On this day of the Royal wedding between Prince William and Kate Middleton, we celebrate with happiness and hope for the new couple, now Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
I can’t help but notice how much Prince William looks like his eternally stunning mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales… especially in his smile, the tilt of his head, and the warmth in his eyes…
And I find myself drifting through emotions and thoughts in memory of Princess Diana. Pondering… if only she were here today… Her legacy lives on, and though sadly departed, today she is very present in the eyes of the world, and I suspect very much in her son’s thoughts as he moves through this momentous day… in fact, both sons’ thoughts, Prince William and Prince Harry.
So respectfully, I would like to take you on a quiet stroll around the Spencer family’s Althorp estate, Lady Diana’s side of life and final resting place.
Welcome to Althorp, home to the Spencers for nearly 500 years.
Althorp is set in 450 acres of Park, all of which are walled. On the grass in the background are sheep. Did you know that dating back to pre-Tudor times the Spencers were large scale sheep farmers? Robert, First Lord Spencer (1570-1627) at one time owned nearly 20,000 sheep for selling as meat, breeding stock, and wool.
This aerial view of the estate captures the home, Althorp House, and in behind it the Stable Block. In the foreground is the Oval Island sitting in the middle of the Round Oval, a man made lake that was added to the Gardens in 1860.
This is a closer view of Althorp House.
The house was originally of red brick, as shown in this 1677 painting by John Vorsterman.
The brick was tiled over close to 100 years after this painting with rebate tiles, also known as mathematical tiles. Normally white brick would have been used to cover the existing walls, but architect Henry Holland substituted rebate tiles because of their precision fit, flush-mounted to look like brick.
Once inside Althorp House, the Saloon is just a taste of the architectural beauty you will see.
The magnificent staircase, once referred to as ‘imposing’, is made out of oak, and at one time was stained to look like walnut, then covered over with white paint. As you can see it has since been returned to its original state. The stairs are covered in a Smyrna carpet purchased by Frederick, Fourth Earl Spencer (1798-1857). If you look closely to the top centre-right, you will see a painting of Princess Diana. Just to give you perspective, this portrait is near-life size!
Here is a close-up of the painting by artist Nelson Shanks.
And here is a look from the top of the stairs to the opposite end of the Saloon.
Can you believe the Saloon was once the inner courtyards of Althorp House? Now there are nineteen generations of Spencer family portraits displayed in the Saloon! Amazing.
The Stable Block: massive, impressive, and abundant in presence…
The stables are believed to have been built in 1732-33, and at one time accommodated up to 100 horses and 40 grooms.
This is my Mom and me. I included this photo just to give you an idea of the scale involved in what some believe is the finest piece of architecture at Althorp. Where we’re standing is off to the far right in the first photo of the stables.
And this is my Auntie Ada and my Mom. If you thought the gate posts were impressive, what do you think about the stable now? Can you see the person in the background beside the inner column on the right?
The stables now house the 6-room exhibition celebrating the life of Diana, Princess of Wales, and honouring her memory after death. The exhibition is open to the public from July 1, which is Princess Diana’s birth date, to August 30 each year. Once inside you are not allowed to take photos, but what you will find is a true celebration of an incredible woman.
Encased behind glass is the famous silk bridal gown worn by Lady Diana Spencer, and which was designed by David and Elizabeth Emmanuel. Did you know the train was 25′ long?
And featured here are some of Princess Diana’s haute couture clothes…
Notice the stable floors and columns? It’s hard to believe this floor that was intricately laid by hand, a little uneven to walk on in places, is hundreds of years old! A true testament to the craftsmanship of the time. In the photo below you will see the screen in the centre has two overlapping translucent images of Princess Diana.
Source: Althorp Postcard Pack Year 2000 – Jon O’Brien Photo (imaged cropped)
The opening below the screen leads you into a room filled floor to ceiling with hundreds of books filled with condolences signed by people from all over the world. It’s very overwhelming just to stand there and absorb the depth of sadness and sense of loss expressed by literally thousands, and thousands, and thousands of people.
You will also find audiovisual displays in four of the rooms, along with a range of photographs and personal items illustrating Princess Diana’s life. And you will see the work clothes and protective clothing she wore when visiting land mine sites…
A reference to her work, a testament to her true passion for helping others…
As you move through these rooms from one exhibition to another, you can’t help but find yourself moved to a deeper place…
Then strolling slowly along the pathway through the gardens and trees, lost in quiet reflection, trying to absorb all that you have just taken in…
You find yourself here, at the edges of the Round Oval.
And there in the middle is the Oval Island.
Standing back and looking at the Island, you have the sense that it’s looking back at you.
Isn’t it beautiful? So lush, with a sense of calm, a feeling of tranquillity and serenity.
The monument, visible here, was created in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales. It is not Princess Diana’s grave as many would believe. That is hidden in an arboretum of specimen trees on the island, some of which were planted by Diana and by her sons. The burial site of Princess Diana is only open to the public once a year, on the anniversary of her death – and then only by pre-booked, free tickets.
And here, the ‘Temple’. Now standing beside the Island in the Round Oval, it was moved from London in 1926 and once served as the lakeside summerhouse…
Sheila Zeller Photo
Now, the Temple is dedicated to the memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, where visitors are welcome to pay tribute when Althorp is open to the public.
This is a close-up of the tablets in the Temple.
To the left is a quotation from Diana, and to the right, the conclusion of Earl Spencer’s Tribute to his sister at Westminster Abbey. The central silhouette is made of black marble upon white marble.
There is so much to say, and yet what more can be said?
Diana, Princess of Wales… truly the Peoples’ Princess. At rest, at peace, at home.
It’s about coming home… If you want a remarkable space that tells your story, contact me to see how we can help!
If you’re interested in visiting Althorp, please visit the website www.althorp.com/visitalthorp for more information. I encourage you to look through the website for more amazing photos of the interiors, or click here for additional historical information. There is a gift shop with Commemorative and Althorp House collectibles, which you can also purchase on line. All profits from visitor activity at Althorp are given to the Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.
Comment on sources: ‘Althorp’, the book I gathered some of the information and photographs from was purchased from the gift shop at Althorp in 2000. This book pre-dates ‘Althorp Living History’ © Charles Earl Spencer, 2006
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