Leading the way with an invitation to enjoy new aspects of England’s story with English Heritage is London’s Eltham Palace & Gardens, where visitors can now enjoy being part of a chic house party and explore more Art Deco rooms.
It is just one of the new and recent investments by English Heritage to provide an even warmer welcome at some of the country’s most important and finest historic attractions.
Major makeovers, new visitor facilities, contemporary interpretation, new exhibitions and previously unseen areas opened up are all injecting a fresh appeal and adding value for group visitors.
Join a chic 1930s house party at Eltham Palace & Gardens
From movie stars and film makers to aristocrats and politicians, the cream of society once gathered at Eltham Palace in South East London for sophisticated house parties as the guests of Stephen and Virginia Courtauld.
In a project which takes visitors directly into the privileged lifestyle enjoyed by the Courtaulds and their society friends, Eltham Palace has undergone a makeover to make this unique Art Deco house – the finest 1930s home open to the public in the country- and its lovely moated gardens even more special.
On arrival at a new visitor building complete with a cafe and shop, visitors are given an invitation to step into the 1930s world of their host and hostess as a specific guest. The name on the invitation links to a real person who once enjoyed the Courtaulds’ hospitality at Eltham Palace and each visitor takes a personal journey through the eyes of their adopted guest on a multimedia tour through the mansion, the adjoining medieval Great Hall and beautiful landscaped grounds.
Along the way, they discover the Courtaulds’ lifestyle of luxury travel and high fashion and an indulgent home, where exotic pets had free range and entertainment was on a grand scale.
For the first time, they can explore the mansion’s basement with its billiard room, photographic darkroom and the machinery – ahead of its time – which worked the centralised vacuum-cleaning system. And they can step a little further forward in time to wartime London, when a basement bunker provided a level of comfort during the Blitz that few ordinary citizens taking refuge in tube stations or Anderson shelters could have imagined.
Opening up these new areas and giving visitors a very personal experience in this way has put Eltham Palace & Gardens at the top of the list for itineraries in London in 2015 and beyond.
[i] Eltham Palace & Gardens, Court Yard, off Court Road, Eltham, London SE9 5QE
Stonehenge – now at the heart of the landscape
Over a year since the new visitor facilities at Stonehenge opened (December 2013) the £27m transformation project is now complete, including the removal of the old visitor facilities and car park close to the Stones. Visitors can now experience the monument in a more peaceful and natural setting without the distractions of passing cars, unsightly buildings and high fences close by.
Visitors today are welcomed at a new visitor building, located 2kms (1.5 miles) to the west of Stonehenge. For the first time ever at the site, they can now learn more about this complex monument in a stunning, museum-quality permanent exhibition. A 360-degree virtual experience lets visitors ‘stand in the stones’ before they enter a gallery presenting the facts and theories surrounding the monument through various displays. Nearly 300 prehistoric artefacts discovered within the World Heritage Site are also on display.
There are also regular special exhibitions inside the visitor centre, and the latest – running from now until spring 2016 – takes a lighthearted look at Stonehenge as a visitor attraction over the last two centuries.
Coaches arriving at Stonehenge use a dedicated coach park and group reception building, where tour leaders validate tickets and collect audio guides, before groups walk the short distance to an under-cover embarkation waiting point at the side of the visitor centre building, to catch an exclusive groups-only shuttle service for the journey to and from the Stones.
Pre-booked timed tickets are essential for all visits. A booking line – exclusively for GTOs and tour operators – is manned from 09.00 to 17.00 Mondays to Fridays. Normal national phone rates apply for calls to the booking line number, which is + 44 (0)370 333 0604. Provisional bookings can be made in advance, with confirmation (and payment for non account holders) due no later than 7 days before the visit.
[i] Stonehenge, Nr Amesbury, Wiltshire SP4 7DE
Osborne’s Indian-inspired Durbar Room has been re-presented into the formal banqueting room it once was, where Queen Victoria hosted visiting royalty and dignitaries at large-scale formal dinners. The intricately decorated room boasts a replica dining table, set for a dinner for 24 guests, complete with starched white linen and a floral centrepiece.
The room is set to take a starring role this year in the popular season of guided tours which take over during the winter months, when the house takes a bit of a breather from its busy summer schedule of daily opening.
It will be given a festive feel for the annual programme of Christmas tours led by expert guides. They have been so much of a hit with groups visiting the Isle of Wight, that they have been extended for winter 2015 to include mid-week tours exclusively for groups.
Other ground floor rooms in the house will also be festively dressed and groups on the hour-long tours can hear all about Christmas traditions at Osborne House for the royal family and those who served them.
The tours are available on selected dates in November and December. Each tour is for up to 20 participants and tour times will be staggered for larger groups. On selected dates during the rest of the winter season, Osborne is open for pre-booked themed ‘Tales of the Empress of India’ tours. They focus on the queen’s interest in India and its influence on life at Osborne.
Pre-booking for all guided tours is essential.
[i] Osborne, East Cowes, Isle of Wight PO32 6JX
New exhibitions mark 200th anniversary of Waterloo
The Duke of Wellington’s handwritten orders from the Battle of Waterloo, his battle sword, and a pair of original ‘Wellington Boots’ are among the objects that are on display in new exhibitions this year at the two central London properties associated with the battle and its victorious commander – Wellington Arch and Apsley House.
Marking the Waterloo bicentenary, groups can view both exhibitions in one day – together they explore the life of the Iron Duke and one of the most important battles in English and European history.
Built in 1825-27, Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner was intended as a proclamation of Wellington’s victories over Napoleon. The Arch is surmounted by the largest bronze sculpture in Europe, depicting the angel of peace descending on the four-horsed chariot of war.
Inside, the new exhibition – ‘Waterloo 1815 – The Battle for Peace’ – gives an overview of the battle, the reasons for it, the people involved in it and its legacy. It runs until November.
Standing opposite Wellington Arch at Hyde Park Corner and still home to the Dukes of Wellington today, Apsley House has changed comparatively little since the first Duke lived there.
The Waterloo Gallery – where Wellington held the annual Waterloo Banquets to commemorate the great victory – has been re-presented. A copy of the only surviving menu plan from the annual banquets is on display and the magnificent Portuguese silver gilt centrepiece and dinner service has returned, to take its place on a formal banqueting table. The service was commissioned by the Portuguese Council of Regency in 1816 to honour Wellington’s role in liberating Portugal.
Joint tickets are available for groups visiting both properties. Advance booking is required for group visits and pre-booked guided tours are also available.
[i] Apsley House, 149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner, London W1J 7NT
[i] Wellington Arch, Apsley Way, Hyde Park Corner, London W1J 7JZ
A view to woo at Kenilworth Castle & Elizabethan Garden
For the first time in 350 years, thanks to the installation of stairs and platforms, visitors can now scale the heights of the tower built to woo Queen Elizabeth I, to see her bedroom, gallery and other rooms to imagine them in their Elizabethan heyday and appreciate the magnificent views that were deemed fit only for a queen.
Built by the queen’s great love, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, for her exclusive use when she visited Kenilworth in 1575, it was one of the most spectacular works of architecture in the country.
Groups can also see the Elizabethan garden Dudley created for the queen’s visit, complete with flower beds, fountain and bejewelled aviary, the furnished gatehouse, Norman keep and medieval great hall – the favourite residence of Henry V. An exhibition tells the love story of Elizabeth and Dudley and guided tours may be pre-booked for groups for a small extra charge.
[i] Kenilworth Castle & Elizabethan Garden, Kenilworth, Warwickshire CV8 1NE
Fortress Falmouth Remembered at its First World War HQ
At the outbreak of war in 1914, the sleepy town of Falmouth on the Cornish coast went onto alert. Its strategic location meant it was designated as a Defended Port and Pendennis Castle became its military headquarters.
A new exhibition at Pendennis Castle describes the impact of war on the civilian and military population living within Fortress Falmouth, using first-hand accounts to draw a picture of the deprivations they suffered as food shortages and the loss of loved ones took their toll.
They include letters from Battery Sergeant Major John Glasson Thomas to his sweetheart Gertrude Brooks. Nicknamed Tommy, he instructed troops to use heavy guns at Pendennis Castle before being posted to France, where he died of shrapnel wounds in 1917. Gertie treasured his letters until her death in 1960.
The addition of the exhibition makes Pendennis Castle a full day excursion with more to discover on the castle’s roles in both the First and Second World Wars, as well as its roots dating back to Tudor times.
From April until October, a short introductory talk is followed at noon each day by the firing of one of the castle’s four working guns – there are 37 in total on display. Groups of 11-25 can also book onto a free castle tour or a 30-minute tour of the Second World War underground magazine.
[i] Pendennis Castle, Castle Close, Falmouth, Cornwall TR11 4LP
Other properties with new additions include:
- Kenwood, London – now with a more homely air, rooms have seen a facelift to show off the superb art collection and the lovely villa’s exterior has been refurbished and repaired
- Audley End House & Gardens near Cambridge – where the previously unseen nursery suite has been restored to add another perspective on Victorian life at this Jacobean mansion, which already boasts a popular Service Wing experience
- Bolsover Castle, Derbyshire – where Sir William Cavendish’s Little Castle now boasts some interior furnishings and imaginative interpretation, his Fountain Garden has been replanted and his wall walk restored
Popular sites for group visits already earmarked to benefit from future investment include:
- Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire, one of the best preserved and most impressive monastic sites in England, where an outstanding museum will be opening in early summer 2016 to tell the 900-year story of the site and display its nationally important collection of artefacts. With the project now underway, Rievaulx Abbey is unable to accept coaches until early summer 2016
- 1066 Battle of Hastings Battlefield and Abbey in East Sussex. A new exhibition set in the Great Gatehouse of the medieval abbey, built on the exact spot where King Harold died, will display artefacts never seen before. Visitors will also be able to climb to the roof for the first time, to view the landscape where the most famous battle in English history was fought
- Dover Castle, Kent. ‘The key to England’ for over nine centuries, England’s biggest and strongest fortress includes a Roman lighthouse, a medieval royal palace, and tunnels from where the Dunkirk evacuation was masterminded. Conservation of some areas needing attention will allow visitors to see more of its ancient towers and tunnels
- Wrest Park, Bedfordshire. The Archer Pavilion set at the end of the Long Water and built between 1709 and 1711 is the focal point of this wonderful garden. Water has caused damage to the building’s interiors and structure. English Heritage is starting a programme of repairs to make the building weather tight and specialist conservation will protect the important interiors and decorative schemes
GREAT GROUP DISCOUNTS
Groups of 11 or more people receive a 15% discount at English Heritage properties and events (10% at Stonehenge). A tour leader and coach driver are admitted free with each group. Free familiarisation visits can be arranged for the travel trade. Special themed tours are available for pre-booked groups at many properties.
To discuss opportunities for group visits, to subscribe to the free travel trade newsletter Attractions, or to order a complimentary copy of the 2015/16 Group Visits Guide, call 020 7973 3529 or email [email protected]