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The History Zone

An 1870s Description of Windsor

'Picturesque Europe', published in the 1870s, included the following beautiful and informed description of Windsor Castle, the Great Park and Virginia Water nearby.

The writer comments on those comparatively new changes made by Sir Jeffery Wyatville some 40 years earlier in addition to providing descriptions of the development of the castle and surrounding area over the previous 800 years.

The article is accompanied by some very fine wood engravings, of which the view from the Round Tower to the west is a remarkable illustration of just how little Windsor had expanded prior to the 1870s. We have also included some present day views to further illustrate the areas being described which will be added to as time permits.

Among the royal palaces of Europe, Windsor Castle justly lays claim to the first place. Some, like the Escurial, may be larger; others, like Heidelberg may even surpass it in beauty of site; others, again, like the old fortress of the popes on the rocky bluff by the Rhone, may be more perfect in architecture; but in none are size, beauty, and grandeur, so united as in the first and oldest of the royal residences. At Avignon, indeed, where for so long popes, orthodox or schismatical, kept their courts, a cathedral and a fortress stand side by side; but Windsor is a palace, an abbey, a college, and a barrack, all in one. Further, it is bound up with English history more completely than any other castle in the country. Other ancient palaces are deserted or destroyed. Sheen, Theobalds, Winchester, have perished; the Tower of London has not sheltered one of the ruling princes since the reign of Queen Mary. Windsor, on the contrary, has received within its walls the members of the royal house since the days when William the Conqueror first laid the foundation of his castle on "the exceeding profitable and commodious spot," which he marked rising by the river among the trees of the forest. Of what had previously existed there we know nothing certain, except that in the Confessor's time the hill was granted to St. Peter's monks at Westminster, " as a perpetual endowment and inheritance." The legend that Merlin raised here a magic fortress for Arthur, wherein was placed the Table Round, though of course absurd, may hint at some earlier stronghold; and the hill itself, with its steep banks and level summit, seems marked out by Nature for such a purpose; but the Saxon kings had their palace at the village of Old Windsor, and it was reserved for the stranger to discover the value of the site.
An exchange was effected with the Abbot of Westminster, and before long a castle crowned the hill. No fragment of this is now known to remain; indeed, it was only allowed to stand for some thirty years, and then was entirely rebuilt upon a much larger scale by Henry I. Though probably the present castle, as we may infer from its plan, occupies the same site, this structure, too, has disappeared; and the earliest buildings that now remain date from the reign of the third Henry, who made many important additions and alterations. Not much, however, is left intact of any work by the predecessors of Edward III. To him belongs the most conspicuous feature of the castle-the Round Tower or keep-and several other parts of the building are remnants of the important alterations undertaken in this reign. St. George's Chapel recalls the memories of Edward IV, Henry VII, and Henry VIII; to the second of these belongs part of the western half of the northern facade; the remainder dates from the reign of Queen Elizabeth. Very considerable changes were made after the Restoration, few of which were anything but reckless marring of the picturesque character of the building, after which happily little was done, and that little seldom well, till the reign of George IV, by whose command very extensive works were undertaken by James Wyatt, the architect, during which time many parts of the castle were rebuilt, recast, and modernised. The effect of these renovations is effective on the whole, as the general grouping and outline of the buildings were much improved; yet the details are often disappointing on a nearer view, owing to the architect's imperfect knowledge of mediaeval art, and total want of sympathy with its principles.
  Two lines of railway now connect the castle with London. One, the South Western, passes along the rich water-meadows by the Thames, skirting the grassy expanse of the Home Park, and bringing into view successively the eastern or garden front, and the long, picturesque, broken line of the northern face, which crowns a steep wooded declivity, once, doubtless, a river cliff, now thickly clothed with timber, and rises almost like a chain of hills above the misty plain of the Thames Valley. The other railway, a branch from the Great Western, turns aside from the main line at Slough, and, after passing the groves and "antique towers" of Eton, sweeps round at the back of the town and terminates near the western end of the irregular area occupied by the castle. Each moment some fresh combination, some new grouping of the buildings, delights the eye; till, shortly before entering the station, we see the Curfew Tower, backed by the turrets of St. George's Chapel, rising above' the gardens, and rather picturesque houses which form one side of the main street of the town. On gaining this we shall at once come in sight of the whole height of this tower, which stands at the northwestern end of the castle. It bears the various names of the Bell, Curfew, Clewer, and Caesar's Tower, and dates from the reign of Henry II. Part of the interior is still unaltered, though the exterior has been much modernised. The most recent change has been to remove the heavy clock-cupola, and substitute the present sub-conical roof with its light dormer-windows. The old vaulted dungeon yet remains beneath it; and readers of Ainsworth's "Windsor Castle" will remember that many of its most thrilling scenes are laid in this tower. Here the butcher, Mark Fenwolf, was imprisoned, from its battlements he was hung; and in the upper chamber the encounter took place between Henry VIII and Herne the Hunter, when, as represented in one of George Cruikshank's most powerful etchings, the king fired at the demon with a "dag" as the latter sank through the floor.

The Hundred Steps with the Winchester Tower high above

Descending the hill for a short distance we come to a simple gateway, at the foot of the "Hundred Steps," a twisting flight of stone stairs, said to be one hundred and twenty-two in number, leading from the lower part of the town to a sally-port near the Canons' Cloister. Behind it rises the stately Winchester Tower, the work of that patron of art and friend of learning, William of Wykeham, of whose architectural skill and liberality, Winchester Cathedral and School, and New College, Oxford, are yet memorials. Placed by Edward III, in charge of his works at Windsor, he superintended the reconstruction of the castle, and, as the story goes, ran considerable risk of losing the royal favour, by inscribing on this tower, Hoc fecit Wykeham. The king was offended at the presumption of the subject, who ventured to declare himself the builder of the palace, till the prelate, shrewder scholar and courtier than he seemed, pointed out that the inscription could be translated another way, and averred "this hath made Wykeham" to be his true meaning.

Caesar's Tower, now known as The Curfew Tower, as seen from the west, at The Goswells, now a National Trust area

A similar view in 2000

The long ascent of steps will not tempt any but the most energetic of travellers, so we will turn back up the gentler slope at the base of Caesar's Tower, and, keeping under the castle wall by the Garter Tower, also the work of Henry II, though it has been almost rebuilt, and the Salisbury Tower, will follow for a short distance the broad drive which ultimately leads to the great gateway on the south side of the castle.

The approach to Henry VIII's Gateway, to the left

This western face has been thrown open to the street, as well as being thoroughly and admirably restored during the present reign. Having regard to Wyatville's designs for this part, we may deem it fortunate that their execution was deferred. The public entrance to the castle is under an archway flanked by octagonal towers, which is called, from its founder, Henry VIII's Gateway. We then find ourselves in a long, irregular, shelving court-yard, the lowest of the three wards, or plateaux, which formed the original surface of the hill. To our right, on a terrace, are the houses of the Military Knights of Windsor; at the upper end of the ward rises the huge mass of the Round Tower; in front stands the magnificent pile of St. George's Chapel, and on either side of it clusters an irregular group of buildings, the houses of the dean and canons, quarters for soldiers, and the like. This ward is, in fact, a rather quaint mixture of a cathedral close, a college court, and a barrack-yard, and is full of picturesque bits to delight the artist. We are here on the site of the oldest portion of the castle, though little or nothing remains to show the fact. Here stood some of the most important parts of the palatial fortress which, under the direction of Henry I, replaced the smaller structure of William the Conqueror. On the site of those irregular, picturesque groups of buildings were the chambers, where not a few princes of the blood royal were born or died; where King John, after the meeting at Runnymede, vented his chagrin in almost maniac rage, "biting now on one staff, now on another, as he walked, and did oft brake the same in pieces when he had done; " where good Queen Philippa died, whose spirit, as Froissart says, " surely the holy angels receyved with great joy into heaven, for in all her lyfe she did neyther in thought nor dede thyng whereby to lese her soul." Here, on St. George's Day, 1344, was the Order of the Garter first instituted, with great state, the queen being present, "accompanied by three hundred ladies and damsels, all of high birth, and richly dressed in similar robes." By her royal husband a chapel was dedicated to St. George, nearly on the site of the present one, except that, perhaps, it extended rather farther east; and the constitution of the chapter dates from this period. He rebuilt a large part of the castle, using for this purpose, it is said, the ransoms of the Kings of France and Scotland, both of whom were imprisoned here.
  The present Chapel of St. George is of later date, as the first glance will show, every feature being characteristic of quite the end of the Perpendicular period. Indeed, the stone roof is yet later; that to the nave being erected by Henry VII, and that to the choir by his successor. Few parts of the castle are more likely than this to tempt the visitor to linger. As is usually the case with buildings of this epoch, the interior is yet richer than the exterior; the sculptured walls, the fretted roof, and the grand east and west windows will well repay careful examination. But the chapel has an interest yet greater than its architecture. Nowhere, except in Westminster Abbey, are we more closely surrounded by the memorials of English history. In the gorgeous choir, the Chapel of the Order of the Garter, the sculptured stalls, with their emblazoned plates of brass and pendant banners, recall the long list of illustrious names that have won the blue ribbon since first the Order was founded "to promote the honor of God and the glory and interest of their sovereign." In various parts of the chapel are the memorials of those who have worn the crown, or stood on the steps of the throne. Here a plain slab marks the grave of Charles Brandon. These chantries recall the memories of such names as Beaufort, Rutland, Hastings, and Beauchamp. Beneath the choir Henry VIII. rests by the side of his best-loved wife, Jane Seymour. Hither, in silence and sorrow, they bore Charles I. His pall white with snow which fell upon it as the procession passed to the chapel. In the north aisle is the tomb of " King Edward III and his Queen, Elizabeth Widvile;" Hastings, dispatched by the headsman's axe ere the Lord Protector dined, lies near his master; and in the south aisle a plain black slab marks the resting-place of Henry VI. In the vault east of the choir, beneath the structure known as the Wolsey Chapel, or the Tomb-House, are laid the bodies of the last three occupants of the throne, with several members of their families, the much-lamented Princess Charlotte, whose monument is in the nave, being among them. The history of the Tomb-House is remarkable. Commenced by Henry VII. for the burial-place of the Tudor family, it was abandoned after the building of his chapel in Westminster Abbey, and was granted by Henry VIII. to Cardinal Wolsey, who began to construct for himself a splendid monument. But disgrace and death came before the tomb was ready.-"The bass-relief in bronze .... those Pans and Nymphs .... the Saviour at His Sermon on the Mount, Saint Praxed in a glory, and one Pan," were sold by the officers of the Commonwealth for old brass; and his black marble sarcophagus, after lying neglected for years, now covers the tomb of Nelson in the crypts beneath the-dome of St. Paul's. The royal vault was opened to receive for a time the body of the late Duchess of Kent; and then again, all too soon, for the late prince-consort, in that dark December, whose shadow has not yet passed away from the land. His remains have since been removed to the superb mausoleum in Frogmore Park; but a cenotaph has been erected, and the chapel has been magnificently restored and adorned with mosaic and marble work by Her Majesty the Queen, in memorial of her sorrow.

Please click for an enlarged view

  The Dean's Cloister is a fine piece of architecture, probably part of Edward III's work, and in its neighborhood still remain several fragments of the old buildings and chapel of Henry I H. The most interesting view we know gives the entrance communicating with the passage along the north side of the chapel, the doorway to which is a very beautiful one. Here, however, we must not linger, for the most striking feature of the castle has yet to be visited. This is the Round Tower, that huge mass of masonry which crowns a mound in the Middle Ward, and is seen from afar to rise above the other buildings of the castle like the monarch of a mountain chain. The existing structure dates from the reign of Edward III, though it has subsequently undergone many alterations, the most important being those of Wyatville, who added a story with the present machiolated battlements and the turret, thus raising the height of the building about thirteen yards. There can be little doubt, we think, that it occupies the site of a still earlier tower, and that the keep of the original Norman castle was also erected here. If, as Froissart asserts, Windsor Castle had been founded by King Arthur, this mound would have been the site of the hall where was placed the "Table Round," but of that tradition one may be allowed to be more than skeptical, though it is possible that the mound may be far older than the castle, and mark the centre of some British stronghold. This tower was the residence of the castellan to whose charge the fortress was intrusted, and of the prisoners of state committed - to his custody; among the latter, crowned heads have been numbered. John, King of France, taken prisoner at Poitiers, passed a part of his captivity here, as it would seem from Froissart, not so unpleasantly as might have been, "for he was permitted to hunt and hawk and take what other diversions he pleased in that neighborhood." At the same time, King David of Scotland, who had been captured at Nevill's Cross, was lodged in a neighboring tower, and tradition states that the curtain-wall was built to facilitate the intercourse of the two prisoners. Another King of Scotland, James I, was also detained for full eighteen years in this tower, and in the "gardyn faire," just by the wall, he wooed and won his bride, Lady Jane Beaufort. Though there is now no"... herbere grene, with wandis long and small Railit about, and so with tries set ... and hawthorne hegis knet" that none might therein "scarce any wight aspye," yet there are still some spots shaded with "leves grene," and the grassy bank is dappled with primroses in springtide, as full like it was four and a half centuries ago.
  The Round Tower itself is rather disappointing, on a near view, to any one who has previously admired its superb outline from a distance, for the heavy mass of masonry has no beauty, and barely dignity, while the various incongruities in its details offend the eye. But the view from the summit is one of wonderful beauty.

Please click here for a larger version of the above

The view looking west from the top of The Round Tower

  At our feet, as in a model, are ranged the buildings of the castle; beyond them the clustering houses of the town sweep down to the park and to the river. On the one hand the eye ranges over fold on fold of sward and forest; over the Great Park, and the forest of Cranbourne, over countless beeches and oaks of patriarchal age, to the distant ridges of the Surrey hills; on the other, over the Thames and the lawns of the Home Park, over the towers and pinnacles and groves of Eton, across league on league of meadow and park, by stately mansions, standing lonely in their pleasaunces, and cottages gathered round a village steeple; by the Tower of Cliefden and the woods of Dropmore, to the far-off lines of the Chiltern Hills. The Thames, like a silver band in a carpet of richest verdure, comes winding down through this vast river-plain, and, sweeping past the castle-walls, by Runnymede and Datchet and Staines, by Richmond Hill and Putney Bridge, by a hundred other spots whose names for many a varied cause are household words in the homes of England, broadens on its course toward that distant cloud in the eastern horizon which marks the "smoke, and din, and wealth" of London. Think of this scene when through the morning haze the sun strikes his beams athwart the woods and meadows by the water-side and drives the long sheets of mist curling slowly upward; think, too, of that western view when the evening sky is all aglow with crimson and orange light, when the purple shadows begin to soften the emerald green of the meadows, and the endless windings of the river gleam beneath the great arch of heaven like the "red, red gold."
 To reach the Upper Ward, that part of the castle which forms the palace proper, we skirt the moat of the Round Tower, and enter the court by the so-called Norman Gateway. Unless it happens to stand on the site of an earlier entrance, this must have obtained its name on the same principle as Bottom's dream, for it was not built till the reign of Edward III. Injudicious alterations have much marred the effect of the exterior, especially in the case of the Northern Tower, where large pointed windows have been constructed to light a portion of the Royal Library. Much of the remainder of the gateway, though in it also incongruous windows have here and there been inserted, is still well preserved. The old wooden portcullis yet remains in place, and the window above the gateway has actually been cut through its massive gratings. This lights a chamber, in olden time often used for a prison, and its walls are still covered with memorials of its unwilling guests. Here is one engraved by a stout old cavalier: "Sir Edward Fortescue Prisoner In this Chamber 12th day of Januarie 1642. Pour le Roy. Forte scutum Salus Ducum." Apparently he was not soon released, for another inscription is dated May 22nd. The chamber now wears a different aspect to what it did then. The hand of the restorer has been here also, but guided by reverent knowledge and perfect taste. No destruction has been permitted, except of any modern excrescence, while old hangings, quaintly-carved furniture and other fittings, antique china and glass, with other ornaments rich in color and harmonious in designs, while they are in keeping with the massive gray walls, give the room a thoroughly home-like aspect, and present a perfect picture of a "ladie's bower" in the olden time. But one must crave pardon for venturing in antiquarian enthusiasm to lift the curtain from rooms not open to the public.
 The Northern Tower, as we have said, forms a termination to the picture-gallery built by Queen Elizabeth, now the Royal Library. The collection of books prints, and drawings contained here, is extremely valuable, and the aspect of the place is most inviting to the student. Should he even there find that much study is a weariness of the flesh, he has but to walk to one of the windows, and refresh his eyes with the exquisite view that is spread before him. We doubt if there could anywhere be found such a nook for a reader, as is furnished by the circular chamber (one floor in the "Norman Gateway") at the end of the gallery. The spaces between the windows are lined with books, and the outlook ranges over a large part of the Thames Valley. If the "weary ways of men" seem but as the dust that is stirred, aimless and endless, there is the handiwork of God in Nature, in its changeful but eternal cycle of beauty if the thoughts of the wise are sad, and the shadows of the past are dark around, there are the playing-fields and turrets of Eton to tell of the fresh springs of life ever welling up for hope in the future.

The Norman Gateway


The "State Apartments" occupy the rest (and the principal part) of the great quadrangle of the Upper Ward. We may leave it to the guide-books to describe this splendid suite of rooms with their noble series of pictures-interesting both for art and for history: the collection of armor and other curiosities, such as the shield given by Francis I to Henry VIII on the Field of the Cloth of Gold; a portion of the Victory's mast, perforated by a ball, now converted into a pedestal for Chantrey's bust of Nelson; Gobelin tapestry, rare cabinets, and the like.

Nelson's Bust


  The queen's private apartments occupy the east side of the court, and overlook a sunk garden; and on the southern, facing the Great Park, are the suites of rooms allotted to visitors. The great quadrangle of the Upper Ward occupies the site of buildings of various dates, from at least the reign of Edward III. onward, but has been more altered in modern times than the rest of the castle, parts of it having been entirely rebuilt by Wyatville, in the reign of George IV. The principal entrance, which bears the name of that king, is on the southern side, and looks down the grand avenue of the "Long Walk." This is, indeed, a right royal road; and it must be a splendid sight, when some foreign sovereign is being conducted to the castle, to see the procession ascending the slope to the gateway, through a line of mounted guards, with the cannon thundering among-the trees in the avenue below.
  We must not quit the castle without a glance at one of its greatest attractions- the Terrace. This surrounds the Upper Ward on three sides, and commands a series of exquisite views over the Home Park and the valley of the Thames. Standing here, how many a scene from by-gone days passes before the eye. There comes in stately procession, clad in brocaded silk, and stiffer ruff, the Virgin Queen, with her throng of courtiers-the cautious Cecil, the learned Bacon, the reckless Leicester, the petulant Essex and Raleigh handsome as wise. Here, in more troublous times, Charles 1, with saddened face and melancholy eyes, passes by, at last almost alone, except for the sentinels that guard him as a prisoner. Here comes his son, the merry monarch, with a roistering throng of spaniels, lords and ladies, of some of whom least said soonest mended.
  Here, in much later days, comes a very different group, which still lives in Miss Burney's diary: "The little princess, just turned of three years, in a robe coat covered with fine muslin, a dressed close cap, white gloves, and fan, walked on alone and first, highly delighted with the parade, and turning from side to side to see everybody as she passed: for all the terracers stand up against the walls to make a clear passage for the royal family the moment they come in sight. Then followed the king and queen, no i less delighted with the joy of their little darling. The princess royal leaning on Lady Elizabeth Waldegrave, the Princess Augusta holding by the Duchess of Ancaster, the Princess Elizabeth, led by Lady Charlotte Bertie, followed.' Then, but a few years later, a sadder sight is seen. The same monarch, stricken with the direst calamity that can befall our race - "a white-haired shadow roaming like a dream " the scenes of former happiness: the darling of his old age, "all light, all reason, all sound of human voices, all the pleasures of this world of God, taken from him."
  Paths are cut through the wood that clothes the Slopes beneath the North Terrace; and every step along this old river-cliff affords some fresh glimpse of beauty through the interlacing boughs. Now they close in, and allow us but a glance at the brook which is running at our feet. Now they open out again, and, through a vista of greenery, the valley of the Thames stretches away into the summer haze, or the stately chapel and gateway of Eton stand out against the purple lines of the far-off Downs. From by the brook-side itself, as you look back, the Round Tower lifts its huge mass into the air in almost solitary grandeur; seeming vaster than ever, as it rises far above the lower turrets of the Norman Gateway and the dense foliage that clothes the Slopes.

The slopes overlooking the River Thames and Eton, the Chapel being in the distance

A view towards Eton from the Library


 Time bids us not linger more; there is all the park to see, so, by the favor of our conductor, let us return to the Terrace, pass round Her Majesty's private garden, which, in order to harmonize with the eastern face, is laid out in the formal Italian style, and adorned with statues; under the southern façade, and then down the Long Walk into the Great Park. Beneath the grand elms, nearly two centuries old, there is shade on the hottest summer day, and the rich greensward refreshes the eye. To the left, the Home Park stretches away toward the Thames, with its fine old beeches and elms, and many spots of interest in the past and the present. Herne's Oak, where the wood-goblin had his haunts, as all the readers of Harrison Ainsworth's "Windsor Castle" will remember: and where the "hart of grease," Sir John Falstaff came disguised with huge horns on his head, to be "pinsed" by the fairies for his evil desires, was blown down a dozen years since; [Ed: i.e. in the 1850s or early 1860s] but a young tree has been planted on the site. Beyond the limit of the Home Park, across the Datchet Road, and into the heart of the Great Park, the avenue extends with its double row of great elms, and terminates at Snow Hill, an eminence crowned with an equestrian statue of George III. At the end, a road turns off to Bishopsgate, and the pretty village of Englefield Green. Nowhere is the park more beautiful than here. The broken and undulating foreground offers a constant succession of sylvan scenes-fern-clad dells and glades beneath the overarching boughs, where the rabbits scamper, rustling over the withered beech-leaves; and the stag raises his head to gaze in proud indifference on the intruder. Each step through this varying scenery brings to sight some new beauty. Now the great beeches close on the path, and we seem entangled in the forest; again they open out, to disclose, as in a frame, some portion of the more distant view. This, if time permit, is far the best way of approaching the castle. The outline of the great masses of masonry that crown the long hill is the most perfect architectural effect that we have ever seen. The whole of the castle is visible; the buildings form three separate and diversified groups: on the one hand the Upper Ward; on the other, the irregular outlines of the Lower Ward, clustering around St. George's Chapel; in the centre, rising almost alone, and high above the rest, is the great mass of the Round Tower. Whatever Wyatville's sins against mediaeval art in its details may be, and they are numerous enough, he had one power in which the more learned architects of the present day are lamentably deficient, that of composition-the most sure sign of true genius. Not the gray Schloss that crowns the Mönchsberg height at Salzburg, not the grander and more varied northern view of the old town of Edinburgh, the most perfect outline that we have seen in a somewhat wide experience, can surpass that of Windsor Castle from near Bishopsgate.
Let us now retrace our steps to the statue: passing onward, we cross another long avenue called Queen Anne's Ride, and then approach Cranbourne Tower, the remains of a hunting-seat, built by Lord Ranelagh, in the reign of Charles I I, and afterward inhabited by various younger members of the royal family, the Princess Charlotte being the last. It is picturesquely placed on rising ground, overlooking the Great Park, in the midst of grand oaks. There are literally hundreds of trees here, any one of which would be worth a study; their branches rugged, gnarled, shattered; their boles knotted, scarred, hollow, with great gaping rents; mere ruins now, but such ruins; more picturesque than even in the days of most perfect vigor. The largest and oldest of all is reputed to have lived a thousand years, and to have been a favorite tree with William the Conqueror, whose name it bears.

William the Conqueror's Oak, Windsor Great Park, in the 1870s

It is quite hollow, as may be seen, and the space within its trunk is full seven feet in diameter. Beyond the Lodge lies Cranbourne Chase, a fragment of the vast forest which once extended for miles toward the south and west of the castle, stretching far away into Surrey, and along the southeast of Berkshire up to Hungerford. Here, also, are numbers of grand oaks, with a few aged hollies and beeches, and a solitude as complete as in the forests of the Schwartzwald. In walking along the road leading from this place to Virginia Water, we were more than once reminded of one - of those great German woodland regions. Houses are few; the road, for such a district, is lonely, and runs through copses. or hedges and fields, thick set with birch, and beech, and oak; so that the view is limited; and it would be easy to go wrong. As we approach Virginia Water, the illusion is heightened by the dense masses of pine on each side of the road. The "Water," stated to be one of the largest artificial lakes in England, is of an irregular form; it lies between gently shelving banks, which are thickly clothed with trees, seeming yet more lonely than the country through which we have passed.

The Cascade at Virginia Water

Paths run by the edge of the lake among the groves of pine and larch, and, were it not for a mock ruin and one or two incongruities, art would have here successfully imitated Nature. Its waters are discharged by means of an artificial cascade formed of great blocks of stone, over which the stream dashes into a little glen, whose sides are clothed with willow and birch. But the loveliest spots beyond all comparison are to be found on the rising ground to the south, called the Belvedere Hill, which is crowned by a sort of summer-house, built so as to present a faint resemblance to a fort. The battery of cannon, which looks harmless enough now, was used by the Duke of Cumberland in the campaign of 1745. In the upper part of the house are some rooms reserved for the use of Her Majesty; and from the terrace-roof in front, or still better from the turret above, is a view no less lovely than from the Great Tower of Windsor Castle.

The view from 'The Belvedere'

It is almost hopeless to describe the prospect which greets the eye as you step forth upon the tower. Surely the "Earthly Paradise" by the rivers of Damascus can scarcely be more fair. Yet one should not compare it with foreign scenes. There is no danger here of thinking on the gardens by Abana, or the purple distances of the Lombard plain; no memory arises of that carpet of verdure which from the crags of Drachenfels seems to melt into far-off mists beyond the towers of Cologne, or even of those endless undulations of field and forest that shelve gently away from the Odenwald Hills toward the Danube Valley. The scenery is English, thoroughly English, such as, so far as our experience goes, you find nowhere but in our southern counties. Description is hopeless; we can see it before our eyes, but cannot picture it in words. Beneath our feet the wooded hills sink rapidly down to the valley; through a break in the trees Virginia Water is seen calm in the sheltered glade, reflecting, as in a mirror, the little " Fishing Temple" on its opposite shore. Behind it a wide expanse of woodland shelves gently upward. Here the sombre- foliage of Scotch firs seems like a broad shadow on the landscape; there the larch raises its lighter spires and brighter tints, and then again the graceful birch still more relieves the scene. Line after line the groves recede into the distance; broken now and again by a stretch of sward, now by one gleaming sheet of distant water, till at last the eye passes over a level belt of trees to rest on some distant hills low down in the horizon, part of the northern limit of the valley of the Thames. The Castle of Windsor cannot be seen, as it is hidden by the farthest line of wood, the gap in which is a short distance behind the statue on Snow Hill. In another direction we look more completely down into the valley of the Thames, and the well-known landmarks of Richmond, Highgate, and Hampstead, with a dull haze spreading over a wide arc of the horizon, tell us the place of London. Still more to the south, the Crystal Palace rises beyond the Grand Stand of Epsom, and the pleasant ranges of the Surrey Hills lead our eye yet farther south to the wooded ridge of the Hog's Back.
Descending the hill in this direction we enter a dense mass of forest, traversed by a grassy road called the Cedar Walk. Here is complete solitude; Nature seems to have chosen this as one of her sacred groves. The soft green turf is silent to our tread, the great Scotch pines and cedars, the yews, and occasional holm oaks, all these evergreen trees with their sombre foliage, give an unwonted solemnity to the scene, while the lighter tints of the birch refresh the eye and banish gloom. No sound breaks the Sabbath stillness, save the chance notes of birds or the gentle sighing of the wind through the pines. Each turn of the road reveals some new beauty and lures us onward. Here is one scene, most beautiful of all, if choice can be made. Step but a few yards away from the ride, and it is masked by the dense undergrowth of laurel and brake. In the centre of the picture a dead oak extends its gaunt arms in strange contrast to the greenery around; a young yew-tree embraces the withered trunk its fellows spread their branches like a pall behind; on one hand the tasseled birch rises in graceful contrast, on the other warm-colored stems of the Scotch pine are thrown into prominence by the dark background of yew and cedar. Year by year spots such as these become harder to find, the towns thrust out their spider-arms farther and farther into the green fields, and extend more widely their dusty web of streets, the mines defile the fairest scenes with their heaps of refuse, the reek of the furnaces and of the factories darkens the clear sky and withers the woodlands with its pestilent breathing; the streams, limpid once, are foul with nameless abominations, and the fountains clear as crystal have become the poison-cup of death. Far distant then be the days when the oaks of Windsor shall shake to the woodman's axe, and villas "replete with every modern convenience" replace the groves of pine that still extend for many a mile along the Berkshire plateaus!
A pleasant walk from Virginia Water leads to the Oakingham Railway, whence a short journey over an undulating country, and through cuttings bright in summer with the golden flowers of broom and furze, leads us once more into the plain of the Thames Valley at Staines, where the South Western line to London or to Windsor is joined. But if time allows it is better to return to the latter place by the left bank of the river. Staines itself, though an ancient town, offers little to detain the wanderers. It boasts no picturesque houses, and not even a good church. The sole relic of antiquity is an ancient stone, erected in the latter part of the thirteenth century to mark the boundary of the lord mayor's jurisdiction. This is said to have given the name to the place, though some have supposed it to be of much more remote origin, and to have been derived from a Roman milestone which is believed to have been placed here. A mile farther up the stream lies another little town, Egham, bearing the usual " home-from-business " aspect, that is so characteristic of most places within easy reach of London, a station at which you expect to see a considerable number of comfortable, rather rosy-looking, middle-aged gentlemen, with a very fresh flower in button-hole, get into the train at about nine o'clock in the morning, and emerge again from the same about five or six in the evening; carrying, perhaps, besides the usual umbrella, a suggestive wicker-basket or matting-bag.
Just above Egham begins a broad strip of meadow-land, extending for nearly two miles between the river and the first wooded rise which marks the limit of its ancient course. Here is Runnymede, the English Grütli, situated as appropriately; for just as crags and peaks surround, and a lake spreads its blue waters below, the little Alp which was the birthplace of freedom to a mountain-people, so in England, with its undulating fields and grassy lawns, a water-meadow by one of its fairest rivers was aptly chosen for the place of meeting; and further, as became an insular people, the seal was set to Magna Charta on a little island in the Thames. Before this was done, King John had been for some time at Windsor Castle, where he had gathered together a considerable force, intending to make an attack on the barons, when an outbreak took place in London, on hearing of which, to quote Hollingshed, "he changed his purpose, and durst not depart from Windsor, being brought in great doubt lest all the other cities of the realm would follow their example. Hereupon he thought good to assaie if he might come to some agreement by way of communication, and incontinently sent his ambassadors to the barons, promising that he would satisfy their requests if they would come to Windsor to talk with him. Howbeit, the lords having no confidence in his promise, came with their army within three miles of London, and there pitch down their tents in a meadow between Staines and London, whither King John also came, the fifteenth day of June, and shewed such friendly countenance toward every one of them that they were put in good hope he meant no deceit."

The charter ratified at this meeting (a copy of which, " injured by age and fire, but with the royal seal yet hanging from the brown, shriveled parchment," may yet be seen in the British Museum) has been truly called the earliest monument of English freedom, since in it the vague expressions of preceding charters were exchanged for precise and elaborate provisions. "Great rejoicings," as the chronicler says, "were made for this conclusion of peace between the king and his barons, the people judging that God had touched the king's heart and mollified it; whereby happy days were come for the realm of England, as though it had been delivered out of the bondage of Egypt, but they were much deceived, for the king, having condescended to make such grant of liberties far contrary in his mind, was right sorrowful in his heart."
  A short distance beyond Runnymede lies this village of Old Windsor, situate near the ancient Roman road for Pilchester. It was a place of importance when the site of Windsor Castle was only a forest-clad hill, but since the foundation of the latter it has declined into a quiet country village. Near the river, on a site now not precisely known,
[This site was excavated in the early 1950s, Ed.] stood a palace of the Saxon kings, where, among others, the Confessor kept his court, so often vexed by the strife of rival thanes. As one chronicler relates, Harold, afterward King of England, and his turbulent brother Tosti, had a quarrel; even at the royal table, which ended in a regular fight, in which the two noble earls, behaved-as was common in the good old times-like a couple of modern margees; and Harold gained an omen of Stamford Bridge by a decided superiority in this pugilistic contest. Here, too, "on the second day of Pasch, Earle Godwine, as he sate at meat with the king, being suddenly stricken with a grievous sickness, he shranke down domb in the seat where he sate, which his sonnes, Earle Harold, Leslie, and Girth beholding, bare him into the king's chamber, hoping that he should have recovered, but where his strength failed him, on Thursday following he died in miserable torment, and was buried in the olde monasterie of Winchester." Another chronicler gives a more startling account of the end of the great earl: "Sitting at the king's board with the other lords he perceived that the king suspected him of his brother Alfred's death, and said, "So mays safely swallow this morsel of bread that I hold in my hand, as I am guiltless of the deed." But as soon as he had received the bread, forthwith he was choked!'
Beyond Old Windsor the Thames curves back and again approaches the road, and the Home Park is entered near the Royal Garden. On the right lies Datchet Mead, whither the fat knight, John Falstaff, was carried in a buck-basket, covered with goullines, " and in the height of this bath... thrown into the Thames, and cooled, glowing hot, in that surge like a horseshoe." On the left is Frogmore, long the residence of the late Duchess of Kent, and now the place of her burial. Her remains are entombed in a granite sarcophagus, beneath a circular-domed structure, which bears some resemblance to the celebrated tomb of Theodoric at Ravenna. A few minutes' walk from this is the mausoleum of the late prince-consort-a magnificent cruciform structure with a lofty diagonal dome in the centre. The interior is superbly decorated with serpentine, colored marble, and frescoes. His body rests in a sarcophagus of Aberdeen granite, above which is placed a recumbent effigy in white marble, the work of Baron Marochetti. Here, in memory of the friend of Art, its choicest gifts are fitly brought; and, as is right at the grave of one who loved Nature no less well, the cypress rears its funereal shades in type of human sorrow, while flowering shrubs and forest-trees, in all their summer brightness, are meet emblems of Christian hope; Art and Nature thus uniting to pay the last honors to him who moved

". . . Through all this tract of years,
Wearing the white flower of a blameless life
Before a thousand peering littlenesses,
In that fierce light which beats upon a throne,
And blackens every blot. . . "

See also

Windsor in the early 1800s

The History Zone Index

Royal Windsor Home Page

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