I couldn’t leave off the subject of Shropshire without giving you some extraordinary places to lay your weary head after chasing castles around all day so here is just a sampling of the sublime, extraordinary or out-of-the-ordinary hotels on your journey through this scintillating county.
– The Castle Lady
A famous hotel at Ludlow has enjoyed its popularity as an inn for 340 years now and its history exudes from its Jacobean oriel windows with a charming gaze out into the street. Of its half-timbered sisters, Feathers has no equal for intricacy and beauty and the interior is lush and historic as well. The name comes from its flamboyant façade which is reminiscent of the arrow-making of which Ludlow had as its medieval local industry. This Bull Ring area beaut’s last major renovations were undertaken by a Welsh lawyer, Rees Jones, in 1619 turning this house into a masterpiece of its time. Only the balcony façade is 19th century.
While at Ludlow you will walk from the market square around a pattern of streets and byways that were established more than 900 years ago and changes from the medieval timber framing to more streamlined architecture in Georgian homes. These can be seen on Broad and Mill streets in abundance. Feathers is a marvel in preservation.
Its interior spaces were never altered with beams and plasterwork showing age within. The plasterwork ceiling is marvelous work and is worth seeing even if you don’t manage to snag a room for the night. Ludlow is a Shropshire gastronomic mecca so check out the pubs and restaurants. You’re sure to find something delightful here. One place to try is Unicorn Inn at 66 Corve Street. This 17th century black and white features home-made puddings on the menu along with local produce. T- 01584 873555
Castle Lodge, situated outside the gates at Ludlow Castle was recently renovated and a lot of history is bound up in its walls. Yet another Tudor guild house which made the transition into Elizabethan, it can boast the largest collection of oak paneling in England, dates from the early 13th century and was once used as a prison. The outside entrance doors are iron-studded timber and leads to partially glazed doors with heraldry in the stain glass. A great hall has a large fireplace with plaster ceiling dripping pendants and fretwork. Further features are a drawing room also with a fireplace with carved heads on the oak mantel, leaded windows and wood paneling with fluted carvings. Most rooms have Tudor stained glass windows with individual designs. An official courtroom has a stained glass window with Henry VIII among the designs along with the emblem of his feathers carved into the oak mantelpiece of the great fireplace and along with Elizabeth I’s coat of arms on the wall above it.
Originally owned and possibly built by the Palmers lends this abode a little more interest if you know the history of this family. They were among the richest people in town with the distinction of having made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem and carried the palm along the Via Dolorosa. Among the guilds they were the most exclusive in Ludlow and had a window in a town chapel devoted to them.
When it was rebuilt in 1580 it was owned by Queen Elizabeth’s Master of Requests and had been home to Catherine of Aragon while she was married to Prince Arthur in 1501! Cromwell and his army also stayed at the lodge and Lady Jane Grey lived there as a child. This abode has always been privately owned and usually served as an inn, restaurant and bar and because of its size is capable of a multitude of uses both residential and commercial.
Purchased privately in 1990, the old lodge re-opened in 1999 after extensive renovations took place. It continues to be privately owned and has been up for sale since 2001. Its future hangs in the balance while it remains unsold. In addition to Castle Lodge there is additional accommodations within the walls of the castle at Castle House which has three renovated apartments plus other events and leisure space available with special rates for weekend guests. Go to http://www.castle-accomodation.com for further details.
The Citadel which was built on Hawkstone Park grounds by the Hill family in the configuration of their coat of arms was once sold off to pay debts early in the 20th century but it is now a wonderful place to stay while in the area along with Soulton Hall which is a Tudor brick ancient manor farm. The Citadel was built for the Hill family’s staff so it was never used by the family but it has marvelous air with livability in every nook and cranny. It is also an excellent place to stay while touring North Shropshire.
Citadel Tel.- 01630 685204
Soulton Hall, also located in Wem, has been cherished as the family home of the Ashtons for over 450 years. They were the descendants of Thomas Hill, who was a descendant of Sir Roland Hill himself. Both did remodeling from the 16th century resulting in the impressive Elizabethan brick building which can be seen today. Soulton has the comfort of a luxury Country House Hotel with a friendly and distinctly personal approach. Its location is approached by an ancient stone bridge. It sits amongst walled gardens in five hundred acres of privately owned woodlands and you’ll find exceptional food fresh from the gardens along with wines from the well stocked wine cellar and friendly waitstaff. The Observer called it an idyllic retreat.
As you stroll the grounds you’ll find evidence of a motte and bailey site is still visible to the north east of the manor. This portion of the estate was once in possession of the King’s Chapel at Shrewsbury Castle. In the twelfth century there was a dispute about the ownership of the Manor Soulton, which reached the courts at Westminster. The lawyer for the plaintiff, later Yvo de Soulton, came to have the ownership of the manor. He went on to represent Shropshire at two parliaments, as a Knight of the Shire. Robert Corbett and his family also built a fortified manor on this site or closer to the Norman castle in the 13th century. After a fire in 1420 the manor house was re-built on the present site. Many of those late Medieval/Tudor remnants can still be seen in the brick building today.
Tel: 01939232786 www.soultonhall.co.uk
Upton Cresset Hall is a turreted 16th century Elizabethan fortified manor just outside Bridgnorth but it is a luxury hotel in the truest sense of the word, also. There is lots of space available on three floors and four rooms available with two Lefroy Brooks bathrooms. Bedrooms are on separate floors which gives a lot of privacy for a family. It is beautifully furnished and quite comfortable with all modern comforts and full central heating including microwaves, TV/Video, stereos and washing machines. It all blends beautifully with historic features such as a carved oak spiral staircase, ornate 16th century plasterwork, Tudor fireplaces and oak floors. On the grounds you’ll stroll around a medieval apple garden with a fountain.
A bit of the War of the Roses history is connected with Upton Cressett which involves both factions- the Yorkists and and Lancastrians- during the occupation of the Cressett family and within the family! Hugh Cressett, a Lancastrian, was a Royal Commissioner along the Welsh Marches and his son Robert was a Yorkist lawyer. There is much to be said from the Conquest even up to the 20th century but Upton Cressett really attained status during the reign of Elizabeth I when Richard Cressett built the gatehouse and encased the medieval manor house in brick. Their loyalties through most of history was usually Royalist and their family history reflects that time and time again.
Nevertheless, during most of the twentieth century this mansion stood empty and became derelict almost to the point of demolition. It was hidden away in the wooded hills of the Marches and nearly forgotten when the Cash family discovered it in 1970. Whatever they were looking for it couldn’t have been any where near as exciting to them as what they have restored to former glory with plenty of necessary modern features. The third story is actually an added upper story which conceals the roof timbers on the lower floors- above the original 14th century hall. The courtyard was removed to make way for Mrs Cash’s medieval garden. The magnificent gatehouse which vies with the gatehouse at Sissinghurst in a beauty contest, still entrances with oak spiral stairs, small corner turrets and a central gable which can be seen from quite a distance.
Dinham Hall is situated only a few meters from Ludlow Castle and has all the accoutrements necessary for comfort and relaxation in the midst of 18th century charm. The sitting room has a large and beautiful fireplace which has genuine log fires lit during the winter and it houses several restaurants which specialize in European and regional cuisine. Period furnishings and wonderful views of the Teme Valley will give you a sense of Ludlow past and present as it overlooks the castle as well !
(This is not to be confused with Dinham House, a Georgian town house which sits below Ludlow Castle.)
Situated in the Corvedale Valley, atop Wenlock Edge and six miles east of Church Stretton, Wilderhope Manor is a rugged-looking Elizabethan house convenient to Shipton Hall. This late 16th century limestone manor, built by a Royalist Major by the name of Smallman, has never been altered outside or inside and contains a few impressive features. It is now used as a youth hostel and to great advantage.
As you can see, it looks magnificent from the top of the valley. Four large gabled wings guard the front entrance leading to the Great Hall seated on a three-storey porch. All the usual Elizabethan features are in place- mullioned windows, chimneys and roofs- all unchanged from the original construction. Inside the Great Hall a longbow rack remains over the fireplace and the bay window rises through three stories- it’s most outstanding feature.
Original furnishings are long gone but many features such as the ceilings, motifs (such as the Smallman monogram), Tudor roses, Heart of Jesus emblems and irreverent plasterwork are present throughout the building. A spiral staircase in the back of the manor is the original wood and a three-storey garderobe- not in use !- is present along with the original roof beams in the attic and all are delightful because of the authenticity. The addition of fire security apparatus and signs is a bit jarring to the senses but obviously necessary. The restorer of Wilderhope, John Cadbury, who started his work back in 1935, although charitable in his wishes for the manor would applaud such wisdom.
The accommodations are comfortable private/family rooms, some en suite and full meal service is available in the Great Hall. Cromwell’s Bar serves locally produced wine along with the normal fare. Wilderhope is available for weddings and reunions upon request, also. The estate is large and there are wonderful walking paths around for miles !
Tel. 0870 7706090 to contact the Hostel Warden
Telford has a marvelous castle hotel in the presence of Madeley Court. This 16th century Tudor manor with a surviving 13th century great hall, which now houses the restaurant, received the European Hotel of the Year award in 2000. It has a charming Elizabethan stone gatehouse with polygonal towers which has not been significantly altered and the entire complex is seated on a former 8th century grange for Wenlock Priory. Madeley was officiated as a township in 1269 and remained park of Wenlock until 1966 at which time it was absorbed into Telford New Town.
For a guest who is entranced by the history, it is a veritable find. It was converted to its basic present look by Sir Rupert Brooke in 1553 after this Speaker in the House of Commons took over the property and manor from Wenlock Priory in 1544, building it on the site of a 13th century monastic grange. This was done by charter of Henry VIII transferring the entire estate to Sir Robert Brooke in 1539, one year before the dissolution of Wenlock Priory. The L-shaped layout of the house is due to a southwest wing of the 13th century being removed but the hall range still retains some of the 13th century features with 14th and 15th century rooms flanking the hall and the east wing and porch are dated around the 16th century. Throughout, you’ll find mullioned and transomed windows and the east wing features a large wooden newel staircase and matching molded paneling with chimney piece, also from the 16th century. During the 18th century Abraham Darby leased and lived on the property until he died.
In the late 19th century it had passed through several owners and was falling into decay by 1880 and derelict through the latter part of the 20th century after undermining had taken place. Luckily it was sold by the owner, Barnett, in 1964 to a development corporation which saved it from possible demolition. Excavations carried out in 1978-79 revealed a pre-dissolution chapel on an east-west orientation from the courtyard and even though additions were carried out throughout the centuries no major changes were made.
It was put into extensive renovations after 1980 and today is a luxury hotel. The furnishings have been carefully selected with respect to the historical integrity of the house. Antiques and elaborate fittings keep to its historical atmosphere and because of the retention of original features, each guest leaves with an indelible impression. All the bedrooms whether located in the old part of the house or in the newer wing are quiet , charming , en suite and offer many modern amenities. A few have whirlpool baths and views over the lake. A neighbor to Madeley is Weston Park !
Once the 12th century home of Prince Rupert, grandson of King James I, Prince Rupert Hotel in Butcher Row in the medieval center of Shrewsbury is rather cozy but has an extensive accommodation. Seventy en suite rooms are available because it’s actually a complex of various buildings connected by linking corridors. The comfort and quiet is legendary and combines renovated interiors with 12th century roof beams, some with four-poster king size beds. Further amenities include the elegant and excellent Royalist Restaurant, Chambers brasserie in the older part plus a fully equiped salon/spa to relax and unwind after a long day touring Shrewsbury Castle and Attingham Park.
Davenport House, a lovely example of Francis Smith of Warwick artisanship, sits outside the village of Worfield on an large and lovely estate. Built in 1725 it is now open to the public for restaurant dining one day a week and is otherwise a wedding and events venue with an indoor dining capacity of 120. Owned and run by Roger and Jane Murphy, it is convenient to Bridgnorth being only a short distance northeast and provides overnight en suite accommodation for nine people. The interiors are stunning and well worth hiring for many types of events.
Tel: 01746 716021
Also at Worfield, a former Edwardian parsonage has been brought into the 21st century without so much as changing a cornice or a curtain ! The Old Vicarage Hotel has exceptional disabled facilities throughout which is often difficult to find in period buildings. Surprisingly, it is independently owned and operated in a friendly manner the hotel has received awards for outstanding restaurant service and cuisine- using local produce. This is a peaceful country retreat for the travel weary and you’ll be delighted by the size and beauty of the extensive grounds. The views of the gardens and meadows beyond can be seen from the rooms.
Tel: 01746 716497
Very close to Shifnal, in the heart of rural Shropshire, Haughton Hall Hotel dates from 1718, built by Sir Humphrey Biggs and was owned privately, thereafter, for two hundred years. After that time it was a private girls’ school and later a doctor took it as his private residence. From 1987 to 1996 it sat empty until a man by the name of Jim Dunkley bought it and renovated the interior to turn it into a luxury hotel and leisure center. Even so, it still contains original fittings and architecture such as the front door!
Not only historic, it boasts 36 bedrooms many of which are featured with four poster beds with several containing specific requested styles. The grounds are extensive and the hall itself is magnificent for architecture alone. Outdoor activities include fishing, tennis courts, and a golf course along with full spa facilities and beauty salon offerings. There are full venues for weddings and conferences. All rooms have complete modern amenities which include wifi internet access throughout and includes in-room broadband.
The restaurant, Oliver’s, serves haute cuisine in the truest sense of the word and the dining can be intimate or can be rented out for large wedding parties and events. The intimate dining is a bit pricey but worth the cost. The rooms can be surprisingly reasonable.
May your Holy-days be full of laughter and
kisses, merriment and cheer !
The Castle Lady