Leeds Castle, advertised as 'one of the loveliest castles in the world', is situated in Kent, and is famous for the wide, shimmering lake encircling the castle giving it a certain air of serenity. As early as the mid-8th century, there was a manor house situated here, owned by the Saxon royal family, and it was given the name 'Leeds' after the little village close by. Following the Norman invasion, the Norman barons found it necessary to build strong fortresses, so as not to be overwhelmed by the huge numbers of hostile English in the area, and so in 1119 a stone castle was built at Leeds.
Quite unusually, Leeds Castle sits on an island, surrounded by extensive grounds. The Barbican, constructed during the reign of Edward I, is unique in that it is made up of three parts, each having its own entrance, drawbridge, gateway and portcullis. Placed on the outer wall of the dam, it afforded great protection. Before the castle was built, a mill existed on the site, and this became an important part of the defences at the outer gates, located at the south end of the Barbican. Its purpose was to flood the Len valley, via an aqueduct in the basement, during times of impending danger.
Edward 1 was responsible for many alterations at Leeds Castle, including the construction of a revetment wall around the largest island. This wall, strengthened by D-shaped turrets and a Gatehouse, was extended in order to give added protection to the dam and Barbican. The medieval Keep is called the Gloriette, in honour of Queen Eleanor's influence, and this housed the great Hall, where Edward I could accommodate guests in relative comfort. In the 17th century, when the Keep was being used to hold French and Dutch prisoners, it fell into ruins after the prisoners set fire to the building.
However, the visitor today is faced with a fascinating combination of royal palace, manor house and medieval castle, all having undergone periods of reconstruction and restoration. Internally, the rooms are furnished delightfully, with décor spanning the centuries, and many pieces of fine art. The mid-12th century cellar, beneath the late Georgian house of 1822, used to lead to the Great Hall, and is the oldest part of Leeds castle still visible. On the site of the Great Hall, now stands the Heraldry room with its attractive plaster ceiling made from moulds of Jacobean originals.
Leeds Castle was a renowned royal residence from the time of Henry VIII, who spent large sums of money refurbishing and remodelling the buildings, and it remained so for over three hundred years. During the Second World War, Leeds Castle hosted many important meetings and, on one occasion, Field Marshal Montgomery and Sir Bertram Ramsay were drawn to this splendid setting to conduct their business.
Today, visitors come not just to view this magnificent castle set in over 500 acres of landscaped parkland with its maze, grotto, waterfowl, aviaries, and vineyard, but to participate in a wide range of special events organised at Leeds Castle throughout the year.