Scintillating Stars of Southern Shropshire !

    The southernmost portion of Shropshire is rich in architecture involving several eras on this particular landscape. The edge of the old Marcher Kingdom is marked by Craven Arms which became an important frontier trading post between Wales and England once the struggle for power became a type of truce. Only a mile south, Stokesay Castle majestically sits off the A49 juncture and while you won’t view it as a medieval war machine, the mixture of styles which comprise this eclectic work will delight and whet your appetite for architecture perhaps unlike any you have had the pleasure to tour. It is typified in the later middle ages when manor homes which had been fortified became prevalent but this beauty is a true example of the royal penchant and preference for comfort, beauty and- surprisingly- simplicity. This home fulfilled those needs and rather early. It is, in essence, a 13th century fortified manor home with a moat, a medieval defensible tower in renaissance style and a timber palisade surrounds it with a beautiful gatehouse. Stokesay is the only remaining edifice of its particular kind.
     The first late medieval structures built by a junior member of the de Say family comprises the 12th century pentagonal tower ( originally built by Roger de Lacy ) which has a projection of a square wall-turret on the north side. Inside you’ll find timber-framing inside the gallery. By the late 13th century a rich wool merchant by the name of Lawrence de Ludlow had ownership and he built the long hall with gabled windows to the old tower’s south wall. To that, he added a multangular tower, three stories high, making it the tallest part of the edifice. What you will see on the premises is largely the work of Ludlow with the exception of the 17th century Jacobean gatehouse which gave it a gingerbread-like storybook appeal in appearance. Dating on the Ludlow portion has revealed no significant later alterations !
     Its most inviting Ludlow portion is the great hall which has magnificent timber-vaulted slate roofing with shuttered gable windows and an unforgettably wide grand staircase which leads to the north tower. This is the oldest unaltered portion, having been built around 1280, and has the original medieval tiled floor and aging wall painting. The solar has a refurbished appearance because of the renovations of 1641 with a beautifully carved and painted over hearth mantel.  Beyond is the south tower which is separate but accessible from the outside by a stairway. The magnificent half-timbered Elizabethan gatehouse was built around the same time of the restoration of the solar. Most of the 17th century fortifications additions have been removed leaving only the gatehouse a sole reminder of that era.
     Civil War cannons were actually fired on Stokesay  in 1645 but a quick surrender to the parliamentarians saved it. Henry III loved these types  of homes better than any castle and he lavished his own abodes in luxurious fashion much to the scorn of more austere castellans. Because its start was as a dairy farm (Stoke=Dairy Farm), during King Charles I reign, the Craven family took ownership and it eventually became a farmhouse again after it had been used by this King as a supply base. Up until the early 19th century it continued in ownership by the Craven family and from that year on (1869) John Darby Allcroft, who was a Worcester glove manufacturer and member of Parliament, set about restoring the home and built and moved into Stokesay Court, nearby. It has been an English Heritage owned site since 1992 and they provide a recorded audio tour of the entire premises for visitors. They have regular re-enactments which depict historical events here.
     Ludlow Castle is perhaps the brightest star in the Shropshire firmament when it comes to castles. Only seven miles southeast of Stokesay, this 924 year old castle has the most substantial ruins in the country of England, and it is only shadowed by Warwickshire for the sheer number of visitors every year. Construction began with the de Lacys in the 11th century and they held it until the end of the 13th century when the Genevilles gained possession during the civil wars of the reign of King Stephen only to lose it to the infamous Roger Mortimer. Contrary to obvious assumption, Mortimers Tower was not built by him but by the Genevilles. It was, however, a Royal Palace and seat of government from its inception, eventually establishing the Council for Wales and the Marches by the time it was occupied by true royalty in the 15th century and has been privately owned by the Earl of Powys since 1811. So much history is connected with the castle it can be difficult to take in a single day. It almost reads like a soap opera but it’s all true. That was the nature of the War of the Roses.
     For instance, Mortimer was very powerful but he and Queen Isabella were imprisoned after they were implicated in the gruesome murder of Edward II and suspected of adultery. Mortimer was put to death in 1330. By 1461 the castle had been in royal ownership for three centuries and at that time Edward IV’s son was sent to live at Ludlow and a Council for the young prince was formed from members of his own household. When his father died, little Prince Edward was sent, along with his brother, to London only to be imprisoned, allegedly by their uncle, Richard III. At the Tower of London, they seemed to vanish and the accusation against Richard III has never been dropped but it has not been substantiated either. I suppose I should mention that Ludlow was also connected with Henry VIII’s brother, Prince Arthur who was what I call a mensch but he died at this castle in 1502, leaving his wife Catherine of Aragon to the fate of eventually being wedded by none other than his murderous brother Henry VIIIth ! I could go on and on… In 1811 the ruins were purchased from the English Crown by the 2nd Earl of Powys, in whose ownership it remains under the leadership of the trustees of their estate. They did extensive renovation and it is open to the public. Admission is quite inexpensive. 
     The castle is surrounded by the market town on two sides, completely and seated on the point of a rocky headland with the ancient Haywood Forest flanking close by with unbeatable views to be seen when standing on the wall walks of the keep. The castle itself is a massive rectangular tower enceinte with walls 110 feet high, square corner and mural towers with a former entrance to the tower now reached by a ramp. During the 15th century an opening was made in the lower portion and a flight of steps lead to the first storey. The entrances to the dungeons were three square openings in a chamber above and prisoners were lowered into the dungeon.  Prince Arthur’s Tower is placed on the west overlooking the River Teme where most of the residences are predominate, while Mortimer’s Tower is the only other circular D-shaped tower at Ludlow besides the chapel nave. The residential range is extensive with many varied windows fluctuating from Norman to Tudor in style. 
T- 01584 873355

     A tower keep, also not far from Craven Arms, was originally thought to  be a 14th century addition to earlier defenses. Hopton Castle is a bit of an archaeological mystery even to the experts but its survival is nothing less than a miracle considering the history and its unusual struggle when the Civil War machine came to knock down the doors. In fact its origins go back to the 11th century and much of the motte site surrounding area is gutted and desolate with dried out moats with inner and outer bailies. It is recorded that during the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 a Saxon ruler, Eadric, owned the manor of Opetoune as well as Clun and Hopesay. There was nothing recorded in the area by 1086 according to the Domesday Book but would have been part of the realm of Roger de Montgomery so any early building was most likely swept away or destroyed. It would have been under the jurisdiction of Picot de Say by that time. In 1165 Walter de Opton was Lord of the existing structure and his successors became Sheriff of a large area which most likely included parts of neighboring Staffordshire. This eventually became part of the estate of the Corbets and then to Sir Henry Wallop of Hampshire by the 17th century. By the time of the Civil War his son, Robert, was the Parliamentarian owner of Hopton.
     No matter of what was obviously knocked down to smithereens, the tower itself is a fascinating study in architecture of periods covering nearly every century up to the time of the Civil War when Samuel More was Lord of the castle. His diary provided plenty of information to be able to interpret the remains although not comprehensively. This was the scene of the grisly murder of 28 men during the Civil War simply because they defied parliamentary forces under the direction of Sir Michael Woodhouse and the sheer obstinacy of Lord Samuel More who refused to surrender.
     Many of the features inside are disputed on the argument that earlier styles may have been constructed at a much later date as a nod to romanticism on the part of the builders much in the way that Acton Burnell was restored but to a lesser degree. I tend to hold to the theory that the motte-and-baileys which obviously existed here indicates that the settlement pre-dates the tower keep. This is how castles were usually developed. Building inside most likely continued over the centuries because, strangely enough, some basic placements are missing. Windows vary in position and style and improvements and embellishments were obviously built at a later date. Most telling is that service quarters don’t exist in the tower, nor does a kitchen and any area of usage for storage is too small for such use and that would require outbuildings including stabling apartments and ancillary accommodation.
     This reconstruction drawing by an English Heritage artist, Terry Ball, gives a very good idea of what the tower may have looked like by the 15th century and gives us a new perspective. The cross-section is revealed from the northeast corner revealing some of the grand features it once contained. Three floors are indicated with more elaborate appointments above, successively, than that of the floors below. The northeast and southeast corner towers were similar which gave symmetrical balance to the look of the east façade and a tower staircase was on the northwest corner.
     Grounds of the rectangular manor were scrutinized with results that an ornamental water feature such as a fountain with a gully existed with several ponds and on the south side pavilions with a raised walk adjoining them. The view to the southwest takes in a hill and deer park so it was definitely used as a pleasure residence for a noble family. In 2006 the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust secured in excess of £1 million from Heritage Lottery fund among other sources to purchase more of the grounds, repair and make the castle accessible for visitors. This is a local organization with its sole purpose of preserving Hopton Castle for public use and education.
Maintenance costs are not covered by the grants received and require funds of £3000 to be raised annually.

Mr T F Baker (Secretary)
Lower House, Hopton Castle, Craven Arms,
Shropshire SY7 0QF
Tel: 01547 530 352


   Very near Offa’s Dyke, Clun Castle sits in the southwest corner of Shropshire, west of Stokesay Castle, and also had its beginnings with the Norman baron, Robert Picot de Say in 1140. This motte castle which shows off two baileys on the eastern front has extensive but very ruinous stone remains. Much is to be seen here. The undulant hilly landscape has a square keep which was rebuilt in stone during the 12th and 13th centuries, a gatehouse on the south side with two visible turrets along the west front and a great round tower foundation on the southwest. The north side has a very tall- at one time eighty feet- four storied rectangular keep,


      Clun has a long history of struggle for the control of its battlements with well known inhabitants and lords. but the struggle only seemed to worsen during The Anarchy when the barony of the de Says was divided, seemingly, with Isabella ( the illegitimate daughter of King Henry I ) who took control of the castle. By 1199 it was passed on to her son William Fitz Alan and he was largely responsible for its appearance since he rebuilt the castle upon returning home from Chateau Gaillard in Normandy with King Richard I. Much of the work was an imitation of this impressive French castle which still stands with substantial remains above the village of Les Andelys. His son John Fitz Alan seized the castle back from the possession of King John but by 1233 the castle was again garrisoned by the crown to fend off an attack by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth. Clun was also under the jurisdiction of Roger Mortimer for a short period of time. His widow, Matilda Braose is famous for telling off the sheriff of Shropshire from the battlements to the sheer amusement of Edward I who defended her against the brute !


     The great keep on the north slope is supposed to be the work of the Fitz Alan family during the 14th century. They used it primarily as a hunting lodge but they also saw some action from Owain Glyndwr during his rebel wars. Interestingly, under Owain it declined so badly it was already ruinous by the time of the Civil War and it was left alone. In 1894 Clun was repurchased by the Duke of Norfolk who was a descendant of the FitzAlan family and it has remained in their possession ever since along with the title of Baron Clun. Management is in the care of English Heritage and there is open access to the site.

The Castle Lady
with kisses that always go that extra mile !
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