Presently, few castles exist in Worcestershire and Worcester Castle was abandoned at a relatively early date. Strategically, the county is so small and sequestered from the Welsh border that it was incorporated with Herefordshire from 1974 to 1998 as the county of Hereford and Worcester. After that time, it was reestablished as an independent county and the border between the two counties was reoriented along the Malvern Hills (in the southern portion)- an east/west border. The county’s boundaries have been fluid for over a hundred years, now, since the abolition of the form of local administration known as the Hundreds in 1889. Birmingham’s burgeoning expansion along with the Black Country, after the industrial revolution was well underway, has altered the borders continually. Kidderminster, Bromsgrove and Redditch are satellite towns of Birmingham even though they are seated within Worcestershire’s borders.
As a portion of the Cotswolds, there are some real delights to be discovered for those who study birds, maps and climb hills. This county, although established in antiquity, nevertheless appears to struggle to hang onto rights to exist independently. The largest town is Redditch which borders Warwickshire. Worcestershire is bordered by five other counties and is only twice as large as Coventry but there is much to offer here, regardless. Beautiful landscapes and a rich heritage await your visitation. You’ll find a primarily rural terrain to take in with delightful surprises in a medieval meadow adjacent to Worcester across the Severn which is preserved as a wetland haven and wildlife sanctuary. It is invasive to Croome Park which was planned by Capability Brown- his first grand project which brought him fame. The Malvern Hills in the southwest offer an exceptionally high summit, Worcestershire Beacon, from which you can view all the surrounding counties and into Wales and is host to an astounding array of different types of birds. This year the internationally known Three Choirs Festival will be held again as it is celebrated every three years and, additionally, you’ll find an impressive array of musical and cultural events that rivals those of Wales. Edward Elgar, the famous English composer, was born in Lower Broadheath which is only three miles west of Worcester and the home was converted to a museum tribute to him in 1939. A visit to this delightful former residence is de rigueur when you visit this county.
At Worcester, the original motte and bailey castle was built around 1069 by Urse d’Abetot who was the first Norman sheriff of the county. The oval shaped baileys were defended by a moat and rampart along the banks of the Severn on the current site of the College Green. It burned down in 1113 and was rebuilt part in wood and partially in stone with a gateway added in 1204, called the Edgar Tower, by King John. This tower, alternatively called the Frog Tower, most likely was the original entrance to the castle. It was completely restored at a later time and is in wonderful shape to visit. The castle, however, was completely in ruins by the mid-16th century and today there are only a few visible remains of the original castle wall. At one time the city wall had five towers but only one still survives, which is the bastion at St. Martin’s Gate, but the location of the others is uncertain and they no longer exist. Leominster Tower was recorded as being located somewhere between St Clement’s gate and the Foregate, according to a Speed’s (late medieval) map.
The motte of the castle was leveled some time between 1820 and 1840 and today the King’s School occupies the site but Severn Street still follows the line of the former moat. The citadel wall which was built by 1224, before the Battle of Evesham, was the only remaining fortress when the Battle of Powick Bridge, located a short distance south of Worcester, broke out as the first skirmish of the Civil War. That occurred as the first major cavalry engagement of the Civil War on the 23rd of September in 1642. By 1651 an earthwork defense was built along the eastern side of the citadel walls to Fort Royal Hill. This star shaped fort was captured by Cromwell during the last siege of Worcester and its guns were used to bring about the City’s surrender on the 3rd of September in 1651, nine years later, at the same bridge ! Fort Royal Hill is now a large, landscaped public park.
Worcester’s more famous (Worcester) Cathedral didn’t fare much better than the castle, although it would be difficult to tell at present. The current cathedral was built by the late 14th century after a tower had collapsed in 1175 and then burned down completely in 1203. After the Black Death descended on the town it was difficult to find manpower and so even though rebuilding started in the 13th century, nearly another century passed before completion. The finest and last addition to the cathedral occurred in 1874 when Sir George Gilbert Scott designed the High Gothic choir stalls, incorporating the 14th century misericord carvings. Don’t miss the tombs of King John and Prince Arthur among others of interest.
There is an art gallery museum on Foregate Street and just outside the city at Sidbury you’ll find the Commandery which was an 11th century hospital but became Prince Charles base during the Civil War after it had been rebuilt in the 15th century. It is now a museum devoted entirely to the Civil War and has a hammerbeam roof in excellent condition. Amid the plethora of timber frame houses in Friars Street, Greyfriars stands out as a late 15th century building redecorated in period style. Dyson Perrins Museum displays the Royal Worcester porcelain which dates back to 1751 in the Georgian section of town and just north of the cathedral on High Street, a visit to the 18th century Guildhall will give you a chance to see statues of the Stuart monarchs, revealing the city’s Royalist leanings.
Headed north and close to the West Midlands border, Hartlebury Castle’s nearest town is Kidderminster, and was home to the Bishops of Worcester for over a thousand years. Its strategic position was in proximity to fordings of the River Severn at Larport and Redstone which sat on a main route into Wales. Much of Worcestershire is ecclesiastical in architectural emphasis and this ancient site is no exception. The land which it occupies was originally a property of Burghred, King of West Mercia who bequeathed the seat to the Bishop of Worcester circa 850. A manor house was recorded as being in existence on the site by 1237 but actual fortifications weren’t added until much later in the 13th century by Bishops Cantilupe and Giffard, of whom the latter was loyal to the Plantagenets. The original bastion for the northwest mural tower remains, along with the Great Hall although the hall is altered. This hall was built by Bishop Wakefield before the last decade of the 14th century and still has the arch braced roof constructed of timbers taken from forests near Malvern which were a gift from King Richard II. However, the only royal visitor to the castle was King Edward I in 1282 when he traveled to the west midlands to deal with the Welsh revolt.
Prior to the Civil War the castle became the principal residence of the Bishops of Worcester and by the time the war was in full swing in 1644, commissioners for array were pursued and fled to Hartlebury from Ombersley for safety. The castle had been garrisoned two years previous by a Colonel of the King, William Sandys, with 120 men and twenty horses. During this time it was refortified and a years worth of supplies were sent and stocked. When Hartlebury was besieged on May 16th 1646 they surrendered within two days, without a single shot fired, to the parliamentary army led by Colonel Thomas Morgan. When you visit you will be able to see, among the collections, a rare half-crown which was minted on the site when a mint was set up at the castle during the Royalist occupation. After the surrender to parliament the castle was used as a prison for Royalist captives and it was slighted and later left to decay.
In 1647 the castle was sold to Thomas Westrowe for £3,133 6s. 8d and was slowly rebuilt after that time by a number of Bishops- but as a mansion and not as a fortification- even though portions such as the moat and hall were preserved. In 1745 Bishop Maddox had the chapel remodeled with an appropriated 1200 with work done by Henry Keene, the Surveyor of Westminster Abbey. Window treatments were designed by Dr. John Wall. Restorations, additions and removal of medieval portions of the mansion were carried out throughout the remainder of the 18th century by the various Bishops who came into possession of the former castle and by mid-19th century officially became the sole residence of the Bishops of Worcester. Then, in 1964, the north wing was claimed for the creation of a County Museum which today is a conglomerate with Worcester’s City Museums.
Click below for a wonderful slideshow of Worcestershire’s beautiful churches and cathedrals
Remains of Elmley Castle, seated near Pershore but southwest of Evesham, are minimal besides the impressively large motte. It was built by Robert le Despenser, who was King William’s steward, scion of the Despenser family of Barons. For two centuries it was the principal seat of the Earls of Beauchamp before they moved to Warwick. On the death of Anne Beauchamp, the 16th Countess of Warwick, the castle became property of the crown. Its denouement came in 1544 when Henry VIII sold it to Sir William Herbert and Christopher Savage. It was falling down by then and John Leland wrote an account of people carrying off the stone in carts to repair the Pershore Bridge.
Traces of wall of the stone keep and even less of a curtain wall can be seen of this late 11th century fortification. The additions were built in the 12th and possibly the 13th centuries on the site of a former Iron Age hillfort. Visitation to these sites requires a vivid imagination and an unusual enthusiasm for medieval castles in their ruinous state.
Mark Moxon, photographer of Holt Castle www.landsendjohnogroats.info
Five miles north of Worcester, Holt Castle retains one tower from a castle built in the mid-13th century from a previous Norman site. The remaining tower, built by Lord Beauchamp, overlooks the River Severn and dates from the 14th century, part of what was most likely a quadrilateral castle with four corner towers. A manor house was constructed next to the tower in the 15th century and received further alterations, carried out during the 16th and early 18th century with its most recent renovations made mid-19th century. Upon close inspection you’ll find a portion of 15th century wall, a conversion which survives to the southwest along with a simple 18th century retaining wall on the east and southeast which supports a terrace. This is a private residence, strictly.
The former Norman mottes at Castlemorton and Leigh are worth a look for the true medieval castle enthusiast. Leigh Castle which is seated near Bransford, several miles west of Worcester on the A4103 is mere earthworks with a motte about five meters high, 15 meters in diameter and surrounded by a dry moat with a counterscarp bank. Another yet smaller motte is just south of it on Castle Green showing its early medieval origins.
Leigh Castle was first identified in a document of 1346 although the form of the earthworks are of an earlier Norman period and may be identified with the manor of Castleleigh held by the Pembridge family and connected with the Abbots of Pershore in the 13th century. Also at Leigh is a magnificent 14th century timber-framed barn and is the largest of its kind in all of Britain, built for the monks of Pershore Abbey which is some miles southeast of Worcester.
Under English Heritage protection, admission is free and it is open Thursdays through Sundays from 10-6 starting in April through the end of September.
In the far northeast corner of Worcestershire, a ditched enclosure on a spur above Beoley remains as a witness to a former castle which belonged to the Beauchamps and Mortimers by turns. It burned down in 1303 and only earthworks remain of what was most likely the original motte and bailey but they are extensive enough to see what size of structure was built. It has been suggested by experts that it is pre-Saxon and may have been reused as a manor house/hunting lodge during the medieval period but was abandoned by the 14th century. It was last put on record as ‘the last vestiges of the ruins of a castle’ and could still be seen about 1780, however, a manor house built by the Sheldon family was burned down purposely in 1648 to prevent it from being taken by the Parliamentarians.
(Beoley Hall )
Thereafter, the Sheldon family had the present Beoley Hall built, in the late 17th or early 18th century, near the former castle site, in neoclassical style on an H plan, three-storied brick with stucco. The plan centers around a staircase lit by a round skylight. In 1791 the east wing was rebuilt to plans by John Sanders, with two storeys built to the same height as the original three and a portico with Tuscan columns was also added. A bow window was added to the ground floor on the south end with a matching window to the first floor above. Cited as being in poor condition in 1968 the hall was restored in 1986 and is now divided into apartments.
On the west side of the north portion of the county, the town of Bewdley is solidly historic with Tudor and Georgian houses and some medieval remains which are worth seeing. It is situated on the edge of the Wyre Forest on the banks of the River Severn and was an important inland harbor in the 18th century. A bridge built across the Severn River is the creation of Thomas Telford built in 1798. The Recorder’s House on High Street and Wyre Court are examples of Tudor and Jacobean survival. A Norman church stands on the grounds of Ribbesford House, a mile from the center of town, which is noted for the 14th century arcade, tympanum and a Victorian window by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones.
Tickenhill House, which was originally considered to be a palace was built in royal Tudor style but was refaced in Georgian brick along the façade. This house was the site of Prince Arthur’s marriage, by proxy, to Catherine of Aragon. Catherine’s daughter, Mary I, also stayed at this house. The parkland which surrounds the estate dates from the 14th century. There is more to be found with the help of the Bewdley Civic Society which created a Town Trail, taking in most of Bewdley’s historic buildings. A good place to start your visit would be the Bewdley Museum on Load Street where you can see exhibits of Wyre Forest tradesmanship and explanations about the lives of Bewdley’s inhabitants through history.
Below Great Malvern, in the far southern portion where the magnificent Malvern Hills spread out, two completely ruined castles live as neighbors and not far from the M50/M5 junction. Near Upton-upon-Severn, Hanley Castle remains are minimal but still impressive in size. It was built by King John as a hunting lodge between 1207-12, where speculation is that an earlier rectangular moated enclosure existed. It is situated to the south of Hanley Castle Village, half a mile off from the Severn River. It often passed into custody, by royal grant, to several lords- Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1214 and Roger Clifford in 1216. It was given to Gilbert de Clare by Henry III for a time until Hugh le Despencer had to cede possession back to King Edward II, who in turn appointed Malcolm Musard and William Payn as wardens of the castle in 1321.
Hanley was not fortified until the early 14th century and a deep moat was added. This work was carried out by Edward II and a description in 1416 even indicated the existence of a great room, pantry, buttery, two guest rooms, a bake house and kitchen in the keep. It possessed four corner stone towers, a palisade and a chapel in the enclosure. The Duke of Warwick was born at the castle in 1425 and died there twenty-one years later. At one point it became a retreat of the Beauchamps and several other lords, but most of the earlier stonework had been demolished by then and the remaining tower that they used was demolished by 1795 when it was used by Thomas Hornyold to repair a bridge at Upton-upon-Severn. Today there is only the semi-circular bailey platform, a low mound and dry moat plus trees which have taken over. If you still want to take a look it can be found five miles southeast of Great Malvern.
Castlemorton Castle’s remains can be seen in the village of the same name, southwest of Hanley Castle’s remains and 4 and 1/2 miles southwest by west of Upton-on-Severn. The castle was property of the De Moute family, situated on the grounds of St Gregory’s Church and built some time before the Civil War. It may have been built as a fortification to protect the church. Only the motte covered by trees is visible, today.
To look around the town and common you wouldn’t think a lot of history took place here but contrary to that thought is its most recent infamy in being the site of a rave back in May of 1992 which outraged the town and mostly overwhelmed the peaceful inhabitants with a week’s worth of teenage bravado and drug-taking. The amount of attendees was nearly a fifth the size of Woodstock’s record with an estimated 100,000 English hippies. Perhaps no one would remember it today if they hadn’t set some government buildings ablaze. Tsk, tsk.
A prolific and prodigious local historian, Pamela Hurle, has written quite a few books about Malvern and the Malvern Hills area of Worcester, so please check out a few of her titles of which Castlemorton Farmer: John Rayer Lane and Hanley Castle: Heart of Malvern Chase are just two which might be of interest to you. When you’re done e-mail me and I’ll send you my address so you can send them along to me to have a little read.
Across the M5, going east, at Lower Strensham a concentric double moat and earthworks, with a surviving rampart of a castle, can be found in the
church fields. This castle which was licensed in 1388, was slighted after the battle of Worcester in 1646 because it was garrisoned by the Royalists. More features of this castle can be seen in aerial photos. Strensham was the birthplace of the poet Samuel Butler, born in a tenement home in the village on February 8, 1612. The River Avon runs just along the east side of Strensham while the River Severn lies only two miles to the west. Both rivers converge a few miles to the south of this town into the county of Gloucestershire and merge at Tewkesbury.
http://www.pastscape.org/maps.aspx?a=0&hob_id=118202&mv=s (zoom in 3 times for aerial view)
(You can see more and larger photos of Worcestershire castles and landmarks in my new Live.com photo album.)
Who travels Worcester county takes any road that comes when April tosses bounty to the cherries and the plums.
– John Drinkwater