Travel – Althorp (Part One)


In honor of Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales birthday (born: July 1, 1961  died: August 31, 1997, in Part One of a two part series I will discuss the history Althorp which is the Spencer ancestral home located in Northamptonshire, England which is about 75 miles from London.  The Spencer family has lived there for more than 500 years and Diana spent her childhood years there.  Althorp is now currently the home of Charles Spencer the 9th Earl of Spencer; Diana’s brother famously spoke out against the treatment of his sister at her funeral in Westminster Abbey in 1997.  Today, Althorp is best known as the final resting place of Diana, the Princess of Wales and has become a tourist destination for many visitors to England. (Please click on the link to Part Two for more information about Althrop including a tour of the various rooms of the house, the grounds and Diana’s gravesite on the island of the the Round Oval)

The History of Althorp And The Spencer Family

Althorp has existed since medieval times as a small hamlet which was originally situated on the southwest side of the property just east of the current West Lodge.  By the 15th century the small population had dwindled and eventually all the residences had moved away.

In 1508, John Spencer purchased the Althorp property from the Catesby family with money earned from his sheep business.  The land consisted of 300 acres of grassland and another 100 acres of woodland with 40 acres covered with water.  Over the next four years, Spencer worked hard and the property was divided into four large sheep pastures.

When John Spencer died in 1522, the estate passed to his youngest son, William.  William was the Sheriff of Northamptonshire and he owned it until his death in 1532.  Over the next several years the property remained in the Spencer family with ownership passing from father to son.  By 1603, Robert Spencer had been made the 1st Baron of Wormleighton and King Charles I had planned a Royal visit to the estate.  Althorp was enlarged to accommodate the King and his court, a new drawing room was built and the main hall was enlarged for a grand banquet.

After Robert Spencer’s death in 1627, Althorp went to his son William.  Several more years passed and the estate ownership went from father to son.  Henry Spencer, the eldest son of William was rewarded the title of Earl of Sunderland after his honorable military service, unfortunately he was killed in battle at the age of 23.  At the time of his father’s death, his eldest son, Robert, was only two years old.  Robert soon grew into a temperamental young man and because of his controversial views on the monarchy he was eventually forced to leave the country.  Almost ten years had passed when he returned from the Netherlands and at that time there had been a drastic reversal of his political opinions.  He had quickly regained favor with the King and subsequently became Lord Chamberlain of the Royal Household in April 1697.  During his time as owner and custodian of Althorp, Robert had rebuilt the house and also made many improvements and changes to the grounds.

Robert died in 1702 and his son Charles inherited the estate and held Althorp for twenty years and he greatly expanded the library by adding several hundred volumes of books.  In 1700 Charles brought a higher level of notoriety to the family when he married Anne Churchill, the daughter of John Churchill the first Duke of Marlborough; the marriage brought an important connection between the Spencer and the Churchill families.


Over the next fifty years, Althorp passed through several more generations from father to son to brothers to son again.  The rules of British inheritance were very strict regarding property and aristocratic titles, so for this reason the title of Duke of Marlborough came to the Spencer family through their connection with the Churchill family.  Also the monetary value of the estate had increased dramatically throughout this period, when John Spencer died in 1746 his son, also named John, received the largest inheritance in England at the time.

John, the 7th Earl of Sunderland and 4th Duke of Marlborough, served as a Member of Parliament representing Warwick from 1756 to 1761.  John lived a lavish lifestyle, dressing in expensive clothes and entertaining in a grand manner.  When he turned 21 years old, there was a large ball for 5,000 guests held at Althorp in December 1755 and during the party John secretly married Margaret Poyntz and they waited to announce their marriage until a few days after the party.  The good fortune of John continued and in 1761 King George III made him a Baron and he became Viscount Spencer, then in 1765 he became Earl Spencer.


In 1783, upon the death of his father, George Spencer (2nd Earl of Spencer) inherited Althorp and he went onto have a very successful political life.  He served as Whig MP for Northampton from 1780 to 1782 and then for Surrey from 1782 to 1783.  George was also very interested in Althorp’s library and, through his literary pursuits, turned it into the one of the largest private libraries in Europe.  As George became an old man, his book collecting became an obsession as he attempted to collect every volume published in Britain.  Unfortunately, after starting out as one of the richest men in England, by the time of his death in 1834 he was deeply in debt.


John, the 3rd Earl of Spencer, was able to work through his father’s debts without losing Althorp’s large book collection.  He was also to maintain the estate as well as the additional Spencer houses and properties which had become quite extensive.  There was Spencer House in London, a home in Wimbledon, a farm in Wiseton and a hunting lodge in Norfolk.  John drastically reduced his living expenses and reduced the staff of Althorp by living the majority of the year at the small house in Wiseton.  The other Spencer lands and properties were leased or sold and gradually by the time of John’s death in 1845, the Spencer estate was profitable once again.  By the time of John Spencer, the 5th Earl of Spencer also known as the Red Earl, inherited the estate in 1857 it was once again in financial debt.  To clear the debt and maintain the estate’s many holdings, the majority of the large book collection was sold to be used in the University of Manchester.

John Spencer - Viscount Althorp, 3rd Earl Spencer (1782-1845)

The financial problems of the Spencer family continued through the late 19th century and into the early 20th century, so many of the estate’s properties and assets were sold.  By the time of Albert Spencer, the 7th Earl of Spencer, inherited in 1922 the fortune of the estate was still financially troubled and despite his heightened interest in art, he needed to sell many of Althorp’s paintings and other pieces of artwork to help decrease the debt owed.  Fortunately, during World War II Althrop was not used as a military barracks or converted into a hospital for the wounded soldiers but Albert did grant them permission to use the estate’s stable instead and the main house at Althorp remained used for the duration of the war.    With Spencer House being located in London, during the Blitz and the frequent German bombing and the decision was made to move most of the furniture and valuable items to Althorp for safekeeping.

7th Earl of Spencer

After the war, the Althorp estate was opened to the public for tours in 1953 to raise revenue for taxes.  Upon the death of his father in 1975, Edward Spencer, the 8th Earl of Spencer, inherited the estate.  (Edward served as Equerry to King George VI and later for Queen Elizabeth II)  It was a this time that Edward and his young family of three girls and one boy came to live at Althorp, the youngest daughter was destined to marry Prince Charles the heir to the British throne in 1981 and she became Diana, the Princess of Wales.  Diana and siblings enjoyed their childhood at Althorp despite the fact that their parents had gone through a bitter divorce in 1969 and their mother’s subsequent abandonment when Edward was awarded custody of the children.

By the time of his death in 1992, the Althorp estate was still losing money regardless of the fact that many pieces of antique furnishings were sold.  Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl of Spencer and current owner of Althorp, has been able to slowly pay off some of the debt to keep the estate running.  To pay for an extensive restoration project to repair the roof and stonework of Althorp, Charles auctioned hundreds of furnishings and other items which had long been in storage.  After the death of his sister, Diana, in tragic car crash in Paris in 1997 and her burial on a small island on Round Oval Lake at Althorp visitors flocked to the estate to pay tribute.  Despite the increased funds that this recent tourism has brought to Althorp is unsure as to whether it can be sustained over an extended period of time to provide the massive expenses needed to run the large estate.

Charles Spencer

Please click on the link to Part Two for more information about Althrop including a tour of the various rooms of the house, the grounds and Diana Princess of Wales final resting place.

Travel – Althorp (Part Two)

Althorp - exterior

As previously mentioned in Part One of the two part series on Althorp, I will discuss the history of the Spencer ancestral home located in Northamptonshire, England.  Althorp was also the childhood home of Diana Spencer, the Princess of Wales birthday (born: July 1, 1961 died: August 31, 1997).  Althorp is now currently the home of Charles Spencer the 9th Earl of Spencer; Diana’s brother who famously spoke out against the treatment of his sister at her funeral in Westminster Abbey in 1997.  Today, Althorp is best known as the final resting place of Diana, the Princess of Wales and has become a tourist destination for many visitors to England.

Althorp is located in Northamptonshire, England about 75 miles from London.  The Spencer family has lived there for more than 500 years and has paid host to various Kings and Queens throughout its long history.  In 1603, Robert Spencer held a grand banquet for King Charles I.  In 1761, King George III made John Spencer a Viscount and later the first Earl of Spencer.  In 1913, King George V and Queen Mary visited the estate and stayed in the room at Althorp that is now known as the Queen Mary bedroom.  Edward Spencer, the 8th Earl of Spencer served as Equerry to King George VI and later for Queen Elizabeth II.  The current 9th Earl of Spencer is the brother of the late Princess Diana and is the uncle of her children, Prince William and Prince Harry.

The original home built at Althorp in 1677 was a classic Tudor style red brick building.  The current building dates back to 1688 with alterations made in 1788 with Yorkshire stone and four Corinthian pilasters or columns and large sash windows surrounded in stone which were added to the front exterior.  Historical Note:  It has been said that the stone used for the pilasters was originally intended by Sir Christopher Wren to be used for the construction of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The interior of Althorp features well-appointed rooms with a central grand staircase leading to the upper floor.  The rooms are beautifully decorated with furniture, paintings and objects of art including numerous pieces of priceless porcelain.  In World War II during the Blitz antique furniture, marble fireplaces and other valuable items from the Spencer House in London were moved to Althorp for safekeeping.  Some interesting and unique items included doors from the Spencer House dating back to the 18th century which featured curled “S” (for Spencer) doorknobs.  Sadly, throughout the years as the Spencer family estate became severely in debt and large portions of furnishings and part of Althorp’s large book collection were sold.

The Althorp estate included not only the elegant house and adjacent beautiful garden but all the surrounding 13,000 acres property.  There are 28 other buildings or structures on the estate grounds including the large building known as the Stable Block.  The Althorp Park area of estate is wonderfully landscaped with rows of trees and a large pong with a small island positioned in the middle.  On this remote island, not accessible to the general public, is the final resting place of Diana, the Princess of Wales who died in a tragic car accident in Paris in 1997.  Located nearby the lake is the Diana Memorial and, when the estate is opened annually to visitors during the months of July and August, the Stable Block has been converted into an exhibition center (unfortunately the Diana: A Celebration exhibit permanently closed in 2013)

Interesting Fact:  Charles Spencer, the 9th Earl of Spencer and the current owner of the Althorp estate was a tour guide at the house was he was a boy.  This when Charles gained his extensive knowledge about the Spencer ancestral history and most importantly how he developed his steadfast desire to maintain Althorp for future generations.

A Tour of Althorp

Wootton Hall –

The grand entrance area located on the ground floor of Althorp is known as Wootton Hall, the name honors the English equestrian painter John Wootton.  The Spencer family commissioned Wootton in 1733 to create several fox hunting paintings that still hang in the entrance hall.  The space is beautifully proportioned with ceilings that rise two-stories high.  The 18th century plaster floral ceiling by Colen Campbell and the floor is made of black and white Italian marble time laid out in a checkerboard style during the 1910.  It has been said that the entrance hall of Althorp was one of the most grand of the Georgian style country homes in England.

ALthorp - Wootton Hall

Special Note: Before leaving Wootton Hall, please notice the dozen elegant hall porter chairs lining the perimeter of the space.  One of the original chairs was found discarded in the Stable Block in 1911; the chair was brought from Spencer House in London for safekeeping during the Blitz.

Interesting Fact:  The acoustics in the Wootton Hall are excellent and for this reason a teenage Diana Spencer (the future Princess of Wales) liked to practice tap dancing in this area of Althorp.

The Saloon –

The Saloon is located adjacent to Wootton Hall and was originally the open inner courtyard of Althorp where carriages would arrive and guests would disembark into the house.  In the 1660s, a roof was put over the area and as a result of the courtyard enclosure a beautiful walnut staircase was installed.   In the late 1800s, the chandeliers were wired for light and the Saloon became the first room in Althorp to have electricity.

Althorp - Grand Staircase     Althorp - the Saloon

The South Drawing Room –

The South Drawing Room is located in the west wing of Althorp.  The room retains an elegant Georgian style; the walls are a beautiful shade of blue, there are dark green window curtains, a large gilded framed mirror is positioned between the windows and the room is furnished with peach floral patterned sofas.  The stone fireplace was built in 1802 and the plaster ceiling was done in 1865.  This room is also known as the Rubens Room because there are four paintings by Peter Paul Rubens hanging on the walls, there are also fifteen Joshua Reynolds portraits.

Althorp - South Drawing Room    Althorp - South Drawing Room - miniature collection

Special Note:  Located in one of the room’s alcoves is a collection of miniature portraits displayed in a cabinet, take a close look to find one of Admiral Lord Nelson.

The Sutherland Room –

The Sutherland Room is located in the east wing of Althorp.  When the house was first built centuries ago, it was once customary for the owners to occupy the ground floor to use as bedrooms and the guest bedrooms would be on the upper floor.  The room has the original moulding and the fireplace in the room was originally from the Spencer House in London.  The current paintings in the room were chosen to honor John “Jack” Spencer, the 3rd Earl of Spencer, and reflect his passion for foxhunting.  After the room ceased being used as a bedroom was used as just another reception room in the house.

Althorp - Sutherland Room

Interesting Fact:  Traditionally, the Sutherland room has been decorated specifically for the children of Althorp on Christmas Day.  There would be a fully decorated Christmas tree and mechanical Santas, snowmen and angels would be placed around the room as festive holiday decorations.  As a special treat for the children, individual cakes were set out in the room with the names of the children written in icing.

The Marlborough Room –

The Marlborough Room is located next to the Sunderland Room and adjacent to the Library.  The room is named to honor Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough.  Since the 1900s, the room has been used for large formal dinners, the Victorian rosewood dining table can accommodate up to 42 guests.  Previously, the space had been divided into two different rooms, one was used as a reception room and the other was the old billiard room.  In the 1950s as part of a restoration project at Althrop, two chimney pieces from Spencer House were installed in the room.

Althorp - Marlborough Room

Special Note:  The portraits of various Spencer ancestors painted by famed artist such as Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds and George Romney are hung in the Marlborough Room.

The Great Dining Room –

The Great Dining Room was part of the east wing extension which was built back in 1877.  The relatively small room is said to have gotten inspiration for the red damask silk wall coverings from the much larger and grander ballroom of Buckingham Palace.  The two large tapestries cover the oak paneling that was originally from another property of the Spencers owned and it was brought to Althorp specifically for installation in this room.

The Library –

The Library is located on the first floor in the west wing of Althorp, it is sometimes referred to as the “Long Library”.  When George Spencer (2nd Earl of Spencer) inherited the estate, he was very interested in his literary pursuits and his book collection turned the Althorp library into the one of the largest private libraries in Europe.  As George became an old man, his book collecting became an obsession as he attempted to collect every volume published in Britain.  Five rooms at Althorp were needed to store the large collection and eventually the rooms were combined into one long 200 feet by 20 feet room, hence the name of “Long Library”. The ceiling of the original library collapsed in 1773, it was replaced and a new floor was also installed.

Althorp - Long Library

Unfortunately, by the time of George’s death in 1834 he was deeply in debt and a major portion of the collection was sold to the University of Manchester.  The books seen in the library today on a tour of Althorp were fairly recent acquisitions and the dark and rich colored spines of the books are beautifully displayed against the off-white painted shelving.

The Picture Gallery –

The Picture Gallery is located on the first floor of the west wing at Althorp.  The Picture Gallery is most famous for the collection of 60 portraits, 10 of those portraits are Sir Peter Lely paintings of King Charles II ten mistresses that have become known as “The Windsor Beauties”.  The 115 feet by 21 feet room is decorated with lovely oak paneling and oak flooring which at one time was painted white, fortunately the paint was removed during a restoration project in 1904

Althorp - Picture Gallery

Special Note:  The Picture Gallery has a wonderful collection of paintings, including Van Dyck painting “War and Peace”, John de Critz portrait of King James I and Mary Beale portrait of Charles II (where he is forever joined with “The Windsor Beauties”)

Interesting Fact: In Tudor times, the room’s dimensions were put good use when during inclement weather the ladies would use the Gallery to promenade (walking as a form of exercise and socialization) indoors to avoid soiling their dresses in the rain and mud.

The Oak Bedroom –

The Oak Bedroom is located on the first floor to the rear of the west wing at Althorp.  The room is beautifully decorated with crimson wallpaper, a polished oak floor and repeated in the room several times is the Spencer “S” most notably on the blue velvet bed cover, above the large bed and near the fireplace.

Althorp - Oak Bedroom

Interesting Fact:  The room was the site of an important event in the history of the Spencer family.  On the night of December 20, 1755, during a ball being held in celebration of John Spencer’s 21st birthday, the first Earl of Spencer secretly married Margaret Georgiana in the Oak Bedroom.

The Princess of Wales Bedroom –

The Princess of Wales Bedroom, as most people would assume, was not named for Diana but another beloved Princess of Wales.  It was Princess Alexandra, the wife of the future King Edward VII who came to visit the 5th Earl of Spencer (the Red Earl) at Althorp in 1863.  The room was renovated in 1911 ad retains a distinct Georgian style of decoration.  The large and luxurious bed is draped in fabric originally designed during the renovation.  Two portraits of note in the room are the painting by Spanish artist Murillo of a young princess and the other is a painting by the School of Leonardo da Vinci of a young lady that bears a striking resemblance to the Mona Lisa.

Althorp - Princess of Wales Bedroom

(For more information on Alexandra, the Princess of Wales, please click on the link)

The Queen Mary Bedroom –

The Queen Mary Bedroom is named for Queen Mary, the wife of King George V who visited Althorp in 1913.  The centerpiece of the room is the tall bed which is draped in green taffeta and designed in an 18th century style.  An item of note in the room are two antique chairs with needlework design and personally created by Albert Spencer, the 7th Earl of Spencer who was the Chairman of the Royal School of Needlework.

Althorp Queen Mary Bedroom

Interesting Fact:  As a side note regarding Queen Mary, she was a horrible houseguest in regards to the fact that when she would visit the stately homes around England she was always on the search for interesting and sometimes valuable items.  She would strongly hint at her desire for a particular item belonging to her hosts, ultimately they would feel obligated to give her the item as a gift.  In this way Queen Mary acquired many excellent pieces of furnishing and art objects at no cost which she used to decorate her own home.

The Grounds –

The Althorp estate covers over 13,000 acres of land in Northampshire.  Besides the main house there are 28 other buildings and structures located on the property.  The estate is beautifully landscaped first by Henry Holland in the 1780s and then by William Teulon in the late 1800s.  After Diana’s death in 1997, when the Memorial was moved to its current site, Dan Pearson was commissioned to upgrade the park and gardens to accommodate the increased number of visitors that would be coming to Althorp.  Pearson planted 36 oak trees along the access road to commemorate Diana’s age at the time of her death.  Over one hundred white water lilies were added to waters of the Round and one hundred white roses were planted on the island which is Diana’s final resting place.

Althorp - Round Oval Island

Special Note:  After Diana’s separation and subsequent divorce from Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, was finalized in 1996 she had considered moving to a small cottage known as the Gardener’s House, on the Althorp estate.  It seems that the request was denied by her brother, Charles Spencer, who is the current owner of Althorp.  He claimed that the Diana’s move to Althorp would cause innumerable security problems.  This decision had created a friction between Diana and her brother and their relationship was strained and intermittent at the time of Diana’s death.

Interesting Fact:  The story of the famed Spencer Sweet Pea began back in 1901 when the 5th Earl of Spencer’s chief gardener, Silas Cole, cultivated a variety of sweet pea that produced large pink flowers with wavy edged petals which he named the “Countess Spencer”.  This variety of sweet pea has been growing on the Althrop estate now for almost 115 years.

The Round Oval and Diana Memorial –

The lake located on the Althorp estate, known as the Round Oval, was constructed in 1868.  The Doric-style Temple located south of the Round Oval was original located in the gardens of Admiralty House in London.  It was commissioned by George Spencer, the 2nd Earl of Spencer, to celebrate the British naval victory led by Rear-Admiral Horatio Nelson over General Napoleon Bonaparte French forces in the Battle of the Nile in 1798.

The Temple was moved to Althorp in 1926 and after the death of Princess Diana it was rededicated to her memory.  The Temple now bears the name of Diana which is inscribed at the top and it contains a large black marble silhouette of the Princess set on white marble and placed in the middle of the Temple.  The large medallion is flanked by two large stone tablets, one inscribed with a quote from Diana regarding her charity work and the other is inscribed with Charles Spencer’s speech given at his sister’s funeral in 1997.

Althorp - Diana Memorial    

The small island located in the middle of the Round Oval is the final resting place of Diana, the Princess of Wales.  After the overwhelming grief of the public over her tragic death and taking into account the endless media pursuit in her public life and lack of privacy regarding her personal life, Charles Spencer decided that the best place for her gravesite.  The choice of her burial on the island not only provided privacy that had been denied to Diana during her lifetime from the intrusive media coverage but it also gave dignity to her final resting place with some distance from well-meaning but sometimes obsessive public and the island is deemed off limits to anyone without the permission of Charles Spencer.  Her burial place is marked by a simple white memorial column with a stone urn on top; there is no headstone at the gravesite.

Althorp - Diana memorial 1

Althorp - Round Oval Island 1

The Stable Block –

The Stable Block was originally designed by architect Roger Morris in the early 1730s commissioned by Charles, the 5th Earl of Sutherland.  The building’s Palladian style of architecture was said to have been inspired by Morris’ own horse stable in Convent Garden.  The decorative fountain in the courtyard was installed to provide water for the horse troughs.  The interior included several stalls for the estates’ numerous horses, a bath area for the riders to use after hunting, a veterinarian’s room and storage area.

Althorp - Stable Block

After the death of Diana, the Stable Block was converted into an exhibition hall dedicated to the memory of the Princess of Wales.  Six separate exhibit areas were created within the old stable complex.  The first exhibit was the “Spencer Women” which highlighted the ancestral heritage of the women of Althorp with several displays showcasing jewelry, personal items and two large portraits, one painting of Sarah, Duchess of Marlbourough, and the other of Georgiana Spencer.

The second exhibit area plays a video of Diana ad a child, including rare footage of her christening and first birthday as well as additional footage showing her swimming, dancing and playing with her animals.  Displayed around the room are her old toys, ballet shoes and other childhood items.

The next exhibit focuses on the July 29, 1981  at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  Displayed in this room is Diana’s voluminous wedding dress designed by Emanuel and other items of her wedding ensemble.  There is also a special display that showcases the Spencer Tiara which Diana wore on her wedding day.  (For more information about the wedding of Diana and Charles or Diana’s wedding dress, please click on the links)

Althorp - Diana's wedding dress displayAlthorp - Spencer Tiara display    Althorp - Spencer Tiara display 1

The fourth exhibit documents Diana’s extensive charity and humanitarian work.  The next exhibit, which is known as the “Tribute Room”, documents the days between Diana’s death, funeral and burial at Althorp.

The final area was the “Diana: A Celebration” exhibit with large glass display cases showing many of Diana’s most notable dresses and gowns with information cards indicating the when and where she wore the clothing items.  One unique display is filled with the condolence books that were signed by hundreds of thousands of people who express their feelings about Diana and offer their sympathy to the Spencer family.

Althrop - Diana - A Celebration exhibit

The Althorp house and estate is opened to the public annually during the months of July and August but in 2013 the Stable Block and exhibitions closed permanently.  The Princess of Wales Memorial Fund which received the profits from the exhibition had previously closed in 2012.  At that time, Althorp needed to address the concern about the exploitation of Diana and more importantly there was a need to suppress the public’s obsession with Diana.  It is said that the personal belongings that were part of the exhibition would be packed and eventually returned to her sons, Prince William and Prince Harry.

Travel – Family Road Trip Tips

As most readers of this blog know – our family loves to take road trips!  When I was a young girl I remember taking two different road trips with my parents and sisters.  One trip was driving from our home in California across the country to Chicago, Illinois.  We made stops in Salt Lake City, Utah to see the Mormon Temple and Yellowstone National Park where we saw numerous black bears walking down the road and stopping traffic.  The second road trip that we took was a few years later when we drove from California up the West Coast stopping in Oregon and Washington before reaching our destination in British Columbia and taking the ferry to Victoria Island.  Both those trips created such vivid memories for me and I still remember being together as a family traveling across the country staying in small hotel rooms or camping, singing songs in the car and playing games, stopping to eat meals in small restaurants in cities along the way.  But what I remember most was seeing the wonderful sites in the various states, such as historic places or National Parks.

Many years later, I wanted to build those kinds of memories for my children and I started planning regular road trips every summer.  I would plan our annual trip several months in advance selecting our destination and then researching what interesting sites there would be to see along the way.  I would book a variety of accommodations for these various trips which ranged from tent camping in National Parks to more luxurious hotels depending on our destination.  Our family has seen the country from coast to coast visiting historical sites, natural history museums, a number of presidential libraries, various aquariums and zoos but I think the places we like to visit most are the National Parks.  (For more information about National Park Travel Tips, please click on the link)

Our family enjoyed these trips very much and in this post I would like to share some of the travel tips I learned throughout the years and offer suggestions for planning a Family Road Trip!!

Tips And Suggestions For A Family Road Trip

Planning Ahead

  • The first rule of planning a family road trip is to get start as soon as possible prior to the anticipated departure date.  The longer time you have in planning the more options can be explored whether it is hotel or activity reservations which can be booked several months in advance.  It would be in your best interest to get started as soon as possible since popular destination reservations can fill up quickly and unavailable especially during the summer months.
  • Important Travel Advisory:  With the internet, visitor information can be easily found, but my recommendation is to always check your sources to confirm that the information is correct.  Also when making reservations, especially when using a credit card, always use a secured and verified website.
  • Take advantage of current maps, these can be obtained from the internet or the local bookstore or local travel agency (such as AAA).  Viewing maps that show the route to and from your anticipated destination can be an excellent way to find sites, attractions or other points of interest for possible stops along the journey.
  • Take advantage of guidebooks, these can be obtained through a local travel agency, purchased at a local bookstore or online (such as, or on loan from a local library (this last idea can save money – guidebooks can be expensive for an item that is possibly used only once or twice)

Before leaving

  • Have vehicle thoroughly checked prior to leaving on a road trip; be sure that the vehicle is properly maintained and operating correctly.  Check fluid levels such as oil and windshield wiper liquid.  Check tires for proper inflation and replace if necessary due to tire wear, carry a tire gauge for checking air pressure while on the road.  Be sure that spare tire and jack are present in the car and in good operating condition.  Check that headlights, rear lights, turn signal lights are operating properly.
  • Be sure to have a flashlight (check batteries before leaving and replace if necessary) and pack a few basic car tools (include road flares, reflective light for emergency stops, booster cables) and make sure these are easily accessible if needed.
  • Take the time to wash the exterior of the car and clean out the interior; nobody wants to travel in a dirty car. Be sure to clean windows inside and out, vacuum the car floor and between the seats, dust interior dashboard and empty trash containers.
  • Prepare and pack special travel items for use during the trip.  Items to include: paper towels for spills, moist towelettes for quick wipes, small package of facial tissues, small bottle of hand sanitizer, paper or plastic bags for trash, a basic first-aid kit and blankets or pillows.
  • Prepare and pack some food and drinks for use during travel.  Items to include: small cooler for water and other beverages (make sure it fits conveniently in the interior of the car and is easily accessible without obstructing driver or passengers), pack snacks (try to select items that are non-messy and relatively healthy) and extra plastic forks, spoons, straws and napkins just in case.

(Please look for a future post with tips and suggestions on handling children on a long road trip and what to pack to keep them entertained in the car and hotel rooms)

The point of a family road trip is to have fun and seeing the wonderful, exciting and educational places that the United States has to offer.   Advance planning and preparation will take some of the worry out of the trip.  The point of a road trip is to spend time with family, so relax and enjoy!!

Travel – St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle

St George's Chapel - exterior south side

In Part One of the Travel post series on Windsor Castle, I discussed the history of the Castle, which dates back over 1000 years to when it was built shortly after the Norman Conquest.  In Part Two, I discussed the architecture of the main buildings and gave a short tour of some of the rooms inside the castle and the surrounding grounds of Windsor Great Park.

In this post, I will discuss in more detail St. George’s Chapel which is located in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle.  St. George’s Chapel is dedicated to the patron saint of the Order of the Carter, which was an organization first established by King Edward III in 1348.  The Order is the oldest British order of chivalry and St. George’s Chapel is where the traditional Garter ceremony takes place every June.  (For more information on the history of the Order of the Garter and the ceremony, please click on the link)

A Brief History of St. George’s Chapel  

Located in the Lower Ward of Windsor Castle, the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor had been originally built during the reign of King Henry III (1216-1272).  Then in 1348, King Edward III (1327-1377) established the Order of the Garter, St. George is the patron saint of the order.  Ultimately by 1475, King Edward IV (1461-1483) decided that Windsor Castle would be the headquarters of the order and he requested that the Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor be expanded for this purpose and be renovated in a grand style to reflect the prestige of the order.

From the period of 1475 to 1528 St. George’s Chapel was built over the reign of several British Monarchs, starting with King Edward IV, King Henry VII and Henry VIII.  The original Chapel of St. Edward the Confessor was enlarged and rededicated to become St. George’s Chapel.  In 1483 construction on the Chapel’s Nave began and it was not completed until 1509.  Meanwhile, the large stained glass West Window was completed in 1506.  Finally in 1528 the stone fan vaulting was installed on the Chapel ceiling.

During the time of the English Civil Wars (1642-1651) between the Parliamentarians and the Royalists, Windsor Castle and in particular St. George’s Chapel were severely damaged.  As a result of the Parliamentarian victory at the Battle of Worcester in September 1651, King Charles I was removed from power and executed, his son was exiled and Oliver Cromwell oversaw the government of the newly formed Commonwealth of England.  Eventually Charles II returned and was proclaimed King in May 1660.  With these government issues finally settled a period known as the Restoration began and as a result the damage to Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel could be repaired.

Until the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) St. George’s Chapel remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years.  Then, significant alterations were made to the architecture of the east end of the Chapel in the years following the 1861 death of Prince Albert, the beloved husband of Queen Victoria.  In tribute to the Prince, George Gilbert Scott received the commission to create a royal mausoleum was built underneath the Lady Chapel and became known as the Albert Memorial Chapel.

In fact, St. George’s Chapel throughout the years has become the final resting place of several monarchs who are buried beside with their consorts – King Edward IV, King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour, King Charles I, King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, King George V and Queen Mary, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to name just a few.

A tour of St. George’s Chapel

Before entering St. George’s Chapel, take a look at the top portion of the building.  Located on the roof are heraldic statues which represent the Queen’s Beasts.  The original Beasts date back to the sixteenth century but were removed in 1682 when Sir Christopher Wren felt that the statues detracted from the aesthetic appeal of the Chapel exterior architecture.  In 1925, when the Chapel was undergoing restoration, the current statues were placed on the top portion of the building.  There are fourteen different animals which were used as heraldic symbols dating back to centuries long ago: the lion of England, the red dragon of Wales, the panther of Jane Seymour, the falcon of York, the black bull of Clarence, the yale (a mythical horned creature) of Beaufort, the white lion of Mortimer, the greyhound of Richmond, the white hart (a type of deer) of King Richard II, the silver antelope of Bouhn, the black dragon of Ulster, the white swan of Hereford, the unicorn of King Edward III and the golden hind (a type of deer) of Kent.

St George's Chapel - beasts

St. George’s Chapel is an excellent example of Perpendicular Gothic architecture.  The Chapel design features large windows which allowed light into the interior and tall narrow columns which add an element of elegance.  Visitors access the interior of the Chapel through a side door near the Chantry Bookshop and proceed into the Nave.  Visitor Tip:  When standing in the Nave, be sure to look up to see the beautiful stone vaulted ceiling.  There are 463 bosses (a projecting medallion which conceals the joints were the ribs of the vault meet) and some represent the arms of the Sovereign and Knights of the Garter while others are the Tudor red and white roses.  Beneath the upper or clerestory windows look for a continuous frieze that encircles the entire chapel and features 250 carved angels.

St Georges Chapel - Nave    

Above the Main entrance to St. George’s Chapel is the West Window which is said to be England’s third largest stained-glass window.  The West Window measures 30 feet high and 29 feet wide and was original installed in the early 1500s.  In 1842, Thomas Willement reconstructed the window and it was once again altered in the 1920s when the Chapel underwent a major restoration project.  Each time the window was reconfigured and new figures were added and today there are seventy-five which represent kings, princes, popes and saints.

After visitors have finished looking at the West Window, to the right are two interesting historical statues.  The first one is located in the Urswick Chantry and is a large sculpture by Matthew Wyatt which is a lasting memorial to Princess Charlotte.   Princess Charlotte was the only child of King George IV and she was the heiress presumptive to the throne of England.  The popular Princess had happily married the handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg.  Sadly, the twenty-one year old Princess Charlotte died giving birth to a still-born child in 1817.  Royal Note:  With Princess Charlotte’s death, the future of the monarchy came into question and the brothers of King George IV scrambled to marry and produce the new heir to the throne to continue the line of succession.  As a result, Princess Victoria went onto to ultimately become Queen Victoria with her accession to the throne in 1837 at the age of eighteen.

Princess Charlotte Memorial 2

Located near the Princess Charlotte Memorial is the statue of King Leopold I created by the sculptor J.E. Boehm.  Prince Leopold was the husband of Princess Charlotte and after her death he later went on to become the first King of the Belgium.  He is also noted as the beloved uncle of both Queen Victoria and Prince Albert; he served as adviser to the Queen throughout her early reign.

Located not far from the previous two statues, visitors will see the tombs of several Sovereigns who have their final resting place in St. George’s Chapel.  Located near the West Door is the tomb of King George V and Queen Mary; their effigies were sculpted by Sir William Reid Dick in 1939.  King George V was born on June 3, 1865 and he reigned from 1910 until his death on January 20, 1936.  Queen Mary (former Princess Mary of Teck) was born on May 26, 1867 and she died on March 24, 1953.

St Georges Chapel - King George V and Queen Mary 2

Moving further down the Nave on the North side of the building, visitors will come upon the George VI Chapel which was the first structural addition to St. George’s Chapel since the 1500s.  The architect was George Pace who designed this fairly small area and it is the final resting place of King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their daughter, Princess Margaret.  King George VI (former Prince Albert, Duke of York) was born December 14, 1895 and he reigned from 1936 until his death on February 6, 1952.  Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother (former Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons) was born on August 4, 1900 and she died on March 30, 2002.  Their daughter, Princess Margaret died on February 9, 2002 just a few weeks prior to the Queen Mother’s death and her ashes were interred at the same time.

Tomb of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth 1

The area above the Nave of St. George’s Chapel is the Choir and Chancel (the part of a church near the altar, reserved for the clergy and choir, and typically separated from the nave by steps or a screen).  The Choir features carved oak stalls with tall canopies.  To the back of each stall is brass plate which identifies each individual Knight of the Order of the Garter by name.  The Order is the oldest British order of chivalry which was an organization first established by King Edward III in 1348.  Also, above each stall is the heraldic banner of the Knight along with a sword and crest or helmet, coronet or crown. The Sovereign’s Stall which is used by Queen Elizabeth II when she attends services at St. George’s Chapel, in particular in June on Garter Day, is located in the section of the Choir closest to the Nave.  Interesting Fact: The oldest stall plate circa 1390 is of Lord Basset and throughout the centuries there have been over 900 Knights of the Garter but only 670 stall plates still exist.

St George's Chapel - choir 1St George's Chapel - choir

In the Quire of St. George’s Chapel, between the Choir stalls and the altar is the Royal Vault which is the final resting place of four Sovereigns; King George III who died in 1820, King George IV who died in 1830 and King William IV who died in 1837.  A short distance away is the burial vault of two more Sovereigns; King Henry VIII who died in 1547, his third wife Jane Seymour died in 1537 and King Charles I who died in 1649.

Burial Vault of King Henry VIII and King Charles I at St. George's Chapel

Behind the altar of St. George’s Chapel is the East Window which was made by Clayton and Bell and was first unveiled on the occasion of the wedding of the Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra in 1863.  The large stained-glass window theme is the Incarnation with scenes from the Nativity and the Resurrection.  Below the window are fourteen wooden panels commissioned as a memorial to Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, who died in 1861 and depicts various moments from both his public and private life.

At the north east corner of the Chapel is the final resting place of two more Sovereigns.  The tomb of King Edward IV who died in 1483 and a short distance away is tomb of King Henry VI who died in 1471, first buried in Chertsey Abbey located in Surrey and in 1484 his body was brought to St. George’s Chapel and re-interred.

On the opposite side of the altar, on the south side of the building is the tomb of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra.  King Edward VII (former Prince Albert the Prince of Wales) was born November 9, 1841 and reigned from 1901 until his death on May 6, 1910.  Queen Alexandra (former Princess Alexandra of Denmark) was born on December 1, 1844 and died on November 20, 1925.

St George's Chapel - King Edward Vii and Queen Alexandra tomb 2

One of the final stops on the tour of St. George’s Chapel is the Albert Memorial Chapel.  The original chapel was built in 1240 and continued to be altered throughout the following centuries.  Then, after the death of the husband of Queen Victoria, the site was redesigned and rededicated to become the Albert Memorial Chapel.

    Albert Memorial Chapel 1

St. George’s Chapel has been the site of the several Royal events, most notably the annual Garter Ceremony held in every June.  Several other important events for the British Royal family have also taken place in recent years.  In 1999, Prince Edward, the third son of Queen Elizabeth II, and Sophie Rhys-Jones were married in St. George’s Chapel followed by a grand reception in Windsor Castle.  In 2002, the funeral of Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth, took place at the Chapel and later that same year Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was buried beside her husband, King George VI.  In 2005 the dedication and prayer service of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall was held at the Chapel after they were officially married in a civil ceremony at the Windsor Guildhall.

Travel Note:  If you are planning a trip to England and a visit to Windsor Castle and St. George’s Chapel, please click on the for more information.

For visitors to Windsor Castle, St. George’s Chapel is included in the admission price.  When entering the Chapel, please be respectful and observe the posted rules.  Also, please be advised that on Sundays the Chapel is closed to visitors for religious services that are held throughout the day.

Travel – Windsor Castle (Part Two)

The Windsor Castle-legendary place tourism destinationsWindsor Castle has been an official Royal residence for 39 British monarchs including the present Queen Elizabeth II.  In Windsor Castle – Part One, I discussed the history of Windsor Castle dating back over 1000 years to when it was built shortly after the Norman Conquest.  In Part Two, I will discuss the architecture of the main buildings and give a short tour of some of the rooms inside Windsor Castle as well as a brief description of St. George’s Chapel.

In general, Queen Elizabeth frequently spends weekends at Windsor Castle when she is not required to be in London for formal appearances or special occasions.  The castle is located about 22 miles from Buckingham Palace, the monarch’s official London residence.  In the spring, every year during the Easter season (April – March), the Queen will remain at the castle for several weeks.  In June the Order of the Garter ceremony takes place at St. George’s Chapel and prior to the service a luncheon is held in the Waterloo Chamber in Windsor Castle.  The Royal Ascot horse races are also held in June and of course the Queen, Prince Philip and the other members of the Royal family attend the festivities.  At various times throughout the year Windsor Castle is also used to host State Visits for foreign heads of state and diplomatic dignitaries.

A tour of Windsor Castle

Windsor Caste is a British Royal residence located on 13 acres in Berkshire about 22 miles from Buckingham Palace, London.  The castle consists of three distinct sections known as the Middle Ward, the Upper Ward and the Lower Ward. The ancient fortifications were built as a line of defensive by William the Conqueror, a Royal palace was first built and then expanded over several centuries with an adjacent small town with shops and a nearby railroad station.

The Middle Ward

The Middle Ward is considered the heart of Windsor Castle with a stone tower, known as the keep, which is set upon a large mound.  The mound is approximately 50 feet high and the keep, fittingly called the Round Tower, is 30 feet across and was originally built in 1170 by King Henry II.  Throughout the years it has been rebuilt several times and is currently being used to store the Royal Archives.  To the east of the Round Tower is the Norman Gatehouse which was built in the 14th century and features a vaulted ceiling decorated with medieval carvings and it serves as an impressive entrance into the Upper Ward of Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle - Round Tower

The Upper Ward

The Upper Ward is surrounded by a wall made of Bagshot Heath stone which encloses several buildings forming a central quadrangle.  In this area of Windsor Castle the State Apartments are located on the north side with the private rooms of the Royal Family to the south side.  Adjacent to the Upper Ward is the North Terrace which overlooks the River Thames and was built in the 17th century by King Henry VIII.

Visitor tours enter the State Apartments through the doors off the North Terrace.  During the reign of King Charles II the State Apartments were renovated to rival the rooms of Versailles in France, the ceilings were originally painted by Antonio Verrio and decorative carvings by Grinling Gibbons.  Today, the State Apartments are furnished with artwork from the Royal Collections, including paintings by Rembrandt and Rubens.

The Grand Staircase features a timbered lantern ceiling which provides plenty of light and a stone base comprising of four stone arches.  Located on the landing of the Grand Staircase is a large marble statue of King George VI by Francis Chantrey and several artfully arranged military weapons hanging on the walls and suits of armor displayed.  After descending the Grand Staircase, visitors enter the Grand Vestibule with a beautiful plaster fan vaulted ceiling accented with foliage and angels created by Francis Bernasconi.  To the left is a large marble statue of Queen Victoria depicted with her collie named Sharp, the statue is by J.E. Boehm.  Also displayed in the Grand Vestibule are more military arms and positioned against the walls are several Gothic-style cabinets displaying another military collection including the lead bullet that killed Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson in the Battle of Trafalgar which established the naval supremacy of Britain during the eighteenth century.

Windsor Castle - Grand Staircase    Windsor Castle - Grand Vestibule

The next set of State Apartments rooms were designed by Jeffry Wyatville during the reign of King Charles II.  This area of Windsor Castle was originally used for State officials and visiting dignitaries; later guest accommodations were moved to the south side of the Castle.   Today, visitors on the Windsor Castle tour will pass through the Ante Throne Room and into the King’s Drawing Room.  During the 19th century the King’s Drawing Room was known as the Rubens Room because Prince Albert decorated this room with several paintings by the renowned Flemish Baroque painter Peter Paul Rubens which are part of the permanent Royal Collection.  The room also features an elaborate plaster ceiling decorated with the coat of arms of King George IV and the Garter Star.  The carved cornice and the paneled doors were created by Grinling Gibbons and the Siena marble chimneypiece was designed by Wyatville.  (Royal Note: The bay windows in the King’s Drawing Room offer visitors a great view of Eton located across the River Thames where just a few years ago both Prince William and Prince Harry attended the elite boarding school)

Windsor Castle - King's Drawing Room

Completing the King’s suite of rooms are the King’s Bed Chamber, the King’s Dressing Room, the King’s Closet and the King’s Dining Room.  The first of two rooms of note is the King’s Bed Chamber which features walls covered in red damask, a plaster ceiling decorated with the Stuart coat of arms, a carved cornice by Gibbons and a white marble chimneypiece by William Chambers that was originally used in Buckingham House.  The elaborate bed by French woodworker Georges Jacob is draped with green and purple fabric similar to those used when French Emperor Napoleon III came for a State visit in 1855; the intertwined initials of both Napoleon and his Empress Eugenie are embroidered on a fabric panel at the foot of the bed.

Windsor Castle - King's Bedchamber

The second room of note is the King’s Dining Room originally used by King Charles II when he dined in front of the pubic on specific days of the week.  But unlike the other rooms of the State Apartments that had ceilings painted by Verrio, in Windsor Castle there are only three that have survived, and this one appropriately depicts a banquet of the gods featuring magnificent fruit, fowl and fish paintings.  Once again the intricate wood carvings in the room are by Gibbons and two large Brussel tapestries showing the coat of arms of King William III and Queen Mary II hanging on the walls were designed by Daniel Marot.

Windsor Castle - King's Dining Room

The Queen’s suite of rooms in the State Apartments included the Queen’s Audience Chamber, the Queen’s Presence Chamber, the Queen’s Guard Chamber and finally the Queen’s Ballroom.  The Queen’s Ballroom is where, during a State Visit to Windsor Castle, visiting foreign heads of State are received by the British monarch and the Diplomatic Corps.  This large room was extensively renovated by Wyatville for King William IV and the three beautiful glass chandeliers were originally commissioned by King George III.  As mentioned previously, during the reign of Queen Victoria her husband, Prince Albert, grouped many of the paintings in the Royal Collection by the prominent artist to decorate several of the rooms in Windsor Castle and in this case in the Queen’s Ballroom has on display several paintings by the Flemish Baroque artist Anthony Van Dyck including “Charles I in Robes of State” (1636).

Photo: Mark Fiennes

Another room visitors will see on the tour of Windsor Castle is the magnificent 180 foot long St. George’s Hall.  In the 1820s when Wyatville was renovating this part of Windsor Castle he choose a Gothic-style of decoration with the walls hung with military weapons and suits of armor on display.  The original plaster ceiling had been created to resemble wooden beams and decorated with the coat of arms of the Knights of the Order of the Garter.  Then, several centuries later, in 1992 the Windsor Castle fire completely destroyed the ceiling and the east wall of St. George’s Hall.  (More on the 1992 Windsor Castle Fire later in this post)  A new oak hammerbeam roof was constructed and the shields of the Knights of the Garter were painstakingly recreated and repositioned on the new ceiling.  (Royal Note: Another important addition which was part of the restoration is an equestrian figure positioned at the east end St. George’s Hall known as the King’s Champion.  In centuries past the King’s Champion would ride into the Coronation Banquet in Westminster Hall and throw down his gauntlet three times in a challenge to anyone that would deny the new monarch, the last time this was done was at the Coronation of King George IV in 1821.

Windsor Castle - St. George's Hall

The Windsor Castle tour continues into the Semi-State Apartments which were originally the private apartments created for King George IV by the architect Wyatville The rooms of the Semi-State Apartments include the Lantern Lobby, the Green Drawing Room, the Crimson Drawing Room, the State Dining Room, the Grand Reception Room, the Garter Throne Room and the Waterloo Chamber.  Unfortunately these rooms were severely damaged by the fire of 1992, later to be completely restored, and are currently used by the present Queen for official entertaining when in residence at Windsor Castle.  Below are highlighted some of the rooms of the Semi-State Apartments.

One room of note is the Lantern Lobby which is located on the former site of Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel and the unique octagonal-shaped room is at the northeast corner of the Castle situated between St. George’s Hall and the Royal Family Apartments.  It is here where the devastating 1992 fire of Windsor Castle started and a stone plaque commemorates the event and notes the date of the completion of the five year restoration.  The former chapel was completely gutted and eight oak columns support an intricate Gothic-style vaulted ceiling with a central lantern.  The inlaid floor is set in English marble and features the Garter Star in the center of the room.

Windsor Castle - Lantern Lobby adjacent to the Private Chapel

Another room in the Semi-State Apartments, which can be seen from the Crimson Drawing Room, is the Green Drawing Room.  This room survived the 1992 fire but was heavily damaged by the water used to extinguish the blaze.  The beautiful Axminster carpet was originally displayed at the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a fine example of English manufacturing before it was installed in the Green Drawing Room during the reign of Queen Victoria, the carpet survived the fire but it is in such a fragile condition that the room is closed to visitors on the Windsor Castle tour.  (Royal Note: The Green Drawing Room is the setting of the painting “The Family of Queen Victoria” which was painted in 1887 by Laurtis Regner Tuxen to commemorate the occasion of the Queen’s Jubilee and features Queen Victoria and her large extended family)

Windsor Castle - Crimson Drawing Room    Windsor Castle - Green Drawing Room

The Garter Throne Room is one of the most historic rooms in Windsor Castle and this is where for centuries the new Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Garter are invested by the British monarch before their installation ceremony in St. George’s Chapel.  The previous painted ceiling by Verrio was replaced by a moulded plaster ceiling designed by Wyatville which appropriately features the insignia of the Order of the Garter.  At one end of the room is a Giltwood canopy which dates back to the late 18th century which is hung with beautiful velvet hangings.  On a raised platform sits a Giltwood throne originally made for the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II and hung in the Garter Throne Room is a State portrait by James Gunn which depicts the Queen dressed in her Coronation robes and dress.

Windsor Castle - Garter Throne Room 1

The Waterloo Chamber is one of the largest rooms in Windsor Castle and it is dedicated to the 1815 military defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte at Waterloo by British forces which were led by the Duke of Wellington.  Wyattville had the previous Horn Court of King Edward III enclosed with a ceiling designed to resemble the timbers of a ship.  The paneled walls were created by Gringling Gibbons.  The Indian carpet, said to be the largest seamless carpet in existence, was created to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee and luckily the immense carpet was able to be saved during the 1992 fire when it took 50 soldiers to roll-up and remove it from Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle - Waterloo Chamber

King George IV commissioned Thomas Lawrence to paint portraits of the monarchs, statesman and military commanders who contributed to the victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.  The large portrait of the 1st Duke of Wellington hangs on the east wall of the Waterloo Chamber and additional portraits hung around the room included Tsar Alexander I of Russia, King William III of Prussia and Emperor Francis I of Austria and Pope Pius VII as well as Emperor Napoleon II.

Set in the center of the Waterloo Chamber, running almost the entire length of the room, is the massive mahogany dining table created by Thomas Dowbiggin in 1846.  Every year in June, Queen Elizabeth holds the Garter luncheon for the Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Garter.  The magnificent tables is beautifully set with wonderful gilt silver, china place settings from the historic Royal Collection and elaborate floral decorations for the fifty to sixty invited guests.

The Lower Ward

The Lower Ward of Windsor Castle is located just west of the Round Tower through the Norman and is divided into two areas, the College of St. George comprising of residences for the Dean and Canons of Windsor located in the northern section and the historic St. George’s Chapel located in the southern section of the Lower Ward.  The Gothic-style St. George’s Chapel completed in the 16th century is considered the spiritual home of the Order of the Knights of the Garter and is a Royal Peculiar meaning that it owes allegiance directly to the Sovereign.  The interior wooden choir stalls have brass plates bearing the cost of arms of the individual Knights of the Garter from the past six centuries.  Within St. George’s Chapel are the tombs of ten Sovereigns; including Henry VIII and two of his six wives, Catherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour, and King Charles I.  In 2002, the funeral of Princess Margaret, the sister of Queen Elizabeth, took place at the Chapel and a few months later that same year Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother was buried beside her husband, King George VI.  On a more joyful occasion, in 1999 Prince Edward and Sophie Rhys-Jones were married in St. George’s Chapel and in 2005 the dedication and prayer service of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall after they were married in a civil ceremony at the Windsor Guildhall.  (For more information on St. George’s Chapel and the Order of the Garter, please click on the links)

Windsor Castle - St. George's Chapel exterior    Windsor Castle - St. George's Chapel interior

Other Windsor Castle points of interest

Queen Mary’s Dollhouse –

Displayed in a special room located in Windsor Castle is the Queen Mary’s Dollhouse which is considered one of the largest and most famous dollhouse in the world.  It was originally built for Queen Mary, the Royal Consort of King George V, who is the grandmother of the current Queen Elizabeth and it was built between 1921 and 1924 by one of the leading British architects of the time, Edwin Lutyens, as a gift from the British people.  It is a wonderful example of a miniature aristocrat’s house created on the scale of 1:12 (one inch to one foot).  The house is filled with thousands of details, such as furniture, draperies and carpets which were made by finest English craftsmen and the dollhouse also is complete with electricity for lights, running hot and cold water and fully equipped bathrooms.  The library is filled with original stories by well-known writers such as Arthur Conan Doyle, J.M Barrie and Rudyard Kipling which are bound into miniature books.  In addition, the dollhouse is filled with fine china and silver, monogrammed linens and even miniature cars in the garage with engines that actually work.  The dollhouse also features a hidden garden that is revealed when a large drawer beneath the main building is opened, the garden is a traditional English garden complete with miniature greenery and garden tools.

Queen Mary's dollhouse

The 1992 Fire at Windsor Castle

The former site of Queen Victoria’s Private Chapel is where the 1992 disastrous Windsor Castle fire started and it has been reported that a work light had fallen and set fire to the curtains near the altar causing the fire that would quickly spread to other areas of the Castle.  More than 200 firefighters battled the fire for over 12 hours and it was the worst disaster in the castle’s history.  Luckily when the fire was first detected the castle staff was able to empty the rooms of many valuable paintings and decorative pieces.  During the lengthy five year restoration process to repair the fire damage, the rooms in this area of Windsor Castle were rebuilt to resemble their original appearance using modern materials and concealing modern structural improvements whenever possible.  It was a very costly project and at first it was said that the British taxpayers would finance the restoration but the public was outraged at the idea.  Ultimately, it was decided that both Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle would be partially opened for seasonal tours to raise the funds required for the restoration project.  On November 20, 1997 Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip held a ball to mark their 50th wedding anniversary and officially reopen Windsor Castle.

Windsor Castle fire 1    Windsor Castle fire 2