Who doesn’t love a secret panel - and finding out what’s behind it?
A new tour launched this year at Hever Castle gives visitors a value-added tour where they get the chance to see rooms and parts of Hever not usually seen - and they even get to do it when the castle is shut to others.
The revelations start even before you go over the drawbridge, when you hear about the “murder holes”, built to pour boiling oil on any intruders from above.
Though, luckily, they are thought to have never been needed.The castle, built in the 1270s, is most famous for its royal connections, as Henry VIII spent seven years wooing Anne Boleyn there, before she became his queen for just 1,000 days.
While most visitors get to marvel at the bed the king slept in, not all find out that the king brought his own locksmith on his travels, and would have the locks changed, for security - one of the locks in the Dining Hall was changed this way, while another is a replica. But can you spot which?
The castle’s centuries of history include an abundance about Anne and her childhood growing up there, but much of the fascinating facts and surprising discoveries are a result of when William Waldorf Astor, who was one of the richest men in the world when he bought it and began his lavish and extensive changes. No expense was spared - he even diverted a river as part of his redevelopment.
In the Drawing Room, a tiny attention to detail is the hand carved, ornate door, though it is the side which opens onto the room, so the what must have taken months’ work, is barely seen by the thousands who visit Hever every year.
Heading into The Library, once the administrative offices in Tudor times, it was remodelled in 1905, with bookcases copied from those once owned by the diarist Samuel Pepys. There is also a portrait above the fireplace of Johann Jakob Astor, founder of the Astor family’s fortune in the late 18th century, who himself has an interesting back story you will hear about.
Stepping through a well-hidden secret panel, you’ll find yourself inside William Waldorf Astor’s study, which includes some surprises, not least his interest in the occult, before heading through to what must be the most extravagant bathroom anyone could imagine bathing in - just have your sunglasses ready to take in the full extent of its pink-ness.
Upstairs the tour continues with bedrooms built for the children, one of which has a window leading directly out onto the battlements - something to behold in today's Health and Safety times, with the girls’ rooms decked out in floral fabric which must have been the fashion of the day. One room feels a little eerie and it does prompt our guide to discuss whether the castle may have a “presence.” But that’s one secret visitors will need to judge for themselves.
Hidden Hever is available to book for adults only. The tour lasts an hour and a half starting at 10am. It does include some steep steps. Tour guests can enjoy the gardens until closing. To book visit hevercastle.co.uk/groups or email firstname.lastname@example.org