set within the pathway, discovering key facts along the way. For each century there is a fascinating story and a relevance to what people will see once they arrive at the drawbridge which crosses over to Castle Island. See column on next page for further details.

The elegant, redecorated Dining Room (photo: Matthew Walker)The elegant, redecorated Dining Room (photo: Matthew Walker)

3. Playground – Spring

A new playground will be opened in Spring 2019, called Knight’s Stronghold. Wheelchair-accessible, it will take families through the castle’s history in different sections.

4. Adventure Golf

From April you can play your way through a new fun 12-hole Adventure Golf course inspired by Castle Island, Barbican, Black Swan Ferry Boat, the Maze and Grotto. Open to all ages and fully accessible to all.

The annual Classical Concert, takingn place on 13 July, will premier A Tribute to Leeds Castle special 900 AnthemThe annual Classical Concert, takingn place on 13 July, will premier A Tribute to Leeds Castle special 900 Anthem

5. ‘Big 900’ Story Challenge – May

Leeds Castle is inviting children from all over Britain to celebrate its 900th anniversary by entering the Leeds Castle ‘Big 900 Story Writing Challenge.’ Broadcaster and author Clare Balding will be the official judge, along with Chief Executive Sir David Steel and Helen Ellis, Head of Education.

Children from two age groups (five to nine and 10 to 13) are encouraged to write a fictional story of up to 900 words based loosely around the theme of ‘castles’ and/or ‘time travel.’ The two winning stories will be placed inside a time capsule and buried in front of the castle, only to be opened 100 years from now at its millennium. The 10 finalists from each category, and their families, will also be invited to an Awards Day at Leeds Castle on 30 May, when the winners will be announced by Clare Balding.

The two winners will also receive a hamper of prizes, including a stay at Knight’s Glamping, and be invited to take part in the time capsule ceremony on 25 June 2019, attended by HRH Princess Alexandra.

Writers have until 12pm on 5 March 2019 to submit their stories. Further information, terms and conditions: www.leeds-castle.com/education

The Maze consists of 2,400 yew trees and when viewed from the centre, part of its plan mirrors a queen’s crown (photo: Pete Seaward)The Maze consists of 2,400 yew trees and when viewed from the centre, part of its plan mirrors a queen’s crown (photo: Pete Seaward)

6. Royal Day – June

Leeds Castle will hold a ‘royal day’ to celebrate the opening of the Princess Alexandra Gardens. HRH Princess Alexandra will attend the opening; more detailed information to follow.

7. The 900th Carnival of History – Summer

A professionally led outdoor arts event will celebrate Leeds Castle’s 900th anniversary. Bringing together national professional arts companies, community participants, dancers, bands, volunteers and re-enactors, the carnival will be a vibrant, creative procession built around key moments in the castle’s history.

The annual Festival of Flowers taking place on 14-19 September 2019 will have as its theme 'A Floral Party' (photo: Clive Nichols Garden Pictures)The annual Festival of Flowers taking place on 14-19 September 2019 will have as its theme 'A Floral Party' (photo: Clive Nichols Garden Pictures)

8. Time Capsule

A time capsule will be buried this summer on Castle Island, only to be opened 100 years later at the Castle’s millennium. The two winning stories of the Big Story Challenge will be going inside.

9. Kent Crisps

Leeds Castle is the new face of Kent Crisps’ Salt & Vinegar with Biddenden Cider flavour, in celebration of its 900th anniversary. American Airlines, who serve thousands of packets of Kent Crisps a year for its transatlantic flights, will also be taking this new design

The stunning Culpepper Gardens (photo: Matthew Walker)The stunning Culpepper Gardens (photo: Matthew Walker)

10. Motte & Baillie gin

Launching in early 2019, a joint partnership with Copper Rivet Distillery introduces a limited edition ‘Motte & Baillie’ gin (900 bottles only, £48 each), using botanticals from the estate


Step through nine centuries of history

To celebrate 900 years, bronze timelines have been embedded in the pathway leading to Leeds Castle. Visitors will see key features of the Castle’s architecture once it comes into view and further explanation is provided to them with their map of the grounds. The detailed information reads as follows:

1119 First stone Castle is built

Robert de Crèvecoeur was the person responsible for transforming what had been a medieval wooden keep into a fully defensible Castle surrounded by water.

1278 Queen Eleanor of Castile builds the Gloriette

A strong and highly educated Spanish princess, Eleanor travelled with her husband on the eighth crusade to Palestine before returning to be crowned King Edward I and Queen Eleanor. It was she who purchased Leeds Castle and created the beautiful Gloriette, with a profile very much as you see it today.

1321 King Edward II lays siege to the Castle

On your approach to the Castle through the defensive Gate House, look up and imagine arrows raining down as they did on Queen Isabella and her retinue. The Keeper of the Castle, Lord Baddlesmere had turned against the Crown, and was vanquished and executed for treason.

1422 Queen Joan of Navarre is imprisoned

In the Gate House Exhibition is the Wardrobe Book documenting Joan of Navarre’s time at Leeds Castle. Stripped of her wealth and accused of witchcraft by her stepson, Henry V, she spent her time here under house arrest.

1520 King Henry VIII stays with Queen Catherine of Aragon

With a retinue of 5,000 people, Henry VIII camped overnight at Leeds Castle on his way to meet with the French King, Francis I, in what became known as the Field of the Cloth of Gold. Henry made several improvements to the Castle, including the installation of the large window bay you can see in the Gloriette.

1618 Smythe family opts for Jacobean

It’s hard to imagine the front part of the Castle made of red brick, but that was the prevailing style commissioned by the Smythe family. They swept away any signs of medieval life and built a significant new mansion.

1719 6th Lord Fairfax inherits the Castle

As well as the Castle, the sixth Lord Fairfax inherited vast tracts of land in Virginia. He was the only peer to move permanently to America in colonial times. In memory of its Virginian links, the sundial on Castle Island reads both UK and Virginia time.

1822 Wykeham Martin family builds the ‘New Castle’

The front part of the castle was rebuilt on its Norman foundations in the Tudor style. It has been known ever since as the ‘New Castle’, despite being nearly 200 years old.

1926 Lady Baillie purchases the castle

The Lady Baillie era brought immense glamour and style to the Castle which became a magnet for the rich and famous. It is her design legacy that remains in the state rooms you will see today.

1974 Leeds Castle Foundation is formed

Lady Baillie made plans for a charitable foundation to be created and on her death ensured that the Castle was preserved for future generations to enjoy. The Foundation receives no external funding; all monies raised go towards ongoing maintenance and restoration.

Getting there

Leeds Castle is seven miles east of Maidstone, Junction 8 of the M20, an hour from London, 30 minutes from the Channel Tunnel and Channel Ports, Dartford River Crossing is 30 minutes. Follow the brown and white tourist signs.

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