The theme for this week’s #FeatureFridays with Historic Houses is American Connections.
Once considered to be the richest man in America, William Waldorf Astor, who purchased Hever Castle on 27 July 1903, is one of Hever Castle’s American Connections.
The Astor family’s story is a ‘rags to riches’ one, just like that of another of Hever Castle’s owners, the Boleyns in Tudor times. Johann Jakob Astor, William Waldorf Astor’s great-grandfather, emigrated from the small German town of Walldorf to America. He took up fur trading in the north east and became increasingly successful until, by the end of the 18th century, he owned a fleet of 12 merchant vessels.
He extended his empire to New York real-estate and when he died in 1848, he was the richest man in America.
Upon the death of his father in early 1890, William Waldorf Astor inherited a personal fortune that made him the richest man in America.
He grew increasingly disenchanted with America announcing that it was ‘no longer a fit place for a gentleman to live’ and in 1891 moved to England with a reputed $100 million.
Between 1903 and 1908 Astor set about the restoration of the Castle, construction of the Astor Wing and creation of the lake and gardens.
William Waldorf Astor had been the Italian Interior Minister from 1882 – 1885; during his time in Italy, he developed a lifelong passion for art and sculpture and the Italian Garden was created to house his collection of statuary.
Work on the Hever estate reputedly cost £10 million (over £1 billion today). Of which almost £1 million was spent creating the gardens and lake (over £110 million today).
American Connections via the Astor family continued to have a strong influence on the history of Hever Castle.
William Waldorf’s son, John Jacob, inherited the Castle upon his father’s death in 1919.
John Jacob had represented Great Britain in rackets at the 1908 London Olympics where he won gold in the men’s doubles.
In 1922 he became MP for Dover and purchased The Times newspaper where he remained chairman until 1959 when his son Gavin took over.
He was created 1st Baron Astor of Hever in 1956.
In 1962 John Jacob placed the Castle in trust for his son Gavin and retired to France where he died in 1971.
In 1963 Gavin opened the Castle and gardens to the public for the first time.
Following the floods in 1968 the cost of running the estate was becoming too expensive and the Castle and some 3000 acres were sold to the present owner, John Guthrie of Broadland Properties, in 1983.
If you enjoyed this item on American Connections, then why not discover the previous #FeatureFridays news items:
You can read more about William Waldorf Astor’s purchase of the castle here and about the creation of the gardens.
Discover more about his restoration of the Castle here.