Bryan Little describes the wonders of Berkeley Castle, right.
In the drawing room next to it a timber gallery, known as the King's Pew and bearing the arms of Henry VII, once stood at the west end of the chapel. Its Elizabethan Ionic pillars have been replaced, in recent years, by pillars of a more gothic type. The closeness of the fine parish church makes it surprising that the bishops of Worcester, in whose diocese Berkeley then lay, were prepared to allow such a chapel outside the more private oratory in the keep.
The post-Reformation history of the Berkeleys was one of conformity to Anglicanism, and of comparatively little structural change to the castle. In 1679 their barony became an earldom. The eighteenth-century earls often lived away from Berkeley, so that the castle has hardly any of the baroque or Georgian features that one sees in such castles as Warwick.
The famous Berkeley Peerage case meant that the castle, but not the earldom, went to the family's illegitimate branch, who themselves became the Barons Fitzharding but died out in 1916. The eighth earl, a well known scientist and a fellow of the Royal Society, now became the possessor both of the title and of the castle.
He was the owner who greatly transformed the domestic quarters. The changes he made were in part financed by the sale of London property which had come from the Lords Berkeley of Stratton and which included the present Queen's birthplace in Bruton Street.
Many items of furnishing and decoration were brought from outside. The hall screen, with its Elizabethan decoration, came from a mansion in west Wales. A new, half-octagonal porch, leading to the hall, was added in the courtyard, and much of the ornamental stonework put in at this time was French Gothic; it recalls the architectural stonework seen in the Burrell Collection now in its purposebuilt museum at Glasgow.
There is no surviving record of the sources from which the new insertions came, but the alterations were made by Messrs Keeble, a London firm. They were said to "restore the mediaeval character" of the rooms where they appear. Late mediaeval wooden panels, richly carved in relief, are also part of the modern insertions.
The eighth earl died, without issue, in 1942 and the castle, but not the earldom, passed to the branch of the family settled at Spetchley near Worcester; they descended from the fourth son of the Baron Berkeley who died in 1463. Late in the seventeenth century Thomas Berkeley of this branch of the family became a Catholic, and in the eighteenth century the history of the Spetchley Berkeleys was that of a recusant family.
Mr R J G Berkeley, the present owner of Berkeley Castle, also owns Spetchley Park and divides his time between the two houses.
Berkeley Castle has for some years been open to visitors. More significant for Catholics is that it is again, after four centuries of Anglican occupation, a place where public Mass is said. This happens, at 10.00 each Sunday morning, not in the large chapel which is now a morning room, but in the more secluded oratory upstairs in the keep. A good deal restored by the eighth earl, it has a roundended apse and a much renovated vault, resting on late Norman side shafts with scalloped capitals, in the main body of the chapel whose side walls are lined with late mediaeval choirstalls, perhaps French, put in by the eighth earl; others like them are elsewhere in the castle.
To accommodate the apse of the chapel the wall of the keep here curves outwards, and this rounded projection recalls, on a small scale, the outward curve, on one side of the White Tower in the Tower of London, which conceals the apse of that castle's splendid chapel of St John. A large crucifix, perhaps Spanish, rises behind the altar, whose front is now hidden by Elizabethan panelling recently put there. The chapel in Berkeley Castle is served by the Salvatorians from Thornbury a few miles away, and about 30 people come to Mass each Sunday in this chapel which is not in the part of the castle normally open to visitors.