There are two castle hotels within Gloucestershire’s boundaries which serve their respective areas very well. One, Thornbury Castle in South Gloucestershire, is a genuine late medieval castle which once accommodated Henry VIII and there is Clearwell Castle, in the Forest of Dean, which is a late medieval renaissance castle with some very convincing gothic features and equally as comfortable for guests as Thornbury. Both are price-y but wonderful for a castling tour envisioned by each and every castle lover. -The Castle Lady
As the ‘last true castle built’ and the ‘only Tudor castle to operate as a hotel and restaurant’ in England, Thornbury Castle Hotel is in an elite class owing to its genuineness and excellent current condition. You will be intrigued by its appearance from any photo you will view and the architecture is eclectic and lovely. Seated on the west side of town in its own park and of the castle’s three reception areas, fronted by grand bay windows on the south side, you are given a chance to literally drink in the refreshingly brilliant atmosphere upon arrival. For starters, you are greeted to your room with a full decanter of sherry and strolling the medieval grounds in the 21st century is no less exhilarating than it was when Henry VIII toured Thornbury’s gardens and grounds. Originally built in 1511 by Edward Stafford, the third Duke of Buckingham, it was not to be entire for a number of centuries for several reasons as you are about to find out.
Anthony Salvin, the 19th century restorer of Warwick and Caernarfon Castles (among many others), finished some of the work begun by the second and third Dukes of Buckingham, for Henry Howard in 1824. Salvin expanded and restored the chimneys in a style very similar to those of Hampton Court Palace (the haunted, gigantic one in Surrey) and added a wing in 1850. The tower and gatehouse appear in their original early 16th century form and adjoins the privy garden which encompasses a 500 years old vineyard- exclusive to the Muller Thurgau grape- and makes an excellent white wine diners can enjoy at meals ! Inside this flagstone paved courtyard, the east side is bereft of a Great Hall (where it would have been seated) and the remainder has rooms to one side which are partly ruinous and roofless and were, in part, Salvin’s unique restorations. The library extends into the five-lobed two-story bay window with a view over the restored privy garden and a good part of the furniture, portraits and tapestries are reproductions.
According to the Domesday Book, a manor house known as ‘Turneberie’ had 103 residents and was owned by Matilda of Flanders (William the Conqueror’s wife) and there is earlier documented evidence of the town itself from the 9th century as a settlement called Thornbyrig. A town charter was created in 1252 and even earlier buildings, such as St Mary’s Church, still show evidence of having been built in the 12th century. Extensions to the church were most likely built during or after the time of the charter. Thornbury was listed as a small market town so the castle and town probably co-existed long before the Norman invasion. As a matter of fact, a hoard of 11,460 Roman coins dating from 260 AD were found here in 2004 !
Thornbury’s coat of arms bears features for four families relevant to the town’s history. Those were Attwells’, Howards, Clares and Staffords. John Attwells left £500 in his will for the establishment of a Free School which merged with what is now known as Marlwood School in 1879 and his coat of arms was later acquired as their badge. Three families held the manor at Thornbury over several centuries. It bears the motto Decus Sabrinae Vallis which means Jewel of the Severn Vale.
Today, the estate is comprised of fifteen acres which includes the vineyard, high walls and the oldest (unchanged) Tudor garden in England. The castle’s appearance does not belie the sad history of the inhabitants, however. Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke was betrayed by a servant in the 15th century and was executed for the charge of treason against Richard III. (This phenomenon was contagious, by the way. Richard may have been a bit paranoid about Stafford’s lineage!) Edward Stafford, Henry’s son (the 3rd Duke) also endeavored to restore Thornbury, becoming a favorite of Henry VII and came to be Constable of England but he was also betrayed by a ‘retainer’ and was executed meanly in 1521 with dubious evidence of treason against Henry VIII. (Once again, Henry’s political clout and lineage was a greater motivation.) Hence, the King seized the house, of course, and managed his brief, albeit thorough, visit of Thornbury accompanied by his then wife, Anne Boleyn. At the time, it probably was not quite comfortable enough for her majesty as it had not been completed but its basic quadrangular courtyard configuration was in place. The Duke’s Bedchamber where they slept is available to guests.
Thornbury Castle is like no other in that the interior is posh with rich furnishings, paneled walls, beautiful and large open fireplaces throughout and has twenty-six bedrooms modeling period furnishings and accessories. The Tudor Hall has some original features along with suits of armor (an array which are practically everywhere you look in the castle), tapestries and underfoot heating which wafts through the oak floor boards. It is often used for private dining but two adjoining rooms to the hall, the Great Oven and the Boyling House, are utilized as additional accommodation for weddings and functions making capacity up to a hundred guests. The cuisine offered has included such fare as Sunday Roasts, Marinated Field Mushrooms glazed with Goat Cheese, Carpaccio of Blue Fin Tuna and Glazed Barbary Duck Breast with Carrot Mousse or Butterscotch Pudding and traditional English cheeseboards- AA Rosette quality food.
There are two more dining rooms which cater to smaller groups- the Baron’s Sitting Room which seats 22 and the Tower Dining Room for 30 people, maximum. The Chancellor Lounge is an addition to the Baron’s Sitting Room where you can sit apart to enjoy a drink or aperitif before sitting down to your meal. The Baron’s Sitting room looks out over the vineyard, castle walls and courtyard so it’s especially thrilling to dine there but the Tower Dining Room, with its polygonal tower walls, sports arrow-slits and a wonderful open fireplace. Medieval atmosphere spills over at Thornbury.
If you need complete privacy in your accommodations, a charming Victorian gatehouse on the castle grounds has two bedrooms and separate, secluded gardens but with full access to the castle and all its facilities- great for a bride and groom before and after the ceremony ! However, all the rooms are en suite so everything you will need is available whether you stay in the Gloucester Bedchamber which looks out over the two Tudor gardens or other rooms with a spectacular view of the historic parkland. All are well appointed with televisions, four poster or coronet beds, tapestries, ornate carved ceilings, luxuriously warm fireplaces with comfortable furnishings and opulent bathrooms with full amenities.
Croquet lawns, archery and falconry, fishing, quad biking and other activities are available nearby and the castle is ideally situated for exploring the west country. Picturesque High Street in the town brings visitors from around the area and the museum provides quite a bit of information on Thornbury and its history. The town is a Britain in Bloom award-winner and now has its own competition, Thornbury in Bloom. There is a walking heritage trail, starting at the Town Hall, with 40 waymarkers indicating places of interest. Thornbury is the ideal base from which to explore the actual Cotswolds and the charming villages and towns there, such as Northleach, Stroud and Nailsworth. To the east, you’ll find Westonbirt Arboretum (near Tetbury) planted in the heyday of Victorian plant hunting and home to one of the finest tree collections in the world. With some 18,000 trees and shrubs, carefully laid out over 600 acres of beautiful Grade One listed historic landscape, you’ll find plenty to explore! Castles to be visited and are very near include Berkeley, Beverston, Blaise and Bristol (in North Somerset). Gloucester and Cheltenham aren’t far either.
T: 01454 281182 info +44 (0) 844 482 2152
(from £175 to £615, prices are for two persons sharing a room)
Access to the castle is left of St. Mary’s Church at the very end of Castle Street in Thornbury, off the A38, five miles from Junction 16 on the M 5
When you head north and west you will want to check out all the castles and ringworks thrust up in what was once the Royal Forest of Dean. Clearwell is a very close neighbor to St Briavel’s even though they are world’s apart in nature.
Clearwell Castle sits right on the border of West Gloucestershire where today’s Forest of Dean makes contact with south Wales. It is a great home base for a castle lover in this area and is a sheer delight as a castle hotel in every sense of the word. It has its own history and is blessed with being in proximity to a few of the most enigmatic castles on British soil. Contrary to popular local belief, Clearwell Castle is not a folly castle. Its history began as Clearwell Court back in the 15th century, built by Robert Greyndour. Its interior comprised of a hall, chapel and twelve rooms at that point. It was not built as anything more than a family residence and when Robert’s widow passed away in 1484 the house came into possession of the wife of the first Thomas Baynham. A descendant, also named Thomas Baynham, rebuilt a good part of the house when he took possession in 1580. The estate passed to the Throckmortons by marriage during the 17th century and through outright sell, Francis Wyndham of Uffords Manor in Norfolk, took possession of the estate in 1684.
From that time the residence remained in his family until 1893. Under the direction of Roger Morris, Clearwell received crenellation and Gothic features in 1727. Morris was an 18th century architect who also was responsible, in part, for Inveraray Castle in Scotland and Clearwell’s exterior appearance, as it stands today, is his work. Restoration was carried out over the centuries with a ha-ha (terraced gardens) being added late in the 18th century. Walking around the estate you’ll see statuary, a gatehouse, stable block, gateway with twin three-storied towers, gate lodge and piers from centuries ago. The castle shows no obvious signs, inside or out, of former devastation and it’s a great retreat for a weary traveler.
Until 1908 the house was known as Clearwell Court and after it was purchased by Henry Collins became known as Clearwell Castle and sold a few years later to Col. Charles Vereker. This neo-Gothic tower house was restored in the mid-20th century after a devastating fire in 1929. During WWII a housebreaker stripped off the lead roof, wood floors and fixtures. By 1952 the castle was facing demolition but was saved by Frank Yeates, the son of a former gardener of the estate, who restored the castle to its former glory alongside his family and friends. He sold his own bakery business in Blackpool in order to save it and worked tirelessly, room by room until it was completely refurbished. Work stopped upon his death in 1973. The Yeates family did one last thing before the castle was sold in the 1980s to become a hotel and wedding venue- they put in a recording studio specifically for Ozzy Osborne’s band, Black Sabbath.
Through the 1970s it was used as a rehearsal and recording studio by many famous rock bands which included Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Badfinger, the Sweet, Mott the Hoople and Bad Company. Peter Frampton recorded his 1975 self-titled album at Clearwell.
Besides the castles and ringworks to which it neighbors, the Clearwell Caves are some of the very oldest underground workings in Britain and a visit will give you a first hand look at caverns created by forest miners through the centuries who made their living digging for iron ore and ochre. On a typical tour you descend 100 feet and meander through nine caverns filled with equipment and geological displays. For the more adventurous visitors, a range of extended trips with caving experiences explore the warren of deeper workings revealing the caves as the miners left them centuries ago. There is a gift shop, visitor center, a café, picnic areas and free parking as well. Nearby castles include St. Briavel’s, Lydney’s Little Camp Hill, Little Dean Camp at Cinderford, Newnham-on-Severn and Chepstow and Caldicot Castles in Wales.
T- 01594 832535
Clearwell is 1.5 miles south of Coleford. Take the B4228 road towards St Briavels and Chepstow. After one mile, turn right for Clearwell village (immediately past Lambsquay Hotel). The car and coach park is clearly visible after a few hundred yards.