The 18th Century
By the end of the 17th century the Castle and the Virginian estates had passed into the hands of the Fairfax family, through Catherine Culpeper’s marriage to Thomas, 5th Lord Fairfax, in 1690.
In 1745, their son, the 6th Lord Fairfax, sailed for Virginia to manage his estates and settled there for life, the only peer to move permanently to America during colonial times. On Lord Fairfax’s departure to America, the Castle passed to his brother Robert, who held it for 46 years.
The parkland was first laid out at this time and was described as ‘a very fine ground, having a great command of water from the Len, and beautifully adorned with wood.’ One of Robert’s first actions was to commission a local cartographer, Thomas Hogben, to survey the estate. Hogben’s beautiful estate map survives and includes at its foot a vignette of the Castle as it appeared in 1748. Robert then undertook a large scale programme of improvements, made possible by the wealth of his two wives, Martha Collins, member of the Child banking dynasty and daughter of the famous free thinker Anthony Collins, and then Dorothy Best, a brewery heiress.
As part of the improvements the exterior of the old Jacobean house was embellished with then fashionable ‘Strawberry Hill Gothic’ features to the windows and door surrounds, transforming its appearance. A later owner Charles Wykeham Martin, was horrified by the effect; ‘Boards were fixed in front of the sash windows, and cut to a point in the shape of a Gothic window and the whole was stuccoed over. A more ruinous disfigurement was perhaps never perpetrated.’
In 1778, Leeds Castle received a royal visit when George III and Queen Charlotte travelled into Kent to review an army encampment and spent the night at the castle. Robert Fairfax spent large sums refurbishing the reception rooms in the main house for his royal guests’ use. Robert died in 1793 having spent all of his money and is buried in a Pauper’s grave at the church in nearby Broomfield village.