The House of Art and Races

Most people are familiar with Goodwood House for it’s racing track rather than as a historic house. It’s as if the other attractions are distracting because a compelling combination of motorsport racing, horse racing and golf courses almost makes you forget that a 300-year-old great house sits in the middle of the estate.

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One of the reasons that we are still left with a small number of dukes in the UK goes back to the fact that King Charles II had a great number of illegitimate children that he had to find titles for. Located near the town of Chichester in West Sussex, Goodwood is the home of the Lennox family, the holders of the Dukedom of Richmond. Charles Lennox was indeed one of King Charles’ illegitimately born sons and in his case, both Charles and his mother, Louise de Kérouaille, both subsequently managed to obtain themselves the title of dukes. 

The first duke was much like his father, the king, in that he loved drinking, parties and gambling. Sadly, he did not have the same resources as his predecessor and so eventually, to settle his debts, he had to marry off his son and heir in an arranged marriage in order to settle his financial difficulties. Interestingly, this was one of the most successful love stories in Georgian England and you can read more about it in my Goodwood House stories. 

The second duke enhanced the connection between the family and the estate to sport and is widely considered the person that turned cricket into a nationally loved and highly-esteemed sport. Goodwood was purchased by the family as a hunting lodge. In 1697, the duke’s love of hunting was demonstrated to a great degree by the fact that the structure that was home to his dogs was equipped with central heating before the actual house was. 

The house flourished and grew thanks to art. This started in around 1800 following a fire at Richmond House in London that meant that the duke had to find a new place to accommodate his art collection. One of the great features of that collection includes two images of 18th century London as viewed from the burnt down Richmond House (the paintings are presented in the old Jacobean part of the house near the historic exhibition). Other artworks in the house include paintings by Van Dyck, Reynolds and Stubbs (George Stubbs, who became famous for his paintings of horses, stayed in the house for several months in order to paint the duke and his horses) .

Along with his paintings, the duke also had to find a home for his giant tapestries. King Louis VX commissioned these tapestries (which portray the story of Don Quixote) for one of his palaces. He ended up giving them to the third duke who served as ambassador and their sheer size meant that a special grand room was needed to put them in. The planning and building work to enlarge the house for all these artworks was completed by none other than the duo James Wyatt and John Nash (Buckingham Palace). Some people say that the original plan was to continue to increase the house with more wings until it was supposed to create a perfect Octagon, but they ended up adding only two wings to the main building.

The romance between Goodwood House and horse racing began early. The “glorious Goodwood” became one of the most important racing events in the nobility calendar and it led to Goodwood house attracting more royal visitors than most houses in the country. Goodwood also hosted more privy council meetings than any other non-royal house. 

The influence of the royal family was massive. For example, one of the most famous rooms in the house today is the Egyptian Dining Room. The original room was designed after Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt made this ancient culture fashionable in great houses around the country. On one of his visits, Edward VII told the duke that, in his opinion, the room looked dated and the duke immediately gave the order to redesign the room completely. A few years ago when some building works were being carried out in the room, the original colour of the walls was discovered. The current duke approved and decided to restore the room back to its original look.

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“Would you like a cup of tea?”

Chasing Castles Review

We visited Goodwood House during a weekend in July.  The house is still the private residence of the 11th Duke of Richmond and subsequently has a limited number of days when it is open to the public. On the Goodwood House website, it is said that you need to pre-book your visit (which we did), but when we arrived, it seemed that presenting our HHA cards was enough to admit us.

This house is famous for its combination of racing grounds, golf courses and it’s many festivals (similar to a luxury hotel site, yes?). However, if you are planning to visit with children, you should make sure that there is a specific event that is relevant for them because otherwise, it is not a family-friendly house. 

It is always interesting to see how private houses plan their visitors’ experience. I tend to rank this on a scale between a historic house at one end and a theme park on the other. While it is clear that Goodwood House is closer to the historical house end of the scale, it still offers a unique approach for visitors: a house tour paired with an afternoon tea (but do be aware that you need to have pre-booked the afternoon tea).

There was still the tour to enjoy, although it offered a minimal selection of rooms to explore, which is something you can expect in a house that is still lived in. Some of the rooms had great stories to tell, like the Egyptian dining room that vanished during Victorian times. The rooms were very impressive and the guides were very knowledgeable, but for some reason, they managed to skip almost every interesting story about the fascinating characters who have lived in the house throughout history. The tour lasted an hour and was timed with the afternoon tea slot that the group I joined was registered to go to. 

In one of the rooms, there was a small historical exhibition about the family who has lived in the house to explore, but since everything was timed to fit in with the tea slot, there was not enough time to properly enjoy it. Whilst I was touring the house, my wife and children were exploring the gardens. Again, only a small portion of this was open to visitors and it was not particularly interesting. 

To sum things up, it seems that Goodwood House offers a very limited and specific visitor experience. If you have always dreamt about exploring the house of a duke followed by an afternoon tea, then Goodwood House is the perfect place to visit. Otherwise, there are probably more interesting historical attractions to explore in the area.