Welcome to the heart of the Cotswolds ! Surroundings of Gloucestershire include Wales’ Monmouthshire which borders the Forest of Dean. It is marked by the River Wye and Offa’s Dyke but Marcher lordship territory resided mainly within the counties of Herefordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire further north. As a result, the Norman invasion quickly penetrated into South Wales where the areas of Gwent and Glamorgan conjoin with the Forest of Dean. Very few of western Gloucestershire’s earliest castles are in evidence and the remaining military architecture consists of the shell keep at Berkeley Castle and the gatehouse of St Briavels (both built under the supervision of William FitzOsbern, the Earl of Hereford). Bristol and Gloucester Castles have all but completely perished while the remaining late medieval castles are Beverston, rebuilt portions of Berkeley and the ruins at Sudeley Castle. As a late renaissance quadrangular castle with the old ruins landscaped over, Sudeley is quite interesting to visit while Thornbury Castle Hotel, in South Gloucestershire, thrives as the last Tudor castle constructed in England. Both Sudeley and Thornbury are unique amalgams of medieval and Tudor manors. -The Castle Lady
The Cotswold area in Gloucestershire can be identified in a triangular land area bordered by the cities of Winchcombe, Cheltenham, Gloucester and Stroud along the west- Stroud, Cirencester and Fairford along the south- and Oxford to Stow-on-the-Wold along the east. This concentration of stone houses was supplied by a fifty mile long range of limestone hills which stretch all the way from Bath in a northeasterly direction. It fueled much building of magnificent churches and opulent town homes with stone which can vary from warm beige tones in the north, pearly pink in the central area and light gray in the south. The stone is absolutely glowing in sunlight and quite soft which lends itself to carving- evidenced in baroque and classical detailing. A good cross section of the variety of stone can be seen in Winchcombe’s 15th century gargoyles. Cotswold stone was also used as far afield as St Paul’s Cathedral in London.
The first castle built under the supervision of William FitzOsbern was erected at Gloucester after which the Normans moved westward, through the Royal Forest of Dean, to build the castle at Chepstow (originally, Strigoil) in Wales. The Severn widens at a far northern point of Gloucestershire, just below the city of Gloucester and becomes the Bristol Channel, dividing Gloucestershire from the Forest of Dean and Wales. Many motte and baileys were built along this area referred to as West Gloucestershire. Gloucester Castle and walls were intended to shield the city from Welsh incursions but most of those early castles were abandoned soon after the conquest and never rebuilt in stone. The motte remains, scant though they are, remind us that England was once saturated with the Conqueror’s emissaries and their wooden castles all over England. Bristol Castle, now considered a part of Somerset, was a substantial fortification which guarded the south and Herefordshire’s southern fortifications created a military network for Gloucestershire’s northern region later on. FitzOsbern’s son, Walter de Gloucester took possession of his holdings, followed by his son, Miles de Gloucester. From Miles lineage the primary castle became Gloucester Castle and by the end of the Anarchy was an important stronghold connected with battleground conflict (circa 1139-53) between the legendary rivals, King Stephen and Empress Matilda. Pro-Angevin supporters are responsible for most of the barren mottes left behind and can’t even be seen or have been built completely over after they were destroyed by Stephen centuries ago. By the 16th century nearly all of Gloucestershire’s stone castles were in disuse or destroyed and those few were brought into use as administrative bodies or even jails. Architecture thrived here during the late medieval period with fortified manors and further prison reform rendered castles completely useless leaving only three occupied castles as private homes in the present day.
As a neighbor to Bristol Castle of Somerset, stone vestiges of Beverston Castle (located just west of Tetbury) in South Gloucestershire, are still in evidence. Originally constructed by Maurice de Gaunt in the 13th century, Beverston was another seat of the Berkeley family and was passed down to a long list of other families in the ensuing centuries. The header drawing shows the likeness of the castle during the time that Michael Hicks was the lord of the castle indicating that this was drawn in 1732. Maurice de Gaunt was responsible for the pentagonal tower (depicted on the left of the header drawing) for which he obtained a royal license to crenellate after 1229- being given license and pardon from Henry III. After his passing in 1281 it was remodeled by Thomas Lord Berkeley (the same one who reconstructed Berkeley Castle) in the following century when he added a quadrangular curtain with a twin-towered gatehouse plus an upper floor and rebuilt all the towers. Further modification occurred late in the 15th century when a small square tower was erected.
According to tradition Beverston was rebuilt with the spoils won at the Battle of Poitiers, which would point to the period between 1356 and Thomas’ death in 1361. At one time it was a rather small quadrangular stronghold; only the west range and its square flanking towers survive in ruins. All considering, with the passage of time and neglect, the ruins appear well enough to substantiate historical drawings of the castle so we can see what the castle looked like in the 13th century. The west range contained a solar above a vaulted undercroft, a gabled North tower projected diagonally, the South Tower (which was somewhat larger) contained a chapel at first floor level, with an elaborate vault and delicately-carved sedilia and a small oratory resided in the chamber above.
Today, a late 17th century house (with dormer windows all along the roofline) occupies the former site of the Great Hall along the south range and gives the overall look of Beverston as that of genuine Romantic ruins a là Sudeley Castle. An outer gatehouse with rounded flanking towers remains but is also in ruins. The Berkeleys sold Beverston in 1597 and by the time of the Civil War what remained was torn down under vicious assault from the Roundheads. In 1644 the garrison surrendered following the capture of its governor, who was caught in transit to pay a visit his mistress in the village! At various times the garden is open to visitors, otherwise you can see the private property from the road.
About three miles west of Beverston Castle just off of the A4135, you’ll find Lasborough and Newington Bagpath. Both are mottes in very close proximity to each other and you can visit them within minutes of each other. Lasborough is 11th century and was originally about forty meters wide and eight feet high with no trace of a bailey. It may have been a siege fort or meant to operate in conjunction with Newington Bagpath. Quarrying and plowing has also obscured the earthworks of the Lasborough site making it difficult to observe. It most probably was never more than eight feet in height, the surrounding ditch has been obliterated and a northern ditch with an enclosure may be a part of the motte. An entrance appears to be located on the north side and the enclosure tapers towards the south end. Newington Bagpath located very close across Hay Bottom is a bit more exciting with a handsome motte, most notable for its location in the depths of the Cotswold countryside. It gives great view.
Southeast from Tetbury, you will come to the capital of the Cotswolds, Cirencester, which has an ancient Friday market offering a large range of culinary products and once had a castle which is completely obliterated and built over. You will find evidence of ancient sites here which will be worth your while to visit. The Church of St. John (the) Baptist dominates the old part of town and contains one of the very few pre-Reformation pulpits (early 16th century) to survive intact and its wineglass appearance is quite unique, at that. Historically, Cirencester was a center of mosaic production when it was known as Corinium by the Romans. Chedworth benefitted from their production, certainly, and if you check out the Corinium Museum on Park Lane you will see a large cross section of art with classical and animal subjects that are absolutely stunning in detail. While there, you can get several walking guides in leaflet form which will help you find historical sites, among which is the site where Cirencester Castle once stood. As the story goes, it was built in the 11th century in timber and later, early in the 12th century, was rebuilt with a square keep in stone. Cirencester’s castle was small but did become a site of skirmish between Empress Matilda and King Stephen. First seized by Robert, Earl of Gloucestershire on Matilda’s behalf it was attacked in 1142 by King Stephen who took control of the castle during a surprise attack and set it ablaze.
As you look a little further you will find a Norman arch, intact, on the Abbey grounds and only a bit further along you will find a portion of the original Roman wall. On the west side of town, known as Cecily Hill, you’ll find Cirencester Park which was laid out in 1714 by the first Earl of Bathurst along with help from Alexander Pope. The mansion seated on the grounds is famous for its massive yew hedges quite possibly the tallest in the world.
Due northeast, Chedworth, one of the largest Roman villas in England, is located five miles southwest of Northleach at Yanworth, hidden in a dale in the heart of the Cotswolds which sprawls into the valley of the River Coln. This is quite possibly one of the most pleasant of its kind to visit and has been studied since the time of discovery in 1864. According to evidence uncovered, the villa became the home of rich Roman Christians! Even though well isolated, its position gives the feeling of Mayan ruins especially with the incredible 4th century mosaics unearthed here many of which are out in the open air and not entirely warehoused as some of the Roman ruins are in the southern part of England. As a Roman dwelling which has been estimated to be as early as the second century and built onto as late as the fourth, Chedworth was a part of the early frontier of Roman occupied Britain; a part of the Fosse Way which extends very far north. As a matter of fact, the Fosse Way extends all the way from Exeter in the south to Lincoln. Among twenty three villas within a ten mile radius, Chedworth originally provided housing to war veterans and the sequestered location would have provided true protection against Saxon invasion but most likely suffered heavy casualties by the time of the battle of Dyrham in 577 concurrently with the defeat of the British kings of Cirencester, Gloucester and Bath, which is further south.
Here, you begin to understand the meaning of the collapse of civilization and a fallen empire. The ranges are largely self-evident with a latrine block, dining and bathing areas and primary living room but the bath houses are amazingly equipped with Turkish baths, sauna, cold plunge and fascinating mosaic floors with few remaining Bacchanal figures. Excavations have been ongoing from the time of the original discovery by a gamekeeper who found artifacts while digging to find a lost animal. The original archeologist was James Farrer who worked for a period of two years unearthing most of the ancient site.
Today Chedworth is dominated by a 19th century neo-Tudor museum which had been a hunting lodge in its earliest inception and later a custodian’s house. It now houses smaller finds. In 2011 the National Trust constructed a shelter, added for the purpose of preservation using the remains as a base. Controversial though it may be, it is actually quite attractive and serves a great purpose.
to see a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H42YfcooHhQ
https://www.facebook.com/NTChedworthRomanVilla and the Facebook page
On the A417, between Gloucester and Cirencester, an impressively substantial motte and bailey, with some masonry ruins left, known as Miserden Castle is seated on a rocky spur beside the River Frome in Miserden Park which is no less than 600 acres of pasture and forest northeast of Stroud. The castle had a sixty foot wide shell keep which was protected by a stone wall and guarded by a moat fed by the Frome River on the north side. Built and named for the Musard family, in the latter part of the 11th century, it was left derelict by 1289. Robert Musard, the assumed builder, was ambushed by King Stephen’s men in 1146 and forced to surrender on the threat of being killed and he did not survive. At that point the castle was seized by Philip of Gloucester, who was Empress Matilda’s half-brother. It stood, remarkably, through Henry II’s reign, whose campaign to destroy adulterine castles was generally thorough. Henry VIII hunted in the inclusive deer park in 1535 but at some point, the castle was abandoned for the erection of a manor house where a mansion now stands on privately owned land. In 1548 Edward VI granted the property to the Kingston family in whose hands it remained until 1614.
Sir William Sandys came into possession of Miserden in 1620 and almost immediately began building a house, set on a bluff overlooking the river and graced with terraced gardens. From 1833 to to 1927 the house passed down through many families by inheritance and outright sales. Edwin Lutyens was employed to remodel the house after a fire in 1919 and the present appearance is that of his work.
What is left of Brimpsfield Castle only a short distance away, along what was once Ermin Way (an old Roman road), will not impress, but it was part and parcel to the same conflicts that Miserden faced. Built in the 11th century it became a stronghold to the Giffards by the 13th century and the small amount of masonry shows that it was rebuilt in stone between the 12th and 13th centuries. John Giffard, 2nd Lord of Brimpsfield, rebelled against King Edward II and was executed in 1322. Thereafter the castle was destroyed and the remains of the moat can still be seen and grassy mounds mark the position of the buried curtain wall.
Rodborough Sham Fort is seated 500 feet above the town of Stroud on Rodborough Common. It was built in 1761 by George Hawker and is visible from some distance away. This renaissance medieval gem may be a sham but it looks quite impressive especially where it sits. Protected and owned by the National Trust the castle is left unoccupied but makes for a rather attractive backdrop for Stroud and the surrounding countryside.
Not more than five miles northwest of Stroud and three miles north of Stonehouse in the Severn Vale, a 12th century motte and bailey of the deBohuns known as Haresfield Mount can be found in the village of the same name and features a square design that has been measured at fifty meters across with the usual motte in the center which may have been as much as ten feet in height on a northeast oriented diagonal. Surrounded by an 18 feet wide ditch, the center of the motte is a level platform about 35 yards square and two and a half feet high. Between that and the parallel with the moat is a small rampart around the circumference, possibly surmounted by a stockade once. Established soon after the Norman Conquest, it remained the possession of the de Bohuns until 1373 and there is a 14th century effigy in Haresfield church as proof. Written and some physical evidence suggests that it was the manor house of Haresfield and earthworks show that a gateway existed on the south west corner and a schedule described eight hearths in 1672 and eight years later a description states that the building ‘adjoin(ed) the great old stone house…(with a) moat.’
Gloucester (as Glevum) came into existence circa AD 48 as a market town and crossing of the River Severn and Fosse Way, which connected the town to Caerleon (and its castle) in Wales by 81 A.D. This junction between England and Wales was governed from the Roman town known as Ariconium, which is very close to Ross-on-Wye in Herefordshire (neighbor to Goodrich Castle). A road was constructed from there to a river crossing at Newnham-on-Severn and the port at Lydney. A Roman fort was built at Kingsholm, originally, and twenty years later it was re-established and extended on slightly higher ground nearby, centered at Gloucester Cross. Thereafter a civilian settlement grew up around it. The Legion based here, Legio II Augusta made preparations to invade Wales between 66 and 74 A.D. and eventually were based at Burrium (Usk) and Isca Augusta (Caerleon) in South Wales. By 97 A.D., the whole area were designated colonies by the Emperor Nerva especially for retired legionaries who enjoyed the highest status in the Empire. They were granted farmland but could be called upon as auxiliary armed forces. A large and impressive administrative basilica and forum market-place was built in the town and there were many fine homes with mosaic floors. Since Roman occupied Britain was divided into four provinces in the early 4th century it’s assumed that Glevum, as a colony, became the provincial capital of Britannia Secunda, in the same way that colonies at York and Lincoln became capitals of their respective provinces. Evidence, further afield, suggests that, at this time, Glevum possessed a mint. (A huge hoard of Roman coins was found only a decade passed at a surprising location which I will reveal to you on a forthcoming entry on Gloucestershire’s Castle Hotels!) Glevum’s population was high, as many as 10,000 people, and the entire area was mostly Roman in the second and third centuries, with a large number of villas which made use of traditional Roman farming methods. (Nearby Chedworth was the largest.) Gloucester’s City Wall originated with Roman legionary veterans very much like Chedworth and Cirencester. Glevum, after the departure of the Romans, was taken over as a Saxon Burgh. Historically, for most of England, this was rarely done but is found to be much more prevalent in the south of England. The rectangular plan was retained from its predecessor and from there, medieval Gloucester expanded westwards to the River Severn. Gloucester supported Parliament in the Civil War, and survived a month-long siege in 1643, intact. However, after the Restoration, the city’s defenses were demolished in punishment leaving nothing of the city wall above ground. Modern excavations (in 1979) revealed the East gate and the footings are on display inside a protective glass building which can be visited at various times during the summer. The round-towered, 13th century gatehouse can be seen overlying the former Roman foundations. Part of the Roman city wall and a flanking bastion have also been uncovered beneath King’s Walk.
The inside circuit of wall defenses were built originally with six town gates with the East Gate entered by Painswick Road, Bristol Road entered the city through the South Gate, from Wales and Hereford the city was accessed across Westgate Bridge and into the West Gate (it stood at the east end of the bridge). The Blind Gate was so named by mid-15th century and was entered by Water street at the northwest corner of the abbey precinct. London Road entered the city by the North Gate and Brook Street entered by the postern gate at the northeast corner of the walls. A moat encircled the eastern half of the town and between the postern gate and the North Gate a moat was provided by the southern portion of the River Twyver. The diverted waters of the Twyver were used to fill the moat along the south and east walls. Along the east wall the moat was referred to as Goose Ditch. There were two outer gates built along the north branch of the Twyver and Alvin Gate regulated Tewkesbury Road. No evidence indicates additional defenses, besides the Twyver River, to defend the outer north side of town.
Murage, which was a medieval tax levied for the strength and restoration of defensive walls, was collected throughout the 12th clear into the 15th centuries for Gloucester’s walls and there is archaeological evidence to prove that the town’s defensive system was rebuilt soon after the Norman Conquest. By the 15th century, five of the town gates were the official entrances with porters collecting tolls and four of them were prisons by 1502 with a gaoler’s (jailer) lodging built onto one by 1590. The east gate housed women prisoners in 1560 and rooms in the various gates were also used as meeting places for some of the trade companies.
The royal castle at Gloucester, built beside the River Severn at the west end of the city is no longer in evidence but historical documents and sketches of the castle are available. FitzOsbern built this castle under direct command of William the Conqueror (who ordered the survey of England, known today as the Domesday Book, at this castle in 1086.) It seems that it resembled Bristol Castle with a large keep, built later by Henry I along with two walled baileys. Later extensions were carried out by Henry II and Henry III with the help of William Rufus. The largest tower was built circa 1112 by Walter de Gloucester, west of Barbican Hill. A 14th century sketch depicts a typical square keep with angle turrets and gatehouse which had a great bridge across the Severn and attached to the outer wall. Further building continued from the 13th into the 15th centuries. In the mid-12th century the dungeon had its first royal prisoner, King Stephen, when he was captured at the Battle of Lincoln in 1141. By 1228 it was the county jail and was finally demolished completely before 1787 to make way for the prison, built circa 1821, after Charles II had the entire castle razed. It was a pitiable end for a castle which happened to be a favorite residence of Henry III and crowned in the city’s Norman cathedral.
The cathedral is the pride of Gloucester and is a recommended stopover visit, by the way, as it is connected to many royals including that of Edward II whose tomb is still seated near the high altar. The abbot Thoky was able to rebuild the cathedral magnificently after 1331 in the wake of many pilgrims who came to honor Edward II and left large monetary donations. The abbot added the east window and the cloisters with fan vaulting which has been heavily copied throughout England. It is open daily to visitors who appreciate its 900 year witness to God and enjoy the glories of craftsmanship in wood, stone and glass, old and new. You’ll follow in the steps of the monks through the exquisite fan-vaulted cloisters. Also, the great east window, the Cathedral exhibition and crypt are just a few of the delights of this magnificent edifice. Within easy walking distance you’ll discover the Folk and City museums which illuminate the extraordinary history of Gloucester and its people. Whatever your length of stay, you’ll find there’s lots of things to see and do and when it’s time to take a break, Gloucester abounds with restaurants, cafes and pubs in the city and along the water’s edge.
In addition, Gloucester claims Britain’s Most Inland Port and the Victorian Warehouses have been utilized for countless period films and TV dramas. The Gloucester Docks served maritime traffic into the Midlands, when tall ships and barges lined up all along the Gloucester and Sharpness canal (where captain Howard Blackburn traveled during his epic single handed Atlantic crossing from Gloucester USA to Gloucester England in August 1899.) Best known for many award-winning museums, shops, restaurants and seasonal attractions it is well worth taking the time to delve into the local culture here.
The Castle Lady
with loads of fireworks inside !
Special thanks goes to http://kendeacon.wordpress.com
for a first hand account on Brimpsfield and Miserden
( North Gloucestershire castles are next, this month, with some nice surprises thrown in!)