The newly restored East Wing of Highcliffe Castle was officially opened yesterday (30 May 2019) by HRH, The Duke of Gloucester KG GCVO.
The East Wing of the Castle has been derelict and inaccessible for over 50 years, following two fires in the 1960’s, and has now been transformed thanks to a significant grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and funding from The Country Houses Foundation, The Pilgrim Trust and The Wolfson Foundation.
The Duke of Gloucester was accompanied by HM Lord-Lieutenant of Dorset, Angus Campbell, at this special private event. High Sheriff of Dorset, Mr Philip Warr, Cllr David Flagg, Chairman of BCP Council and Graham Farrant, Chief Executive of BCP Council welcomed The Duke of Gloucester back to Highcliffe Castle, following his previous visit in 2001 when the restored West Wing was officially opened.
His Royal Highness was taken on a tour of the newly refurbished wing by Kate Ingham, the Castle’s Manager and Judith Plumley, Head of Community and Leisure, BCP Council, who were thrilled to be able to show him the transformation. His Royal Highness was invited to meet long standing volunteers on some of the Castle’s visitor routes including the Fire Gallery, showing how the Castle survived the fires, and the Owners Gallery, detailing the fascinating history of the tenants of the Castle including Harry Gordon Selfridge. The Duke of Gloucester also saw some of the original furniture from the house, which has been loaned to the Castle from the V&A Museum in London.
At the end of the tour, His Royal Highness met the project team and unveiled a plaque commemorating the opening of the East Wing.
Stephen Boyce, National Lottery Heritage Fund committee member for London and the South, said: “Thanks to National Lottery players, the East Wing has been transformed and is now open to visitors who can see for themselves the history of this wonderful Castle. It is certainly worth a visit or two.”
As part of the visit, The Duke of Gloucester also visited the newly rebuilt zigzag path leading from the Castle to the picturesque Highcliffe beach. The Duke of Gloucester cut a ribbon officially commemorating the reopening of the zigzag path.
Cllr David Flagg, Chairman of BCP Council and former Leader of Christchurch Borough Council, added: “It was a huge honour and privilege to be able to welcome His Royal Highness to the Castle once again. He was particularly pleased to learn more about the architect - William Donthorn and see some of the original drawings.
“The Castle is a very popular attraction for visitors, local residents and people across the Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole conurbation. It’s great to have the zigzag path linking the Castle and the beach and I’m sure this will provide added appeal to this destination.”
Cllr Nick Geary, Ward Councillor for Highcliffe and Walkford, said: “I have admired the renovation work and the dedication of the staff in restoring the Castle over the years and everyone involved in this wonderful project should be congratulated. This magnificent building is a credit to Christchurch and is a fantastic setting for a range of uses including weddings.”
HRH The Duke of Gloucester (transcript of speech)
“I remember when I first came here to visit with English Heritage and it was pretty impressive, the place was an absolute wreck yet clearly full of historical interest. Not only that, but it was a very large wreck and I thought how on earth are we going to solve the problem of this building which would likely disappear and become housing, or would we be able to make something of it. And luckily there were a lot of people who wanted to make something of it, the Council and indeed volunteers who wanted Highcliffe Castle to remain ‘high on its cliff’ and as a place which would intrigue people who came to visit. Now you haven’t exactly restored it to how it was, but you have restored it to something that is interesting to see and has demonstrated what the purpose of the building was and how it was used over the centuries for many different purposes. So it’s a great pleasure to come again and I congratulate all those who have played a part. And thumbs down to all those who said it couldn’t be done. I wish you all the very best of luck.”