Architecture and Masonry
Transforming a mass of ancient stone fragments into the spectacular Highcliffe Castle was a remarkable achievement by Lord Stuart and his architect, William Donthorn.
Norfolk-born Donthorn (1799-1859) had trained at the London office of Jeffry Wyatt – later Sir Jeffry Wyatville – a leading architect of his time. From him, Donthorn learned to design in the picturesque Gothic style.
At Highcliffe, he incorporated Norman and Renaissance touches into the Gothic exterior to suit the origins of some of the imported stonework. Much of the other building stone came from the Purbeck area of Dorset, though Portland, Bath and Totterstone was also used.
Parts of the building, particularly the massive Porte Cochure, suggest the influence of Fonthill Abbey, the short-lived folly in Wiltshire designed by James Wyatt, uncle of Donthorn’s tutor.
On the South Front, Donthorn positioned the elaborately-carved oriel window salvaged from Les Andelys manor house. Known as the King’s Oriel, it had lit the room where Antoine de Bourbon, King of Navarre, died after being wounded in the siege of Rouen in 1562. Beside him knelt his son, who became the first Bourbon King of France, Henri IV.
A nearby stone parapet was carved out with a quotation in Latin from the Roman poet Lucretius. It translates as: “Sweet it is when on the great sea the winds are buffeting the waters to look from the land on another’s great struggles.” Lord Bute had used a gentler version of the quotation on High Cliff mansion.
Work on the Castle was five years on when Lord Stuart called in the illustrious Gothic-revival architect and designer Augustus Pugin as a consultant in December 1835. Pugin declared that Donthorn did not have the slightest idea of Gothic architecture and had made “sad havoc with every thing”. With vast sums already spent, Stuart declined Pugin’s advice to pull down some completed stonework and rebuild it.