Warwickshire’s modern borders outline an interesting shape like that of a cornucopia from outer space. That is so apt for what you will find within its area. Google Earth does not reveal that it is surrounded by quite a few east and west counties (and hugs Coventry) and it may seem perplexing to navigate within its borders, while driving around. It will do you well to keep a navigational device handy and check out a map for its border towns so that you can concentrate on what it has to offer exclusively. There is almost too much to do and you’ll run out of time before you run out of historical buildings and castles. Perhaps Shakespeare shed his theatrical grace in abundance here before he left our shores for the big hills. Whatever the reason, the fruit of laborious travel here will remain with you the rest of your life. Perhaps its inevitable shape was not a coincidence after all! -The Castle Lady
Starting in the northernmost part of Warwickshire, many castles are neighbors to Birmingham. Two castles are separated by Coleshill near the River Blythe and this immediate region has no less than eight castles within a few miles of each other. Seated on the northeast angle of Maxstoke Deer Park (a golf course since 1948) and north of the town, Maxstoke Castle is a wonderful specimen of the 14th century courtyard castles of England and is a beauty in strong sunlight. This moated and fortified manor housewhich was commissioned to be built by Sir William de Clinton was given license to crenellate in February of 1346 but experts speculate about whether it had already been completed, in that manner, shortly before license was granted. Its size and quadrangular courtyard configuration is a prime example of the late medieval period. Other examples in England are the remains of Sheriff Hutton and Wressle in Yorkshire, Chillingham in Northumberland and Shireburn in Oxfordshire. However, Maxstoke is the only courtyard castle which remains intact without drastic alterations being made to the medieval curtain during its long history because it also had the good fortune not to be slighted during the Civil War.
William de Clinton, whom Edward III made Earl of Huntingdon, was a soldier in the French Wars and became a typical castle-builder of his time. In addition to rebuilding Maxstoke he endowed an Augustinian priory at Maxstoke in 1336, one of the last built monastic foundations in England before the dissolution. The scattered ruins of the priory can be seen in the village while the castle occupies a secluded spot two miles further north on a low-lying site. This manor fits well within the four acres of mixed formal and informal gardens, cultivated for over four hundred years during the continuous ownership of the Dilke (later Fetherston-Dilke) family from 1599.
At Maxstoke, two-meters thick, red sandstone walls and towers are reflected in the water of an encompassing broad moat and with a relatively low height, retains all its original battlements. A narrow green space surrounds the walls with stone revetments, keeping the moat tidy. The octagonal towers at each corner have few compromising windows and three are fitted with garderobes, fireplaces and staircases leading to the upper stories. On the east side, a particularly attractive gatehouse is seated in the middle as a square tower projecting forty-five feet, entirely outside the line of the curtain, with the outer pointed arch entrance flanked by semi-octagonal turrets, built higher than the battlements. Quadripartite vaulting with lierne ribs, sporting flowers and face carvings in the bosses, covers the gate passage which was defended by a drawbridge. A pair of gates and portcullis grooves remain. The surviving gates are studded with iron in a honeysuckle pattern bearing the emblem of Humphrey Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, who acquired the castle by the middle of the 15th century. Along the east parapet of the curtain a shield bearing the Clinton arms is still displayed.
Intrigue against the Dukes of Buckingham was rife during the 15th century while remodeling was going on inside the castle walls. Humphrey was killed in 1459 during the battle of Northampton and his grandson, Henry who became the second Duke was executed by Richard III in 1483 for treason. Henry’s son Edward was restored the honor and title of Duke by Henry VII in 1485 but executed for treason, as well, by Henry VIII in 1521. It belonged to the crown for a time after that and £100 in repairs were made for a possible royal visit. That same year in October, Henry VIII granted Maxstoke to Sir William Compton and it was passed down to his family for a number of years until Maxstoke was bestowed to Sir Thomas Egerton in 1597, then to Thomas Dilke in 1599 and has remained in that family up to the present day.
During the Civil War the castle was garrisoned for Parliament, nevertheless the Fetherston-Dilkes paid a fine of £2,000 to avoid the fate of slighting. Between March 1644 and October 1645 the Captain Mr. Henry Kendall, who was lord of the manor of Austrey and his son Henry manned stations in the octagonal towers along with several of their Austrey tenants. Not a single cannon was let loose on the property and the siege was over before it started.
Inside the walls along the west range, residential buildings along with a tower house, in place of a keep, have been through many alterations in contrast to the medieval curtain walls. This range survived a fire and a tour reveals remainders of the eastern wall of the original great hall near the northwestern part along with a new great hall, chapel, dining room, several drawing rooms, former chapel, library and many domestic features through the centuries, clear into the 19th century. With the original roof over modern plastered ceilings you’ll find touring the interior a mélange of ancient features incorporated with the styles of subsequent centuries. Some house antiquities include the chair in which Henry VII was crowned King after the Battle of Bosworth and the table owned by Sir Everard Digby which was used by the conspirators of the Gunpowder Plot. A whispering door, imported from Kenilworth Castle, is the only indication that Richard III’s intentions to move the entirety of Kenilworth’s inner bailey court buildings to Maxstoke holds validity.
Most of the timber-framed Tudor wing extends along the western half of the north range and once was part of a more extensive series of buildings which stood against the north and south walls built by William de Clinton back in the mid-14th century. This wing features a large hall with a fireplace which displays the arms of Sir Thomas Dilke on the oak overmantle. Remainders of the Clinton buildings can be seen in roof corbels and fireplaces which remain in the curtain wall. This complex was not integrated into a single unit as is seen in most of the later medieval quadrangular castles of the time. Later, a large window of the chapel along the west wall was inserted by Humphrey Stafford when defensive measures were less important. The great hall, which is subdivided now, is centered in the west range and the Lady’s Tower on the northwest corner is the highest tower with an extra storey featuring a suite of privacy rooms and accessible from the former solar. Remaining corner towers are the Kitchen and Dairy Towers along the south range and Deadman’s Tower on the northeast corner.
By arrangement, Michael Fetherston-Dilke will accommodate interested historical groups for tours of up to 30 persons. The house is strictly private, otherwise, and only open to the public once a year in June. At that time, house and gardens are open between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. for a fee, in support of local charities.
Southeast of Coleshill and east of the River Blythe, Fillongley Castle remains are interesting and rather sparse. Licensed in 1301 by King Edward to John de Hastings, this fortified manor house was originally tenanted by his grandfather Henry de Hastings from 1235-6. Henry’s son, also Henry, was Simon de Montfort’s Constable during the conflict at Kenilworth against Henry III and Edward. John also was given license to fortify the town which appears to be seated in a hollow. The village is intersected by a stream which formed part of the water defenses of the castle, now referred to as Castle Yard. Elsewhere in the village a spot marked with a stone cross by the St Mary and All Saints church is the prehistoric remains of an earthwork motte which once had a surrounding moat. This area is referred to as Castle Hills. John de Hastings carried out a Monday Market in the village and an annual fair every summer. The Beauchamp Earls of Warwick eventually took possession but it was abandoned before the 16th century and was left to decay.
Seated between Atherstone and Nuneaton, five miles southwest, Astley Castle is in a terrible ruinous state but there is quite a lot of architecture to see for true enthusiasts. A stone-built manor stood here in October of 1266 when the Astley family, who built the nearby collegiate church, St Mary the Virgin, applied for a license to crenellate. This was a year after Thomas de Astley perished at the Battle of Evesham leaving a young son, Andrew, as heir and his daughter married a Lord Grey of Ruthin thereby joining the dynasty of the Welsh Marches. By the 16th century it was rebuilt and a good part of the ruins of today were built from that time or later. The oval-shaped site is surrounded by a deep moat which is still wet in portions and a gate arch along with part of the old curtain wall remain. At one time the building rose to two storeys and the attics were hidden by embattlements.
Astley has the historical distinction of being the only non-Royalist castle to be associated directly with three future queens of England. Sir John Grey married Elizabeth Woodville who married Edward IV after his death in 1461 and her daughter Elizabeth of York became Queen in 1486 upon marriage to Henry VII and united the houses of York and Lancaster. The granddaughter of Elizabeth of York married Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and their daughter Jane Grey was proclaimed Queen in 1553 but unfortunately for her was beheaded by the Queen they sought to usurp, Mary Tudor. Lady Jane, her husband and father were executed in 1554, disgraced and the castle was slighted, forfeited and sold by the Crown to Edward Chamberlain who altered and restored it. After the Civil War the manor was sold to the Newdigate family of Arbury Hall and it was kept up until 1902 upon the death of Lt. Gen. Edward Newdigate Newdigate.
Interestingly, the current condition is not the result of heavy slighting but the most severe damage occurred in 1978, fifteen years after it had been converted into a hotel. It has been listed and scheduled through the second half of the 20th century but derelict since the fire and has been on Britain’s list of Buildings at Risk. During the past decade the current owners along with English Heritage, local historical authorities and the Landmark Trust have been working together on a plan of restoration and undergoing reconstruction since 2008. On the 4th of July in 2009, Heritage Lottery Fund confirmed a grant of £1.47 million and in Spring of 2010, £2.5 million were put up after a public appeal for restoration funds was made, setting many projects in motion. The project completion is set for 2012 and Landmark Trust will make the castle available as a holiday rental accommodation for up to eight people.
http://anelaysatastleycastle.blogspot.com Astley Castle’s restoration blog
Hinckley Castle’s rampart earthworks, on the Warwickshire/Leicestershire border northeast of Nuneaton, are all that remains of this 11th century castle built by Hugh de Grantmesnil. This castle is very close to Bosworth Field where the Richard III lost the battle and his life to Henry VII and is seated in the center of the town. Much effort has gone into beautifying this area which included removing the motte in 1976. Today it is a public sunken garden with a war memorial in the center but imagining the former size of the castle is not impossible and with continuous inspection you’ll find some interesting remaining features such as the remains of the wide wet ditch and the encompassing rampart is now an integral part of the grounds. This castle was destroyed by Henry II shortly after he captured it in 1172. You’ll find Mickey Ds and King’s Hotel nearby along with the tourist information site.
Just outside Nuneaton, on land which was once a vast deer park, Hartshill Castle, seated on the eastern slope of Hartshill Hayes Country Park,was founded by Hugh de Hardreshall, who acquired the property in 1125. Rather impressive remains of his overgrown Norman motte surrounded by a pentagonal bailey with an extremely ruined irregular curtain wall survives. The motte and bailey is situated on a ridge that runs northwest to southeast with a southern slope and a southern pond and stream flowing in a north direction. The stone fortifications, added by John de Hardreshall, are early 14th century blue granite and much is still to be seen along the south and east ranges but every portion is crumbling. One of the most remarkable features are the regular spacing and uniformity of the cross-slits in the wall and the absence of mural towers and a stone keep is rather suspect. It’s possible that rebuilding Hartshill in stone was entirely of a military nature and was not completed for residential use of any kind during the medieval period.
Within the walls, ruins of a chapel dating from the 14th century are situated along the north angle and an Elizabethan manor, built by Michael and Edmund Parker in 1567, no longer stand but have left outlines against the northeast angle of the curtain boundary. Many paintings and sketches have been made of the fortified manor house which was a four-gabled timber-framed structure and gives most depictions of this castle an unrivalled romantic charm. The ruins of Hartshill has been designated by English Heritage for a two-phase program of repairs. It is currently under Category E and you can find out more about the projects by contacting the current owner, Mrs. Lapworth.
The site is strictly private with no public access. Walls are visible from a public foot path, which passes the castle from the road.
Seckington Castle’s motte can be found at the northernmost apex of the county near Polesworth, four miles northeast of Tamworth in Staffordshire. The earthworks of this former Norman castle are a short distance northwest of an intact parish church and are well-preserved featuring a southern rampart around a prominent conical mound covered with trees, a wide rampart around the crescent bailey with a moat. Seckington is supposed to have been built during or just before the Anarchy by Robert de Beaumont, Earl of Leicester or his father. It shows no signs of excavation and can be viewed by the public at will although it is always best to use caution when visiting a former castle site.
Not far southwest of Atherstone and Polesworth, Kingsbury Hall,which occupies a promontory overlooking the River Tame and separated by a ravine from its parish church, is a large early Tudor complex which has seen better days. Surrounded by long portions of 14th century medieval curtain walls, the entire complex was in severe risk of collapse not long ago and is being brought back from destruction by English Heritage funds. Both the unusual Tudor manor and the earlier fortification structure are listed as ancient monuments. The Dutch Gable which gave it an unusual look in former times has been dismantled from the building for now and has been set aside for future use, hopefully to recreate the look at a later time.
Before the Norman invasion these lands were ruled by Earl Leofric and his wife Godiva but when William came into power he gave this portion among others to Turchill de Arden which is close to the notable Forest of Arden and is rich with wild game. From Turchill and his wife Leverunia, who was the granddaughter of Godiva, the manor of Chinesburie passed to the Bracebridge family by marriage. For three hundred and fifty years the Kingsbury manor fortunes remained with this military family who originally hailed from Lincolnshire fighting at Crecy and Agincourt. Several were knighted and the last was Sir Ralph de Bracebridge in 1403. In a separate chapel built onto the church, the remains of two Bracebridge knights are entombed with effigies, although also inexplicably desecrated.
What stands upon the promontory today is a very altered manor from the original built by the Bracebridge family. The last of the family to hold the property was Thomas in 1585 who sold the manor to Sir Francis Willoughby of Middleton Hall to pay off his debts. (Thomas Bracebridge was the grandfather of Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother.) Afterwards, the manor which was essentially a quadrangular castle in miniature, passed to the Peels of Drayton Manor and remained their property for four successive generations. It is supposed that the alterations and additions occurred at this period of its history. Quite a bit of interior restoration is in progress which includes the oak timber roof and will largely retain the unique Tudor features which are throughout the former residence.
Two ruinous lengths of curtain walls survive around the property with an semi-octagonal turreted tower at one angle which separates the two walls alongside a regular gateway. In the 1970s this wide archway which connected to the southern wall from the opposite end was rebuilt at some late date and had a barbican. At that time there was also the remains of a moat in the form of a shallow pond. The walls are also receiving restoration along with removal of plant overgrowth, rebuilding of the top five courses of stone along with a relatively new innovation of soft capping and repointing.
http://kjlipton.co.uk for more information on the restoration progress
Further south, seven miles due east of Coventry and northwest of Rugby, Brinklow Castle is an excellent example of an old motte-and-bailey stronghold, standing on high ground beside the parish church. The unusually forty feet high conical motte is surrounded by its own ditch and there are two baileys in line, both defended by strong ramparts and ditches. The divided portion which is clearly delineated may have been an ancient burial ground and was expanded by Earl Alberic, the first Norman Lord of Brinklow. The first mention of the castle was in 1130 when it was temporarily in royal hands. No mention of Alberic is made in the Domesday chronicles, however his Earldom originated in Northumbria and he lost control of some of his estate before that time. Other records show his extensive landholdings. The motte of Brinklow was probably originally built by the de Mowbrays around 1100 but their tenure was disputed by the Stutevilles. Since the castle was never reconstructed in stone it may well have been abandoned by the end of the Norman era.
At the town of Brinklow it is near the church and can be viewed from a footpath.
A nice surprise in the suburban area of Stoke, Caludon Castle appears in Caludon Park like a very statuesque monument to late medieval architecture. This fragment of a castle is seated at Wyken,two miles east of Coventry’s city center. It was once the outer wall of the hall, seated along the north, which appears to have been a large apartment over a low undercroft. John de Seagrave obtained the original license to crenellate the castle in 1305 but John de Mowbray received another in 1354 and the two pointed-arch windows of the remaining wall are much too large to be pierced out of a curtain wall of the original fortification. The style is more likely to be Mowbray’s portion. A drained moat that remains is an oval bailey instead of the usual quadrangle of that era but the platform of the former castle does, in fact, have a rectangular outline.
In fact, the site goes back to Conquest days when the first owners of the estate lands were the Chesters, specifically Hugh d’Avranches and then later handed off to Randulf de Blundeville by the early 13th century. This estate comprised of twenty acres of parkland, two carucates (200 to 300 acres) of farming land, two water mills and a lake when it was referred to as the Manor of Wyken. License to crenellate was granted by King Edward to John de Seagrave at the turn of the 14th century and then again to Mowbray after his marriage to Elizabeth de Seagrave fifty years later.
To see what remains of Caludon, it may be difficult to believe its role during the Wars of the Roses involving Thomas de Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke whose personal clash was immortalized by Shakespeare in Richard II. The Duke of Norfolk set out from here in 1397 to fight Henry but Richard intervened to stop the duel. If you read the actual history it becomes very complicated but makes for a great story. The castle was abandoned for a time after the banishment of Thomas by Richard II. After Henry IV was crowned the entire estate was given to his supporter Gilbert G. Talbot who was the Earl of Shrewsbury and he held these lands until 1491 even though they should have passed to the Berkeley family after the untimely death of Anne Mowbray of the plague. Maurice Berkeley petitioned the King and then sued the Talbots for the return of his possessions but only received his rightful property after marrying Jane Talbot, thus ending a long feud between the two families.
By 1584 Henry Lord Berkeley actually lived at Caludon and made many additions, improvements and alterations to the original manor. It once had a chapel, great hall, gallery, brewery, bakehouse, kitchens and more outbuildings surrounded by strong walls with a moat and east gateway with a drawbridge. Queen Elizabeth I became Godmother to his son, Thomas who died early at the age of 37 and his son Lord George sold Caludon to Thomas Morgan in 1632.
Like so many other royalist castles, Caludon was destroyed by Parliamentarian forces after Morgan was killed at the battle of Newbury Field thirty years after he took possession of it. His daughter Jane married Sir John Preston of Cartmel and his granddaughter, Anne Preston, married Hugh Clifford, Lord of Chudleigh. Thereafter, the castle was passed down to Cliffords through the 18th and 19th centuries until it was sold by lots by Charles Clifford. The Clifford family used stone from Caludon to build a new home in Shropshire. The decline of the ruins was never addressed and is left to slow decay even to this day. The wall that remains is listed as a grade 4 building which is basically considered a hopeless case, unfortunately.
Today the Caludon Castle Park is in use for recreational sports and a community center with wide open expanses, playgrounds, football (soccer) fields and even the stray basketball court here and there, so don’t forget to pack your basketball for the trip !
A book written about the castle, The Lords of Caludon will be available very soon which was chronicled by John Clarke, a local author born in the immediate area and with the help of historian Stephen Johnson have illuminated the full account of Caludon’s architecture and detailed accounts of the long history associated with it. For more details about the book and about Caludon check out the web site from the following link: