Talk of the town: ‘Hever Castle has a unique history that never fails to beguile’
11th July 2019
Owen Emmerson is Hever Castle’s chief supervisor. Here he tells us about his fascinating role as guardian and what makes Hever’s history so special
Owen, please can you tell us a little bit about your job at Hever Castle?
I am the castle’s supervisor and have the pleasure of looking after the day-to-day running of it. This involves unlocking the castle in the morning and looking after the fantastic team of stewards who keep an eye on our incredible collection. I have also recently had the pleasure of co-curating an exhibition with Hever Castle’s fabulous curator, Alison Palmer, about the films and television programmes that have been shot here. It truly is my dream job.
How long have you been doing it, and what do you enjoy most about your job?
It’s my second season working as the castle’s supervisor, but I have been visiting Hever since I was four years old. It was because of Hever that I became fascinated by history and went on to study the subject at university. The thing I enjoy most is spending half an hour each day locking the castle up at night. It almost feels like it is a living being at times: its five-hundred-year-old wooden structure creaks and sighs back into place after a busy day.
What special events do you have coming up for summer 2019 at the castle?
We have a fantastic programme of events lined up this summer, including A Journey Through History; Once Upon a Castle; Knights and Princesses School; Castle Canines and, of course, Hever’s famous jousting season. There is something for everyone this summer and lots of fun to be had.
Jousting is a summer staple, what do you think makes it so popular?
I think jousting is so popular here because it is such a vibrant way for visitors to access the past. It truly is an assault on the senses: the sound of 16-foot wooden lances shattering on metal; the smell of horse sweat; the tremor in the soil beneath your blanket as hooves thunder towards each other. It’s fantastic that so many people continue to come and cheer on their favourite rider.
Tell us a little bit about your new event Once Upon A Castle?
Children will meet Flame the dragon and then go on an adventure through the gardens in order to find a new shield to replace the one Flame has accidentally burnt. In the castle, they can help look for the princess’s cat and meet fairy-tale creatures along the way. There will also be a chance to experience what it was like to live in Tudor England with displays of authentic Tudor crafts, armour-making and cookery as well as live demonstrations of archery and crossbow.
Do you have a favourite part of the castle?
My favourite place in the castle is the Book of Hours room, which contains two prayer books belonging to Anne Boleyn, who spent her formative years here. She has both inscribed and signed them. The room is the area that the Boleyns called their living space or Great Chamber.
Can you tell us about any famous people that you have taken on a tour around the castle and its grounds?
We are so lucky that national treasures like Dame Judi Dench and Gloria Hunniford are regular visitors to Hever Castle. Gregg Wallace is also a frequent visitor and was married here in 2016. Rachel de Thame opened our gardens exhibition in the same year, and last year JB Gill from CBeebies opened our natural play area for under 7s, known as Acorn Dell. This fantastic new play area is located near to hugely impressive children’s play castle called Tudor Towers.
What do you think makes Hever Castle such a unique place to visit?
Hever Castle is, in many ways, the quintessence of the idea of Kent as the Garden of England. While the castle is charming yet compact, the gardens are extensive. Visitors often get the sense that they could very comfortably call Hever Castle home. It also has a unique history that never fails to beguile. Hever is the only surviving witness to Anne Boleyn’s early childhood, and no other place where she lived can claim to be Anne’s sanctuary.
Can you tell us a little more about Anne Boleyn’s Hever connection?
Places like the Tower of London bore witness to Anne’s darkest days but here at Hever we can tell a different story about Anne’s formative years and about the times that she returned to Hever to escape Henry VIII’s advances. It was also here at Hever that Anne took the momentous decision to marry Henry and that choice quite literally changed the course of history. Anne’s motto as queen was ‘The Most Happy’, but I feel that, in reality, it was here at Hever Castle that she was happiest.
If you could put on any event at Hever Castle, what would it be and why?
We will be celebrating our 750th anniversary here at Hever in the not too distant future, and I would love to see an event that showed the breadth of history that Hever Castle has. I would also love to see something that recognised Anne of Cleves (Henry VIII’s fourth wife), who also called Hever home for 17 years. She is a fascinating character and is second only to Anne Boleyn in my affections.
Did you know?
Last year 389,407 people visited Hever. It was a record-breaking year, up 9 per cent on the previous year
Hever Castle is set in 125 acres, and has nine gardeners who look after the estate. There are more than 4,000 roses and 7,000 annual bedding plants.
The magnificent Long Gallery is most often cited as visitors’ favourite room in the castle and has recently been re-curated by the historian Dr David Starkey, and now features an impressive display of Tudor portraiture
Scenes from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace were filmed at Hever Castle’s lake and loggia conservatory