Harriet Waldron has been a South Eastern Blue Badge Guide for the last four years, but she has also worked at Hever Castle and Gardens for the last thirteen. She tells us what it is like to work at a 700-year-old castle.
“I started off in the castle as a room steward, before transitioning into the Learning and Engagement Coordinator role. Hever Castle sits in rolling green countryside beside the River Eden in the county of Kent and is best known for being the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII. Although it has had over 13 owners in total.
Visiting a historic house is something of a national pastime. But what is like to work at one? Well, here are a few things you might not know about day to day life in a 700-year-old castle.
This one might seem fairly obvious, but running a large site takes a large team. At Hever, this team comprises of about 150 people, which also includes staff at Hever Castle Golf Club as well. Excluding the wider grounds and woodland, Hever has 125 acres of natural and formal gardens, which are cared for by a gardening team of nine. But there are also many people and departments working away behind the scenes, from marketing to hospitality, from housekeeping to maintenance. Teamwork certainly makes the dream work in heritage.
This is the number one question visitors will ask. ‘Are there any ghosts?’ It is usually a question asked with wide-eyed wonder. People want the response to be ‘yes’ and luckily at Hever it is. After all, no self- respecting castle is complete without a few stories to chill the bones. At Hever, these include a man in a bowler hat seen heading into the cellars and a Tudor gentleman who inhabits a chair in one corner of the Henry bedroom. He has been seen by numerous children and also by one visitor who asked us why we had bought such an ‘unrealistic hologram’.
Cooperation Between Houses
One of the best things about working in heritage is the sense of community between historical sites. Naturally, we are in competition with one another, but there is a lot of wider support as well.
If I need help or some comparative information, then all I need to do is email my counterpart at another site for help. I have also been on some wonderful working visits to share ideas with other heritage sites and it is this wider sense of camaraderie and openness that is such a bonus of heritage work.
Here at Hever, we have many staff who live on site. Visitors often comment that it seems a shame that the castle is no longer lived in, but it still very much an active and busy place. Once the public go home the residents get to walk their dogs around the grounds, or swim in the lake and have the place to themselves. Plus there also guests enjoying the hospitality side of the business, be it in the luxury Bed and Breakfast or at a wedding or celebration in the exclusive Astor Wing. One thing is for certain though, the site is rarely quiet.
It’s a lot of fun
The most important thing to know about working in heritage is that it is a lot of fun. Weekends and bank holiday work come as standard, as do changeable hours and strange things you would never have dreamed of before (rescuing newborn ducklings, for example, dressing up as Anne Boleyn or creeping around on Halloween). But the people who work in heritage are wonderful. They are funny, hardworking, supportive and loyal. You definitely don’t have to be crazy to work here, but all I’ll say is it probably helps!”