Highcliffe Castle’s summer exhibition ‘The Rise of the Phoenix: The Last 60 Years’ opens on Friday 22 May and runs until Sunday 13 September.
This exhibition tells the story of the last 60 years of the Castle: from the time it became a Roman Catholic seminary, its purchase by three local businessmen for development, the fires and subsequent decay, the purchase by Christchurch Borough Council, and the process of gradual repair, until the current chapter – preparing a Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) bid for almost £3m for the ‘Phoenix Flies Project’.
Said Kelly Mitchell who has curated the exhibition: “’Rise of the Phoenix’ is an apt title. The phoenix is a mythical bird that rises anew from the ashes of its funeral pyre before taking flight, and that’s what the Castle is doing – not yet flying but not far off! We also wanted our visitors to discover the true story of the Castle, from a point in the 1970s when demolition may have become a reality, to where we are today when the Castle is an important visitor attraction and internationally acclaimed heritage site.”
As well as telling the story of the past, the exhibition explains plans for the future. These include: restoration of the historic kitchens, conservation of the significant stained glass collection within a dedicated training studio, display of original furniture on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum, new educational facilities and much more. Visitors are encouraged to give their feedback on these plans, to help prepare the final funding application due in December.
As part of the summer exhibition, Highcliffe is also joining national celebrations for the Bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, which took place on 18th June 1815. A spectacular diorama of some 4,000 model soldiers will be a feature exhibit, created and kindly loaned to the Castle by local historian and expert on the Napoleonic Wars, Martin Axton.
Highcliffe Castle would be a very different building had Napoleon not been defeated at Waterloo. When Lord Stuart de Rothesay built the Castle in the 1830s, he used ancient French stonework and stained glass that he had collected from ruined and demolished buildings in Normandy, during his time as British Ambassador in Paris, shipping it across the Channel to Highcliffe.
Throughout the exhibition, the Castle will be hosting a series of talks relating to Waterloo by Stephen Petty, Fellow of the International Napoleonic Society and Member of the Waterloo Association; please check the website for more details.
The Castle is open daily between 11am and 5pm (4.30pm on Saturdays). Adult admission is £3.45, and accompanied children under 16 can visit free.