Diana, Princess of Wales may not have grown up as a Princess, but her childhood was far from ordinary. She and her family moved to Althorp in 1976 when her father inherited the title. Diana’s brother, Earl Spencer inherited the title and estate in 1992.
Althorp was built in 1508 by the Spencer family and has remained in the Spencer family ever since. Having stayed in the family for 19 generations, it has built up a vast collection gathered by the previous family members.
As the ninth Earl Spencer, Charles has been Althorp’s caretaker for just over 20 years. During this time, he has taken the time and dedication to developing Althorp while keeping the historical accuracy intact.
Once a small hamlet referred to in a Domesday Book as “Olletorp”, by 1377 it had a population of around 50 people. By 1505, the land was vacant and in 1508 John Spencer bought the estate with the money from his family’s sheep-rearing business.
The current mansion has been standing since 1688. Between 1783 and 1834 Althorp was owned by George John, 2nd Earl Spencer. He grew the library to be one of the largest private collections in Europe, holding over 100,000 books by the 1830s. Unfortunately, the Red Earl or John Spencer, 5th Earl Spencer came into hard times. To save himself he had to sell a large part of the library in 1892 to Enriqueta Rylands, who was building the University of Manchester Library.
Furthermore, between 1975 and 1992 around 20 percent of the furnishings were auctioned off.
Throughout the Althorp estate the grounds have 28 listed buildings and structures. The former falconry built in 1613 is Grade I listed, the Gardener’s House is Grade II listed, as are the West and East Lodges. The yellow Palladian-influenced Stable Block, designed by architect Roger Morris, is Grade II listed and was built in the early 1730s by Charles, Fifth Earl of Sutherland.
The majestic grounds were mostly designed by André Le Nôtre, a landscape architect who was commissioned in the 1660s. In the late 18th century alterations were made by Henry Holland.
One of the most notable additions to the grounds came in 1997, following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. Diana’s brother Charles, worried about the safety and media surrounding her funeral and grave, decided to bury her at the estate. Diana was laid to rest on a small island that lies in the middle of the Round Oval lake, marked by a simple monument. A Doric-style temple across from the lake has Diana’s name carved on top. It brings people from around the United Kingdom and the world to pay their respects during July and August when the house and estate are open to the public.
Previously an exhibition to the “people’s princess” was located in the old stable block, but closed for good in 2013. The exhibition was designed by Rasshied Ali Din, who worked with English Heritage over the mixing of the modern design with the Grade II listed building, created the perfect metaphor for Diana. “You have a contrast of the modern and the new with the old and the established, which is basically a metaphor for Diana. She was a very modern woman within an established environment,” he noted.
photo credit: JMarler via Flickr