Something I don't speak of much, but about which I'm rather proud is that I was born in a castle - a real castle with loads of history steeped into its walls and surroundings, and a mention in the Domesday Book. On a recent visit to York, we called in to visit my birthplace, which is now a hotel, conference and wedding venue. Before it became a hotel it was a Carmelite retreat centre.
Hazlewood Castle in Yorkshire (between Tadcaster, the home of John Smith's Ales, and the city of York) was owned by barons and dukes, and retains some of its Norman architectural features. A battle in the Wars of the Roses took place in 1461 on the moor directly in front of the castle, and it was owned by the Catholic Vavasour family until 1908. It has priest holes and underground passages, and the chapel is dedicated to St. Margaret Clitherow, whose statue adorns the doorway.
I was born there because during the Second World War, between 1939 and 1953 it was requisitioned as a maternity hospital. My mum was booked in to Hazlewood Castle for my birth in 1945, just after the war had ended. She had to leave London and travel to Yorkshire, and after I was born, my dad came to visit us at the castle, staying in nearby Tadcaster at the Bay Horse Inn, which is still there!
My mum told me quite a bit about the castle as a maternity home. The large Norman Hall was the lying-in ward, where the expectant mums were housed until they gave birth. Babies were born in a separate, adjacent room, called the Victoria Room (did that Queen go everywhere?!). This room has a huge stone fireplace with ornate chimney breast, and the wallpaper (above) is heavily embossed and decorated with real gold leaf - phew, was I really born in such a grand place?!
The grounds are large and very attractive. There are lots of wooded areas as well as tended gardens and lawns, and near the chapel there is an ancient yew tree , which is being protected and preserved. The drive is long and lined with trees and rhododendron bushes, and my dad used to talk about how, on his first visit, the bus had dropped him off at the end of the drive and he had to walk for what seemed like at least a mile through huge rhododendrons. My mum said that when he arrived, the matron told all the ladies in the ward to smarten themselves up as the King had come to visit. Then in walked my dad! It was a family story that used to come out at family gatherings, as did the fact that there were not enough cots for all the babies, so a bed was was made for me in a large drawer.
Here are a few more photos of Hazlewood Castle, and if I look a bit happy or smug in some of these, it's because I was enjoying seeing my historical place of birth.
"My" castle - the rear lawn with the view to the War of the Roses battlefield.
The main entrance. . . .
. . . and the grand wood-panelled entrance hall ( now the hotel's reception area)
The Main Hall, built on the site of the original Normal Great Hall, and now used for wedding receptions and corporate events. This was the lying-in ward where the mums in waiting were, and where my dad's entry caused a rustle of expectation, until it became evident he was not the King!
I was born in this room. It's now used for civil marriage ceremonies.
Finally, the chapel where newlyweds can go for a marriage blessing after the civil ceremony. The Vavasour family tombs are on the right.