Eastnor Castle a venue fitted to Live Music

Eastnor Castle definitely would not fit into the modern housing estate, it is massive. And so was the workforce massive that built it. No team of 5 men and forklift to build this place. There were 250 men working on this project, apparently working day shift and night shifts for the first 6 years of its building, and the statistics that I found show that in the first 18 months of work 4000 tonnes of building stone, 16,000 tonnes of mortar and 600 tonnes of wood were used. Not exactly environmentally friendly construction methods, but it does give fantastic acoustics for a string quartet, and it is still here after almost 200 years, and this is something that the environmental movement doesn't necessarily take into account. It isn't just what resources are used to build to produce something, but how long will it last, is it going to collapse will be thrown away in a few years so that another lot of resources have to be used? Perhaps Eastnor Castle will turn out to be more environmentally friendly than the average modern home, when you look at it and work to the calculations for 500 years after it has been built. If you look at it now you can believe it will keep standing for at least another 2 or 300 years if not longer.

And if you're thinking about the environmental aspects of this, there's a lot said about using local materials and that certainly was done here. The stone came from quarries in the Forest of Dean and most of the timber came from the Eastnor state. If you want one of these silly statistics that proves nothing but that inflation has been going on for a long time, the castle apparently cost £85,923, something like 9 or £10 million today. Though when one looks at the size of this building and the superb decoration and it, that seems a rather low present-day estimate, but probably a lot of work and restoration work has been done on the buildings and its decor since that higher figure that I quoted was estimated.

If the weather is good, the string quartet may play by the 2 huge tours of the castle entrance, with their music wafting across the grounds as the guests arrive. After the guests had entered through the 2 main doors, up the flight of stairs, normally flanked by candles, and through the next set of huge doors, there in the great hall of the castle. This is where we normally play with our string quartet for the drinks reception, but have also played there with our barn dance band or jazz bands for the evening reception.

To go back to talking about the structure of Eastnor Castle and the rooms prior to discussing our string quartet and for that matter, other music groups, would play during the wedding. In 1849 the 2nd Earl commissioned AWN Pugin to decorate the drawing room in the high Gothic revival style. This is the magnificent room that is used today for civil wedding ceremonies, and with in which our string quartets play for the processional, signing and recessional. We have played in this room many times with our string quartet and flute and string quartet, but I can't recall jazz bands having played there, and cerainly not the ceilidh bands or barn dance bands.

The 3rd Earl Somers lavished more work on the castle between 1860 and 1870, and the tastes of this artistic and educated man can be seen in rooms such as the long library and state bedroom, (neither of which are played in by our string quartets. The reason is obvious for the state bedroom, but not so clear for the long library. In part the library is out of bounds because of the damage that could inadvertently because by partying guests, but also the acoustics are dire. The room is lined with books, heavily carpeted and heavily curtained, so it's like trying to play in an anechoic chamber, all sound seems to get sucked out of the instrument and buried somewhere out of earshot. It is the only room in the castle that doesn't have good acoustics.)

The octagon room, which I have mentioned that the quartet playing after the wedding ceremony, is a classical design with very good painted marble effects, (you have to look quite closely to see that isn't real marble), and was evidently originally decorated in cream and crimson silk which is no longer there. It does have a magnificent carpet that was handmade not that long ago, to fit the room and I believe, though I'm not sure, that the pattern was taken from an earlier original.

Charles, the 3rd Earl Somers, seems to have gone on a buying spree around Europe, buying 17th-century Italian furniture, Flemish tapestries, mediaeval armour and 15th century art of the Renaissance. This was the fashionable thing to do at that time and I have read somewhere that this fashion coincided with the collapse of Italian nobility, who were flogging off their possessions left right and centre to keep their families afloat. So it seems that Charles made some good deals on this.

It is all matter of taste much of the furniture from many of the paintings are quite beautiful. There is one painting though that is always puzzled me. It is one of these mythological scenes no doubt painted by a great master, of a man () with an imploring female figure (unclothed closed hanging on to. There are 2 dogs in the picture as well making the whole scene a little complicated. One of his legs is visible, the other is partly obscured, dogs et cetera but the part of his legs that you can see doesn't seem to actually be attached improperly. I suspect this sort of peculiarity in paintings is not uncommon amongst the great masters. Remember some years ago being at an exhibition at the Royal College of Art in London and my wife telling me angrily to be quiet. There was a huge painting by Whistler. It was a beach scene and there was lady reclining against a rocky outcrop on the beach. She was in the long dress of the period, and just the lower part of her leg ankles and feet were sticking out of the dress. One knee was raised slightly and you could see this from the folds of the dress and you could see her leg coming out from the dress at the bottom. It was the other leg that was the puzzle. The angle at which the lower leg ankle and foot came out of the dress would have meant that her other leg was jointed in the opposite direction. Had she severely broken her leg or dislocated it and rotated it through hundred 80°? Was she some sort of freak of nature where her right leg had a normal knee joint and her left leg had a knee joint bending in completely the opposite direction? Or was it that Whistler, the famous artist who people pay huge sums of money for his paintings, had got it wrong. I was expressing this to the disgruntled looks of the arty types around me, but unfortunately I had to shut up.

I pointed this out to members of the string quartet, some of whom see it as I do and some think it all tied up geometrically quite okay. Whichever is the truth, it is a very skilfully painted work.

We only started playing at the castle with RK bands, string quartets and jazz bands long after it had been returned to the family after they offered it to the Australian high commission in 1939 in case they need to leave London in the Blitz. The family moved out and put their energies into farming and developing the farming activities of the estate. The castle became a secondary issue. It wasn't until 1986 the James, of the death of his mother, decided to restore the castle to its full romantic splendour and to also make it a place in which to live.

I can't recall how long after that it was that I played there for the first time with my string quartet? It couldn't have been that long and it was plain that the place had been neglected for many years but nevertheless retains enough of his romantic splendour to make it a viable place to hold events. The first string quartet performance there was not for a wedding but for a corporate event. One of the partners of the company was also a superb violinist and a friend of mine and I think we played there in payment for a bottle of champagne each. Oh, how prices have risen. That's inflation for you! And oh, how Eastnor Castle has changed. I guess that restoration is never complete in a place like that, it makes the chores of maintenance jobs in one's own house pale into insignificance, but to all intents and purposes it has been restored to all its magnificent and romantic glory. The perfect place for a wedding.