Eastnor Castle, near Ledbury in Herefordshire, now famed as a celebrity wedding venue and film location, was also the setting for entertainments in 1862. The ‘castle’ was a nineteenth century building in various architectural revival styles from Norman to Italian Renaissance. The foundation stone was laid in 1812 on the site of an older house, and work continued on the building into the mid-nineteenth century. In 1862, the painter and muralist G. E. Fox was working on the great hall which had originally been designed by Robert Smirke in Romanesque style. After recently visiting churches in Poitou, France, for inspiration, he added marble columns and alabaster capitals to Smirke’s blind arcade around the top of the hall. On canvas attached to the walls below the arcade, he painted repetitive ‘Saracenic’ designs. Apparently, the fresco painting was underway when a concert took place at the castle, attended by Lord and Lady Somers, their guests and local people, tradesmen and ‘even wearers of smock frocks’. The hall was full, accommodating about four hundred people, and some had to be turned away. The audience utilised ‘a large travelling “pagoda-like stage”, reaching to the ceiling, and constructed for enabling the artists to work at the frescoes, [which] was improvised into a gallery, and its numerous platforms filled with listeners’. The impression given was that the hall was crammed with people of differing social status, from aristocracy down to those from a ‘humble life’, some almost literally hanging from the rafters in order to hear a concert. Possibly not the best in terms of ‘health and safety’ but as the report noted, ‘it shows that a taste for music pervades the country’, and the smock frock was no barrier!
Above: the great hall with painted frescoes as it appears today.