I was sufficiently naive to think that worldly considerations, and the things they represented, didn’t matter. Like many a Baby Boomer, I was ‘so beyond’ all of that ‘nonsense’. Although true love was not an expression my generation used (it had been too discredited by the previous generation whose mangled love lives had brought it into disrepute), we did speak about ‘meaningful’ relationships, where genuine feeling and interest superseded worldly considerations like money, position, which stood in the way of lives of satisfaction.
After two or three false starts, when my cautiousness in the face of overwhelming passion proved I was rather more my father’s daughter than I cared to admit, I allowed my future sister-in-law Lady Jean Campbell to talk me into throwing caution to the wind and I eloped with her, her daughters and her brother, who I married within five days of meeting. It was all wonderfully romantic and I thought that this was the beginning of a wonderful life with a young, dynamic, individualistic man of scintillating personality and strong character.
For me, however, there was no happily ever after. Within hours of the wedding ring being placed on my finger, I discovered my husband had priorities which precluded marital happiness. It was the beginning of a long and painful lesson, but one which I learnt well, so that after we were divorced, and I fell in love again, I point blank refused to be rushed. We ended up together, on and off, for 15 years. True love did exist after all, something I have noticed as I sometimes meet the brides and grooms who come to inspect Castle Goring as a venue for their wedding. If ever a castle was constructed with romance as an objective, it was Castle Goring
Of course, this is a different time and age. Women no longer have to get married. Everyone has more options, which makes for a much better, and freer, world. And I have the privilege, thanks to Castle Goring, to witness some of the joy of couples starting out on the adventure of matrimony evince. For if ever a castle was constructed with romance as an objective, it was Castle Goring. Commissioned in the 1790s by Sir Bysshe Shelley, the great poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s grandfather, as the family’s ancestral home in Sussex, it was intended to be romantic. Called the ‘most romantic castle in the land’ by the great poet Byron, who saw it while it was being constructed when he visited Worthing in the early 1800s, its romance owes much to Sir Bysshe Shelley’s eye for beauty and charm. The architect John Biagio-Rebecca submitted two sets of architectural drawings: one with castellated façades front and back, the other with a castellated front and a Greco-Roman back.
Not only did Sir Bysshe opt to build the first house in the existence of civilisation with a dual facade, but his choice of architect was inspired. Rebecca understood light as few other architects have ever done, with the result, that even rooms on the north side of the house are flooded with it, irrespective of whether the sun is shining or the day overcast. The result is that Castle Goring is a bright and airy house with a happy atmosphere.
It is a living testament to the fine sensibilities of its creators, and it seems appropriate that nowadays, most brides and grooms incorporate Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Philosophy of Love in their weddings, without even realising just how special Percy Shelley was. Not only was he one of the great triumvirate of great romantic poets along with Keats and Byron, but his life was also an exemplar of romantic love.
He was already married to his first wife Harriet when he met Mary Godwin. They fell in love, causing a major scandal when they ran off together. Two years later, they were able to marry when Harriet committed suicide, though they remained romantic exiles in Europe, living with Byron, writing books (Mary’s Frankenstein is still one of the all-time best-selling novels), until Percy’s death from drowning at Lerici. But for that tragedy, the Shelleys would ultimately have returned to England and taken up residence at Castle Goring. Instead of which, Mary sold it to Queen Victoria’s equerry, Sir George Pechell, whose ancestor sold it to me.
Quite a history. And one which I am privileged to be a part of. Not only because of its genuine historic content, but because the castle is once again the site of joyousness and romance, something which it was built for. And every time I see a couple coming to look at it as a possible venue for their wedding, I experience a quiet but decided sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that, even if I got it wrong the first time around, romance is a wonderful thing and will always remain a part of life.