My eyes struggled to adjust to the dim light as I walked into the cool of Burghley House, a beautiful home in the countryside at Stamford in Lincolnshire, on a summer evening. Corks popped and a glass of champagne was pressed into my hand. I followed the rest of the guests as we walked from the reception area through an arched doorway into a stone lined corridor.
My husband and I were at Burghley House for the 60th Anniversary of the Rolls Royce Enthusiast’s Club. My husband’s vintage Silver Shadow II was among the many beautiful Rolls Royce and Bentley vehicles parked outside the house.
The corridor led to a huge Tudor kitchen. Late evening sun streamed through the windows and a string quartet played in the corner, while pockets of conversation bubbled around my husband and I. The sheer scale of the kitchen took my breath away. You could have walked into the huge fireplace, and there were lots of long wooden work tables, some of which seemed to have been hewn from single trees.
China plates and gleaming copper pans, jugs, bowls, and jelly moulds lined shelves on the walls. Below a triangular display of the skulls of small birds, a sign declared that “no servants shall enter the kitchen except on business or remain longer than is necessary to perform what they have to do.” On a cold winter day in Tudor times I can image the kitchen’s huge fires would have been more than appealing. The castle would have been so very cold that any excuse to tarry there would have been welcome.
An Englishman’s Home is His Castle
Built by William Cecil, advisor and close friend to Queen Elizabeth I, Burghley House is beautifully preserved and looks and feels very unlike a museum. If you look closely enough, I’m sure you could see the shadows of the Tudors who lived there – and perhaps even of the Queen herself. She was a frequent, and clearly very welcome, visitor. Her bedroom at Burghley is incredibly opulent, with a gorgeous canopied bed, all decorated in beautiful shades of blue.
Although it is called Burghley House, the property is perhaps better described as a ‘non-royal castle’. Back in the day it was built, you wouldn’t have wanted to upset the Queen by calling your home a castle – even if it did look like one.
We wandered, glass in hand, through a property that has seen over 500 years of tumultuous British history. Every room seemed more beautiful than the last. Priceless artworks line the walls, and the opulent decoration speaks of Cecil’s wealth and prestige.
There is so much history here. The room above – The Second George Room – was used as a bedroom by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1844. The bed was decorated with the Royal Coat of Arms in the Queen’s honour, although the original hangings date from 1795.
The Ceilings at Burghley House
Burghley House is a lavish and ornate celebration of William Cecil’s hard work, wealth and prestige. One of the things that is most striking about Burghley is the ceilings.
Many stately homes in England have painted ceilings, it was very much the style throughout the centuries. However the ceilings at Burghley are quite exceptional. Virtually every room is crowned with a masterpiece. Most haven’t been touched in over 300 years, yet the colours are still vibrant and striking.
We finished our tour and wandered out into the gardens for another glass of champagne. The string quartet had followed us from the kitchens and as I listened to them play, I reflected on my second visit to Burghley House. (My cousins brought me to Burghley back in 1985, on my family’s first visit to England.)
In the nearly 30 years I’ve lived in England, I’ve visited a lot of stately homes and castles. Burghley House is definitely one of my favourites. It’s breathtakingly beautiful but it also has a lovely atmosphere. Despite being built during the turbulent Tudor era, when falling out of favour could mean losing your head, Burghley has a wonderful, warm feeling to it. It’s got all the hallmarks of a well-loved family home, albeit an extremely grand one. A delightful property, it’s the sort of place you see something new every time you visit. I hope to go back and explore some more again soon!