Usk Castle in Lockdown

It’s been a funny old year so far, just as we were finishing off building work, preparing for Usk in Bloom, and looking forward to other summer events, weddings and parties, we have had to close due to Covid-19.

Being an entirely privately run family home, with no government funding, this is particularly difficult for us as the maintenance of the castle (which is constant) depends heavily on visitor donations and funds generated from weddings and receptions, many of which have had to be postponed until next year.

Nonetheless, maintenance work is continuing as if the castle were open, and we are making the most of this time to catch up on long overdue jobs, such as improving grass in the inner ward where it had become worn. The castle employs a few helpers to maintain the garden and house, however we have had to reduce these in line with government advice , so we are all pitching in where we can. In these times having a vegetable garden is not only enjoyable, but seems more important than ever to be able to grow your own.

The magnolias have been beautiful this spring, and the daffodils glorious! We have had a full yellow vase of fallen-over daffs on the kitchen table every day, and the remainder in the castle ward have been stunning in the gorgeous sunshine which we have been lucky to enjoy over the last few weeks. The hens, however, are missing pestering visitors for sandwich crusts, and Inky the cat hasn’t run away into town so often, as he has found us to provide him with sufficient entertainment- though he does love giving visitors a guided tour. The lovely photos featured here were sent to me today by Maciej Mandrysz who stayed at our campsite last summer, and these inspired me to write some words to accompany them.

The Chapel and North Tower

Sadly not everyone has stayed at home. The Castle had some lively lads fooling around in the Chapel playing a prank on the old man on his ride on mower…. It was very funny watching them on CCTV. However, it would be better not to push their luck. Everyone is trying hard to do follow the rules so breaking into someone else’s garden could be asking for trouble at any time, and even more so during a pandemic.

Tom and I have used this time to try to improve our knowledge of family and castle history by reading ‘Usk Castle, Town and Priory’ by J. Knight and A. Johnson, and Rudge Humphreys’ garden diaries which are full of historical facts and interesting gems that we knew very little about.

For example, in 1937 the pond, otherwise known as Queen Ann’s Pool, was finally finished. It can now be seen at the end of the lawn in the private garden, is home to many goldfish and has featured in many wedding photos. The Outer Gatehouse- now the Humphreys family home of Castle House- was built in 1320-21- Happy 700th Birthday Castle House!

Such historic buildings remind us that our ancestors have weathered much more than the current pandemic, and that although times are worrying, they will soon pass and normality will return along with visitors, weddings and many other happy gatherings.

Laura Humphreys

Banquetting Hall and full moon- copyright Maciej Mandrysz