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Sunday, December 17, 2017

Goodwood: England's Greatest Sporting Estate

Historic Hotel on Ducal Estate: Goodwood: England's Greatest Sporting Estate by James Piell
Fig. 1: Goodwood House from the park, photographed by the Earl of March.

by James Piell

Set within magnificent grounds in the Sussex countryside, seven miles from the sea, is one of the truly spectacular English country estates. The seat of the Dukes of Richmond and Gordon for over three hundred years, Goodwood remains in the family while affording guests an opportunity to experience the historic architecture and interiors of the grand house and the opulent modern amenities, award-winning dining, and a range of sporting activities from golf to world class vintage car and horse racing.

Fig. 2: The tapestry drawing room, 1776–1777, designed by James Wyatt around the set of Gobelins tapestries given to the third Duke of Richmond by King Louis XV of France. The chimneypiece was carved by John Bacon.
Fig. 2: The tapestry drawing room, 1776–1777, designed by James Wyatt around the set of Gobelins tapestries given to the third Duke of Richmond by King Louis XV of France. The chimneypiece was carved by John Bacon.

The first Duke of Richmond, a natural son of King Charles II by his French mistress, Louise de Keroualle, first rented and then bought the house and park in 1697 so that he could enjoy the hunting in the nearby village of Charlton. This Jacobean residence was subsequently enlarged by successive Dukes to form the house that we see today (Fig. 1). In 1730, under the direction of the second Duke, the architect Roger Morris classicised the Jacobean hall; Matthew Brettingham is likely to have been the architect for the new south façade added twenty years later. In the 1770s, the third Duke employed James Wyatt to remodel the north wing, which included the tapestry drawing-room with its figural chimneypiece by John Bacon (Fig. 2). Wyatt’s association continued into the early nineteenth century when he designed the great Regency wings, with their copper-domed turrets, to house the celebrated picture collection, which had been saved from Richmond House in London, destroyed by fire in 1791 (Fig. 3). Chief among the glories of the collection are two paintings by Canaletto showing views from Richmond House commissioned by the second Duke in 1746–1747. His son, the third Duke of Richmond, was an early patron of George Stubbs and commissioned three canvases of sporting activity on the estate: Racehorses Exercising, The Charlton Hunt and Shooting. The third Duke was England’s greatest patron of Sèvres porcelain, which remains at Goodwood. The furnishings have been acquired over the centuries and include historic English and fine French furniture.

Fig. 3: Ballroom with landscapes and portraits collected through the centuries.
Fig. 3: Ballroom with landscapes and portraits collected through the centuries.

As the house grew in size, so did the estate, reaching some 17,000 acres at the beginning of the nineteenth century; today the estate encompasses 12,000 acres. Sport naturally flourished and that legacy is evident today. Horseracing, for instance, brings large numbers of visitors to Goodwood, with the racecourse regarded as one of the most beautiful in the world (Fig. 6). The first horse race meeting was held in 1801 and became a public fixture the following year. The annual Raceweek, staged during the last week of July, has become an integral part of the English social calendar. Edward VII never missed a year and delighted in the informal atmosphere, describing it as a garden party with racing tacked on. As well as Raceweek, there are sixteen other race meetings throughout the season, including several evening meetings.

Fig. 4: Guests lodge at the fully modernized historic coaching inn on the estate.
Fig. 4: Guests lodge at the fully modernized historic coaching inn on the estate.

Fig. 5: Guests enjoy elegant accommodations at the coaching inn.
Fig. 5: Guests enjoy elegant accommodations at the coaching inn.

The first Duke was a keen cricketer and Goodwood is the first estate on which cricket was regularly played. (The earliest known laws of the game were written in 1727 for a match between the second Duke’s team and Mr. A. Brodrick’s.) Wyatt designed the magnificent Kennels to house the third Duke’s pack of hounds and although fox hunting still takes place on the estate, the building is now a clubhouse for all of the sports at Goodwood. These include golf (there is a Championship course and a Public course), flying (the Aerodrome is a former World War II fighter station) and motor sport.

Motor sport brings hundreds of thousands of spectators to the annual Festival of Speed, staged in the park, and the Goodwood Revival (Fig. 7), which takes place at the Motor Circuit. The Motor Circuit was founded by the ninth Duke of Richmond in 1948 on what had been an airfield during World War II; the Duke was a well-known racing driver, winning the Brooklands Double 12 Race in 1931. The Goodwood Motor Circuit became England’s most prestigious circuit hosting Formula One races and world championship sports car events until it closed in 1966. It was reopened in 1998 and the atmosphere of its glory days is recreated each year at the Goodwood Revival. The inspiration for the Festival of Speed came from the ninth Duke’s impromptu hillclimb race for his friends, set within the grounds of the house. The first Festival of Speed in 1993 attracted a crowd of around 25,000 visitors; today more than 170,000 people come from all over the world. Each year, the British artist and designer, Jerry Judah, creates a monumental central feature to stand in front of the house, commissioned by the main car sponsor for that year. Since 2010, the Festival has become the venue for the Moving Motor Show, an opportunity for car manufacturers to showcase their latest models and for clients to drive them through Goodwood’s grounds.

Fig. 6: Goodwood race course, which hosts seventeen races during the season.
Fig. 6: Goodwood race course, which hosts seventeen races during the season.

Goodwood House is lived in by the present Duke of Richmond’s son, the Earl of March, and his family. While the state rooms of the Earl’s home are open for tours to the public sixty days of the year (check website for details), guests lodge at the fully modernized Georgian coaching inn (Fig. 4), complete with twenty-first century luxuries (Fig. 5). The health club is equipped with pool and spa, and is staffed with qualified instructors to aid in fitness training. Guests can mix business with pleasure by holding meetings or events at the Kennels or Jackie Stewart Pavillion. With produce from local purveyors and the Goodwood estate, the largest organic farm in southern England, diners can appreciate fresh offerings ranging from full-scale gourmet and casual dining, tavern fare, and café delights; guests can bring home a taste of England from the farm store. Walks on the grounds often incorporate the nature trail and sculpture park, the latter run by the Cass Sculpture Foundation, a separate non-profit group that promotes British artists by commissioning the art on display. The present Duke of Richmond engages the local community on educational programming at the estate, with opportunities for children to learn about the environment and history.

Fig. 7: The Goodwood Revival, held in 2012 from September 14–16, celebrates the golden era of motor racing, offering the finest collection of authentic racing AC Cobras ever assembled in the United Kingdom. Other motor events include the Festival of Speed (June 28–July 1), which features Formula One drivers, classic vehicles, aviation shows, bikes, and more. Glorious Goodwood (July 31–August 4, 2012) presents five days of racing and chic social events where aficionados mix with celebrities.
Fig. 7: The Goodwood Revival, held in 2012 from September 14–16, celebrates the golden era of motor racing, offering the finest collection of authentic racing AC Cobras ever assembled in the United Kingdom. Other motor events include the Festival of Speed (June 28–July 1), which features Formula One drivers, classic vehicles, aviation shows, bikes, and more. Glorious Goodwood (July 31–August 4, 2012) presents five days of racing and chic social events where aficionados mix with celebrities.

Goodwood’s stunning setting, magnificent art collection, and prestigious sporting activities all come together to give credence to the traditional epithet “Glorious Goodwood.”


James Peill is curator of the Goodwood Collection. He is the co-author (with The Knight of Glin) of Irish Furniture and The Irish Country House.


Goodwood Hotel and the estate are open to guests year-round. Visitors may tour Goodwood House, the residence of the Earl of March, seasonally from March through October. Guests can arrive at Goodwood by car or by flying into the aerodrome. For more information call +44 (0)124.375.5072 or visit www.goodwood.co.uk.

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