Herstmonceux Castle has been described as the finest early brick building in England. Begun in 1441, it was partially dismantled in 1777. It remained a ruin until the early 20th century when it was converted back into a residence (but with a different room plan). It was occupied by the Royal Observatory from 1948 until the end of the 1980s when the Observatory was moved to Cambridge.
The Royal Observatory at Herstmonceux
Herstmonceux Castle in old photographs (1850–1910)
By the start of the 1770s, the castle had fallen into a state of disrepair. In 1775, it was inherited by the Reverend Robert Hare who lived nearby at Herstmonceux place. He decided that it was uneconomic to repair the Castle and drew up plans with the architect Samuel Wyatt to dismantle the castle interior and use the materials to augment his own house instead. This it seems upset Thomas Lennard, Lord Dacre, a descendent of the family that had owned the Castle until 1708. As a result, Lennard commissioned James Lambert of Lewes to create a set of drawings of the Castle prior to the work commencing. Most of these were completed by him and his nephew (also called James) in 1776.
Francis Grose included engravings based on four of the Lambert drawings in volume 5 of his multivolume set: The antiquities of England and Wales (published in 1785). Grose however records in the index that they were engraved from drawings by Mr Grimm, (who had copied them from those done by the Lamberts). The four engravings, which can be seen below, were all published by S. Hooper in 1785 – plate 1 on 15 June and plates 2, 3 and 4 on 22 June. Plates 1 and 2 were engraved by Sparrow and plate 4 by Godfrey. Click here to read Grose’s accompanying description of the Castle.
In 1776, the Castle had four internal courtyards, of which the Green Court was by far the largest. The others, in diminishing size order were: the Pump Court, the Chicken Court and the Butler’s Pantry Court. When the castle was reconstructed at the start of the twentieth century, it was decided not to reinstate them and the internal buildings, but to create a single much larger courtyard instead.
In 2005, Lamberts’ volume consisting of two plans of the Castle (undated) and thirteen drawings (eleven dated 1776, one dated 1777 and one undated with the Dairy House ‘airbrushed out’) was sold for £7,440 (hammer price at the Sotherby’s sale on 24 November). In the following February, the purchaser sold them on to the East Sussex Records Office for £12,000. They have since been digitised. Click here to see them. Grimm’s copies are now in the collections of the Yale Centre for British Art and can be viewed by clicking here. A collection of preparatory drawings are in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but not yet digitised (click here for catalogue entry).
The drawings of Herstmonceux Castle by James Lambert, senior and junior, 1776–7. John H. Farrant, Sussex archaeological collections Vol 148, pp. 177–81 (2010)
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