My new programme on Bolsover Castle: this Wednesday, 27th March, 8pm, BBC Four

Bolsover CastleDevoted readers of my blog and books will know this story already, but this Wednesday you can see it made into a lovely little television programme…

A few weeks ago I was in cold and misty Derbyshire, making a film in a new BBC Four strand called ‘Secret Knowledge’.  This is a really great idea because it’s so simple and yet can be utterly esoteric too. Specialist presenters just get to talk, for half an hour, on their favourite painting or artwork or place.  I chose Bolsover Castle, and had to explain why I like the place so much, and why it’s important.

As the film will tell you, when I was twenty one years old, I’d just finished the final exams for my history degree, and in the few weeks between exams and our having to leave college for good, I happened to pick up a random book in the library by Mark Girouard.

It was called Robert Smythson and the Elizabethan Country House, and I can’t recommend it to you highly enough.  It’s about a treasure hunt that Mark Girouard made, in search of the houses designed by Robert Smythson.  He’s the best known of the shadowy mason/designers (this is before the age of the professional architect) who designed fabulous Elizabethan buildings like Wollaton Hall and Hardwick Hall.

The book builds up to a climax in Jacobean England: a house on a windy hilltop in Derbyshire associated with Robert Smythson’s son, John.  The pictures of this chivalric, romantic recreation of a gothic castle really intrigued me, and inspired me – a couple of years later – to get a job at Bolsover Castle, working for English Heritage, who look after the ruins of the place today.

Over the next few years, I was the Assistant Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings responsible for a big re-display project at Bolsover, which included the conservation of the wallpaintings, restoration of the battlements, a new exhibition, and the return to working order of what The Guardian newspaper called ‘the rudest fountain in England’.

At the same time as I was doing all the research for the project, I completed a PhD thesis on the topic of the castle’s builder.  My rather unsexily-entitled thesis ‘The Architectural Patronage of William Cavendish, first Duke of Newcastle, 1593-1676’ became, in due course, my first book: Cavalier, The Story of a Seventeenth Century Playboy.

And on Wednesday night you can visit his crazy castle from the comfort of your own armchair, by watching the programme.  8pm, BBC Four, don’t miss it!

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