By Gemma Grant
It’s not every day you get the chance to buy a castle for a mere £1 sterling, complete with large garden of 593 acres. That once in a lifetime opportunity presented itself in 2002 when Gosford castle came up for grabs.
There were only two conditions that went with the selling price. First, it would only be sold to a responsible body who would preserve it as a listed building and second, the new owners would be required to spend at least £5 million bringing it up to required standards.
The castle lay empty for the past sixteen years, having been previously owned by a Belfast family who ran it as a hotel. Since their departure, the old castle had been vandalised and its new squatters, pigeons and rats, had made themselves quite at home in the once luxurious nineteenth-century castle.
Gosford castle once witnessed a grizzly beheading when Rickard Karstark was relieved of his head in the grounds of the castle. Game of Thrones fans may remember the incident. It was during the third season of the popular television show, when Robb Stark carried out the deadly deed.
When Gosford castle started out in life in 1819, it was intended to resemble a Norman revival style castle. It was designed by architect Thomas Hooper and paid for by the dowry of heiress Mary Sparrow, wife of M.P. Archibald Acheson, 2nd Earl of Gosford.
Mary was friends with mathematician Annabella Milbanke, wife of the romantic poet, Lord Byron, and favoured the romantic theme for her castle. The building and expense, according to one report, put a strain on the marriage of Mary and Archibald.
The couple, who married in 1805, separated in the 1830s. Mary returned to her family residence in England and lived there until her death. The marriage produced five children. Mary and Archibald never lived long enough to see the completion of their castle.
Even the architect, Thomas Hooper, had misgivings about his involvement with the project. One source claims he wrote to Earl Gosford, some fourteen years after starting work on the castle and complained, “I have always had a sorrow that I ever went to Ireland. I now consider it a misfortune.” The castle was eventually finished in the 1850s, after the deaths of both Mary and her husband Archibald, who died in 1849, eight years after his wife.