Warwick Castle is one of the most impressive Mediaeval castles in England. The romance of this fascinating castle captivated me on my first visit there. Formerly home of the most powerful noblemen of the country, the castle is now owned by Madame Tussaud's Wax Works. With new ownership, considerable restoration work was done on the castle. Wax figures have been incorporated into two wings, bringing to life some of the story of Warwick Castle and making a visit there all the more appealing.
From first sight this majestic stronghold commands attention. High, gray stone walls rise like sheer cliffs beside the gently flowing Avon River. Massive towers appear at each corner. Today's peaceful setting belies the true nature of the castle's origin. This imposing structure was built as a fortification. Those towers provided their inhabitants with expansive views of the surrounding countryside. Perpendicular slits situated at three levels in the huge, rock towers, allowed the castle's early defenders to shoot their arrows at invaders. Later, during the Civil War windows, near the top of the tower, were enlarged to allow the projection of cannons.
A drawbridge and moat provided the first means of defense. Now grass grows under the drawbridge leading to the gatehouse. This entrance was heavily fortified. Beyond the first thick gate, invaders would be met by portcullis gates. Barbarous looking, the gates are made up of pointed metal bars mounted above each end of the gate house. These could be swiftly dropped to impale or imprison unwary intruders.
From the courtyard, you go down narrow, stone steps into the dark, dank dungeons and torture chamber below. These same dungeons once confined prisoners, some forgotten or tortured as their cries or screams became lost in the thick stone walls. I listened to hear if some faint sound of their cries could still be heard resounding off the eerie, ghostly walls.
In a Medieval wing of the castle a cast of wax figures give a vivid portrayal of the role the Earl of Warwick played in the balance of Royal power in England. This exhibit is referred to as "The Making of a King." Madame Tussaud's figures are very lifelike. In each room a ghostly cast depict the household as the Earl of Warwick prepared his army to fight in the Wars of the Roses. History was in the making.
The Great Hall, the castle's largest room, is considered to be the heart of the castle. During the 14th century everyone ate, drank and even slept here on a straw and dirt-covered floor, around an open fire. The din and acrid smoke is gone. It stands today, stark and quiet, except for the whispers of tourists observing displays of shields, swords, suits of armour and even a plumed knight sits, in silver armour, astride an armour-clad horse set out on the gleaming black and white checkered marble floor.
The State Dining Room was the scene of many impressive dinner parties. George IV, Edward VII, and even Queen Victoria and her Albert dined here.
A series of five sumptuous State rooms, known as "The Royal Suite" were reserved for royal visitors. They contain a king's ransom in treasures. Moving through the rooms my eye can hardly take them all in.
The former family apartments are now the site of the "Royal Weekend Party 1898." Wax figures of those on the original guest list recreate a scene of that weekend. Daisy, Countess of Warwick was famous for her beauty and her parties. As usual, the Duke of Wales was the principal guest. (Rumours suggest that Daisy was his mistress.) His son, George, Duke of York, later to become George V, was also one of the guests, as was a young Winston Churchill. These rooms appear just as they were that day. Pictures were used for authenticity. In the Music Room Lady Randolph Churchill and other guests are being entertained by a gentleman at the grand piano and a famous vocalist. The boudoir of the Countess of Warwick is an elegant room, where a butler is serving tea to the Countess and her sister. Proceeding through the bedrooms we find various guests and family members preparing for dinner. There is a slight inconsistency, the Countess appears again in her own bedroom, where her maid is helping her dress for the evening in a gorgeous, white satin evening gown. Visitors to these family apartments get a vivid picture of what it was like to be invited to Warwick Castle for a Victorian house party.
It is impossible to tour an ancient castle without trying to imagine it vibrant and pulsing in its prime. It is fascinating to see an exhibit with so little left to the imagination! A visit to Warwick Castle is truly a memorable experience!
By M. Maxine George
For more information about Warwick Castle contact:
The British Tourist Authority
5915 Airport Road, Ste. 120
Mississauga, Ont. Canada L4V 1T1
Telephone: (905) 405-1840
Fax: (905) 405-1835
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