Barbara Fertig introduced Christopher Scott, an Englishman now resident in the U.S., who managed several large estates as a Land Agent in England for the families who owned them, including the Astor estate. The subject of his talk this morning was the Astor estate, Hever Castle, in the county of Kent in the southeast corner of England.

Christopher told us that he held the title of 'Resident Land Agent' in this management capacity, a title totally unknown outside the U.K. The duties of a Land Agent are many because he looks after an estate in every facet of its existence. He was, he said, a forester, a farmer, an architect, a financier, and a tax expert, in addition to a politician and public relations expert in the management of the family, its servants, its tenants, its housing (for the help) and anything else that pertained to the wellbeing of the estate and those who lived in it.

The story of the Astor family involves a most complicated family tree.  Anne Boleyn was a daughter of this family;  King Henry VIII came courting her, because his first wife did not produce a male heir.  Henry VIII's marriage to Anne Boleyn was  the occasion of the break between England and the Roman Catholic Church....but poor Anne did not produce a male heir either, and was beheaded in the Tower of London for this omission.  She did, however, produce one of the better monarchs Britain has ever had, Queen Elizabeth I.  The Astor family had its origins in Germany, Heidelberg, in the eighteenth century. One of its sons, Johan, went to England, then to New York, met a fur trader, married a Scots girl, and made a fortune in the trading of furs and in Manhattan real estate.  His son William Astor inherited the fortune, built the famous Waldorf Hotel, located at first where the Empire State Building is now.  Later, it was rebuilt at its current location, and the Astoria Hotel, built next door, was amalgamated with it.  The famous Peacock Walk, now the Peacock Alley, connected the two.

The Astor family widened its interests; William became an ambassador to Rome, and eventually, as an Anglophile, abandoned the U.S. for England.  In 1903 he bought Hever Castle, in Kent.  It is a "fortified Manor House" - in those days there were many fiefdoms, the neighbors were not friendly, and homes had to be fortified against invasion.  Christopher showed many pictures , including the fortified Manor with its turreted roof, its moat, and the portcullis that shut off the only entrance to the castle across the moat.

Hever Castle had been abandoned when William Astor bought it, it was a "picturesque ruin," and it cost a fortune, and an army of workers, to restore it. The restoration is beautiful, both inside and out.  The gardens, which have been described as the most beautiful in the world, have a maze and a 30 acre lake, beds of flowers (there were daffodils as far as the eye could see in Christopher's pictures) trees, shrubs, statues  and topiary - and the estate attracts 100,000 visitors a year.  It also had a dairy farm and an Arabian stud farm.   Christopher's stewardship came to an end - the Astors sold the castle and everything pertaining to it, to a developer.  This seemed like a terrible end to Christopher's story, but the castle is still intact and its owner lives in it.  One can only imagine that the "army of workers" necessary for its upkeep must be increasingly difficult to recruit and keep.  Members thanked Christopher for a most interesting and unusual lecture.