On a sunny June day, we set off by coach to Banbury for Broughton Castle. Welcomed with coffee, homemade shortbread and chocolate cookies, we then had the luxury of having the visit to the Castle all to ourselves. Divided into two groups with two excellent guides, we learned about this beautiful and ancient moated castle which originally dated back to the 1300s and which has remained in continuous ownership to the same family of Wykeham-Fiennes ever since 1377. It became a “Castle” in 1406 when it was enlarged and fortified with crenellations and embattlements. It then underwent further reconstruction in 1554, which was completed by Richard Fiennes, the 7th Lord Saye & Sele in 1599 and so became the honey-coloured house that we see today with its many tall and light giving windows.
Wandering through the beautiful interior with its fine rooms, lined with 16th century linenfold paneling or 19th century hand painted Chinese wallpaper, many portraits and historic furniture, we also learned how King James 1st and Queen Anne stayed at the castle in 1604, how William Fiennes, the 8th Lord Saye & Sele was one of the leaders of the Puritan, pro-parliament group opposed to Charles 1st. How he held secret meetings between 1629-1642 in a small room at the top of the house, the Council Chamber, known as the “room which hath no ears”.
The Castle which sits in some 1800 acres of mainly farmed land, is still lived in by members of the Fiennes family to this day, (though the current 21st Lord Saye & Sele who is 101 and his wife do not) so it has a lovely warm, lived-in atmosphere and was a pleasure to wander through. Our guided tour finished at lunchtime, whereupon we were invited to sit and enjoy a substantial and delicious ploughman’s lunch. After that, we were free to wander in the gardens and visit the local parish church next to the Castle which dates from the 14th century and where several of the castle’s owners are buried. The walled garden at the back of the house, known as the Ladies’ Garden was a revelation with beautiful scented roses in bloom among miniature box hedges in a Fleur-de-Lys design with a stunning centre piece of honeysuckle – a beautiful place to sit and relax!
A final mention must go to the adventurous Celia Fiennes (1662-1741), daughter of Nathaniel Fiennes, younger son of William, 8th Lord Saye & Sele who rode side saddle through every county in England between the late 1690’s and 1712 with only her maid, when there were no roads and plenty of highwaymen, writing her diary (now published) which has become an important source of social English history.
More photos of the visit can be seen here