Here is why I came to England at all this year: Christmas with my daughter, Sarah, and her family – Andrew, Olivia, and Katie. I was meeting them in Gillingham, a small city in Kent. Andrew was raised in Kent, so it was “home for Christmas” in a way for him.
The first few days were taken up with family, Christmas, and, for me, being really sick for two of those days, but getting better after that. (I’m all better now.) I was able to meet more of Andrew’s family, who are friendly and enjoyable company. Hopefully, I’ll have the chance to see them again.
The Brits love the holiday season! There were many events, but – except for the churches – they were not religious in tone. All were welcome, and the winter holidays were just an excuse for everyone to get out and have some fun. So, we did!
Andrew was the guide, because he was most familiar with the territory. Our first outing was to a park with light displays along a path through the trees. There were some really lovely effects, and the kids had a great time!
During the days, between store runs, homework, and Sarah’s paper for her law class, we worked on one of my presents!
The girls’ room was right next door to mine, and of course, they decided that they would stay up for midnight! Two of us made it. One was just too tired.
Nearby Chilston Park is Leeds Castle, which was open on New Year’s Day. It has a long and colorful history, beginning in the Domesday Survey of 1086, where it is called “Esledes,” an Old English word meaning slope or hillside. The Manor of Esledes was owned by Odo, the Bishop of Bayeux and half-brother of William the Conqueror. Odo was not favored by King William “Rufus” II, and the estate was taken from Odo and given to Hamo de Crevecoeur, whose heirs owned it for 175 years.
The castle – as opposed to the manor house – was first built in 1119 by Hamo’s grandson, Robert, to serve as a Norman stronghold. The main fortification, the Keep, was built on the smaller of two islands in the Lens River, the islands being formed by large outcroppings of solid rock. On the larger island, known as the Bailey, were built the domestic buildings. The islands were linked by a drawbridge. If attacked, refuge would be provided by the Keep, and the drawbridge raised.
Leeds was a royal castle for almost 300 years, beginning with Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I. Ownership was granted by the king to his queen, which became her property until she died. The property would then revert to the then-current king, and while it was a royal castle, tradition dictated that it would be granted to the king’s queen. The castle tour has an entertaining presentation about the six medieval queens who have lived there. But in 1552, Edward VI, who died at 16 and never married a queen to receive a castle-gift, gave it to Anthony St. Leger as reward for service to Henry VIII. It remained in private ownership from 1552 until 1974.
It was Lady Baillie, who bought the estate in 1925, that brought Leeds Castle into its modern heyday. She supervised (and paid for) a major overhaul of the castle. Leeds became one of the great country houses of the 1930s, providing grand hospitality for statesmen, European royalty, and American movie stars.
Lady Baillie established the Leeds Castle Foundation before she died in 1974, so that the castle and its rich history would be preserved. The foundation manages it still.
“When I’m good,
I’m very good,
But when I’m bad,
– From the mirror of Lady Baillie’s vanity, a quote from an early Mae West movie.
Wandering through the castle was a great way to spend the afternoon of New Year’s Day. There was a surprisingly large number of people visiting on the holiday, but it was not at all crowded. We finished our visit with a scrumptious lunch – mine was “shepherd’s pie” – at one of the eateries on the castle grounds, and then set a course for Gillingham.
Andrew’s agenda the next day included a visit to Hyde Park’s Winter Wonderland in London. I expected displays of light, maybe some ice sculpture, but it was so much more!
For some, life does not stop for the holidays. Sarah had work to do for her law classes, so Andrew, Olivia, Katie, and I went off to see Rochester, an old city nearby. That’s where we’ll go next.
One thought on “Christmas in Kent”
Thx for posting Suzzane. Lovely memories for us all. Our 1st Xmas without dear mum, but we made the very best of it despite this loss
Looking forward to next instalment!