Tjolöholm Castle - The story of Sweden's most unique castle

By the sea just south of Gothenburg lies one of Sweden's most unique buildings - Tjolöholm Castle. A cool private castle in English style with a tragic history.

I still remember my first visit to Tjolöholm Castle to this day. It must have been sometime in the 80s and the memory of the amazing interiors and environment etched itself. I especially remember the bathrooms, which I remember as incredibly beautiful and modern. There was simply something special about this place. On the way up to Tjolöholm Castle this year, almost 40 years later, I am struck by how unique this building must have been in its time. Although this is a relatively modern castle, it is far from traditional.

At the end of the 19th century, the couple Blanche and James Fredrik Dickson began the construction of their dream castle here at Tjolöholm. It was already said that another castle in the Italian style here on the property that the family owned and used as a summer house, but that castle had already played its part after less than 50 years. Substandard building materials caused the castle to fall into serious disrepair and the couple began to look around for a new home. An architectural competition was announced in 1897 and the winning entry was a Tudor-style castle. A really small Windsor palace suitable for a British costume drama - but on the rocky Swedish west coast.

Tjolöholm castle seen from the garden

The castle garden

That the Dicksons chose to build an English-inspired castle was not completely out of the blue. Both had English roots and had lived in England and Scotland for many years. Even the garden and the surrounding park are in English style, where wild nature has been allowed to shape the park. A whole that takes you to a British costume drama surrounded by wild nature and sea.

On our visit in April, the onion plants had just looked up and the pruned evergreen trees stood like a row of sugar peaks, looking out to sea. During the summer, the garden flaunts beautiful perennials, the kitchen garden provides vegetables for the castle cafe and the newly planted rose garden spreads beauty with its roses and dahlias. For those who follow the television program Trädgårdstider, the castle's current gardener John Taylor is not a completely unknown name.

Tjolöholm's castle park with shaped trees and sea view
Panorama of Tjolöholm Castle
Stone bench for seating in castle park

Death and tragedy

In 1898, the construction of the dream castle began, but the construction was quickly marred by a great tragedy. James Fredrik Dickson was a famous party-goer with a reputation for his wild and extravagant parties. During a wet dinner in 1898, James Fredrik fell from a chair and cut his finger. The finger was bandaged with tinfoil from a champagne cork and forgotten about during continued hard partying for two weeks. Blood poisoning was a fact and as penicillin had not yet been discovered there was no cure. James Fredrik died shortly afterwards. Blanche now stood alone with a gigantic castle building in her lap.

Billiard room with fantastic oriental decorations

Modernities and innovative thinking

Blanche let the construction rest for two weeks after her husband's tragic death, but then tackled the construction with great passion. For the building of the castle – that seems to have been primarily Blanche's project. In a time when women were not of legal age, all papers had to be signed by James Fredrik, but the thousands of letters sent between the architect and Blanche show a strong-willed woman who had her vision of the castle clear from the first building block.

Blanche came from a home with money and good taste and Blanche chose to order a large part of all the furniture and furnishings from the Liberty department store in London. The style was inspired by "Arts and Crafts" - a mixture of classic craftsmanship and a lot of innovative thinking - a combination that was very modern for its time. One of the most famous designers at Liberty at the time was William Morris, a name that is still associated with beautiful wallpapers and fabrics today. And the result of Blanche's vision was nothing short of unique.

Shoes from the Roaring 20s
Romantic bedroom with floral headboard

Blanche did not skimp on any modern features during construction. The bathrooms had circular showers that Blanche had seen at the Hotel Bristol in Berlin and the castle was heated by hot air ducts and elements. Electricity in the castle came from a steam powered power station within the castle domains and a telephone was also installed.

One of the craziest modernities is the purpose-built vacuum cleaner that was used to clean the house. Weighing one ton, it needed to be pulled by horses. Perhaps the modernity of the castle that today feels more impractical than practical.

Bathroom with round shower
Receipts from purchases at Liberty, among others
Self-playing piano in black

Blanche's short-lived happiness

In 1904, Tjolöholm's castle was finally ready to Blanche's delight. The castle took 6 years to build and Blanche was involved in every detail. Everything would be perfect. And it was. In total, the castle cost one million kronor to build. A staggering sum at the beginning of the 20th century, but "only" about 60 million kronor converted to today's currency.

The castle was not all that was built, but Blanche also built a worker's village next to the castle. The village was created as a small English community with, among other things, workers' housing, a church and a lending library.

But Blanche's happiness in the newly built castle was short-lived. In 1906 Blanche went with her sister to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) to visit her brothers who ran a tea plantation. The visit was successful, but on the way back to Sweden, Blache suffers from dysentery and dies at sea. The body is submerged in the Indian Ocean.

Cigars on a table in a castle
Dark wooden bedroom with red fabric

Abandoned and under threat of demolition

After Blanche's death, the castle is taken over by the couple's daughter Blanche and her family. The daughter used the house as her home with her family until 1920, but over time they spent less and less time in the castle. From 1951 the castle stood and fell into disrepair. Tenders were taken to demolish the castle, but it was deemed too expensive so the castle had to remain.

After the daughter's death, the house was sold to the city of Gothenburg in 1964, which opened up the castle to the public. Something we should all be grateful for today. For Tjolöholm is not just a castle, but a time capsule of a well-to-do family at the beginning of the 20th century.

Fireplace with velvet armchairs
Photograph of girl and dog
The entrance to Tjolöholm Castle

Rooms to visit

Today, large parts of the castle's 35 rooms are open to visitors and the rooms are styled with interesting details such as books, shoes and clothes. There are guided tours in both Swedish and English, but it is also possible to choose to visit the rooms without a guide. We visited the castle without a guide, but were given a brochure with plenty of information about each room. This is a magnificent estate that demands its history in every detail.

But it is not only furniture and interior design that is interesting in the castle. Look closely and you will find the most exciting details. Such as, for example, an invitation to a party at Queen Elizabeth II's in Buckingham Palace and a kerosene-powered hair dryer.

Invitation to Queen Elizabeth II's party at Buckingham Palace

Some of the most impressive furnishings can be found in the men's rooms downstairs. Here it is consistently decorated in an oriental style, with a pool table and smoking room. Above the pool table sits a beautiful dome window and it is easy to imagine this room filled with smoke and laughter from well-dressed men in tailcoats.

Other interesting rooms to remember are "the Study" with its library, the kitchen with the old wine bottles, the beautiful guest bedrooms and the impressive bathrooms.

A visit to Tjolöholm is so much more than a visit to a castle. It's a tragic story, a dream and an amazing place.

Children's clothes in wardrobe from the beginning of the 20th century

Visit Tjolöholm Castle

Tjolöholm Castle is located 4 miles south of Gothenburg, outside Kungsbacka in Halland.

The castle park is open all year round, but if you want to visit the inside of the castle, the opening hours vary throughout the year. In summer, the castle is open every day, but in autumn/winter/spring the opening hours are limited.

Tickets can be pre-booked online, both for guided tours and for unguided visits. In the summer of 2024, admission costs SEK 150 for everyone over 14 years of age. Children between 3-14 years old cost SEK 30. If you have the cultural heritage card (easily bought on mobile - recommended!) there is a 50% discount on admission.

Read more about the castle and its opening hours at Tjolöholm Castle.

Card game on wooden table
Tjolöholm castle seen from one of the gables

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About

Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 60 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel site Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.

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