Stokesay is one of the first fortified manor houses in England: almost all the surviving house was completed by 1291. Its walls and moat (the former demolished in the 1640s) outside, and strongrooms within, provided a degree of security, though in reality its military appearance was superficial: it could never have withstood a serious siege, as the expansive windows on both sides of the hall make clear. Meanwhile the symmetry of Stokesay’s layout – with a tower at each end of the residential complex and a regular sequence of gables and windows in the hall between them – bears witness to the taste, wealth and importance of its owner. English Heritage
Stokesay Castle is a remarkable survival, a fortified manor house which has hardly altered since the late 13th century. The house was built by Lawrence Ludlow, a leading wool merchant of his day, who created a comfortable residence combining an aesthetically pleasing design with some defensive capabilities. In doing so, he took advantage of the newly established peace on the Welsh border following Edward I’s defeat of the Welsh prince Llywelyn the Last. This enabled him to build a large hall, comfortable solar, or private apartment, with windows on the outside world, without fear of attack. Castles of Wales
The three-storey north tower is reached by a 13th-century staircase in the hall, which leads onto the first floor. The first floor was divided into two separate rooms shortly after the construction of the tower, and contain various decorative tiles, probably from Laurence’s house in Ludlow. The walls of the second floor are mostly half-timbered, jettying out above the stone walls beneath them; the tower has its original 13th-century fireplace, although the wooden roof is 19th-century, modeled on the 13th-century original, and the windows are 17th-century insertions. Wikipedia.
The manor house was forfeited at the execution for treason of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, following the Rebellion of 1483, but was restored to the family and inherited by his son Edward, 3rd Duke, in 1498, who made it his principal seat. Plans were laid for the creation of an ambitious and outwardly fortified house and a licence to fortify, crenellate, and embattle the manor house was granted in 1510. With the hall and chapel of the existing manor house forming the east range of an inner courtyard, Buckingham set about building an elaborate palace-castle, which demonstrated the involvement of masons of the highest quality, and was apparently inspired by Richmond Palace, at that time England’s most splendid royal residence. To complement his bold plans for the castle, Buckingham enclosed 1500 acres of parkland between 1510 and 1517.
Edward, Duke of Buckingham, was executed on the orders of Henry VIII following an investigation for treason in 1521 – the Duke’s ostentatious behaviour and wealth, as evidenced by his lavish building programme, having exacerbated the suspicion with which he was viewed – and the estate was confiscated, remaining in Crown ownership until 1554. Henry sent surveyors to make a record of his new acquisition shortly after Buckingham’s death, and their account provides a detailed description of the castle and estate. Although works were not recommenced, the buildings were maintained and periodically used; Princess Mary visited during the 1520s, and Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stopped on a royal progress in 1535. Thornbury Castle was restored to the Staffords in 1554 when it was granted to Buckingham’s son, Lord Henry Stafford, by Queen Mary. The upkeep of the castle proved too expensive, however, and it fell into ruin, eventually coming into the ownership of a branch of the Howard family in 1637 and remaining in their hands until the 1960s.
The east range, comprising the original medieval hall and chapel, was demolished at some point before 1732. No pictorial representations survive of the range, which is described in a detailed estate inventory made in the late C16; archaeological investigation has demonstrated the survival of this part of the castle as a buried feature. Although part of the castle – principally the section of the west range to the south of the gatehouse – served as lodgings and a farmhouse in the C18 and early C19, much of the building was ruinous, and it was not until the C19 that it was brought back into use as a high-status residence Historic England
Thornbury Castle, West
“M. P. C. Series”
In the following reign a mansion was built there, on the site, as it is supposed, of the more ancient edifice, by Ralph, Lord Stafford. Part of this building was taken down in 1511, by Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham, when he conmenced the erection of a new and splendid pile. The attainder and death of the Duke, who was betrayed by his domestics, and sacrificed to the resentment of Wolsey in 1522, prevented the completion of the design ; and this castellated palace has been permitted to decay in its unfinished state. Leland visited Thornbury Castle soon after the Duke of Buck- ingham was beheaded, and he informs us, that the principal front, towards the west, was then nearly finished ; and another, towards the south, completely so : the stately gateway had risen only to the first floor. . . . From a Survey made in the year 1582, it is evident that the whole southern side of the proposed quadrangle was then habitable, and that it consisted of many spacious apartments. A Tower at the south-western angle, which appears to have been the only one ever finished, contained, on the ground-floor, the Duchess’s closet ; on the second story were the Duke’s jewel and bed-chambers ; another chamber occupied the third story ; and over that was a room called the Treasury, wherein the evidences or records were preserved. The chimnies are very curiously and beautifully constructed ; they consist of brick, wrought into spiral columns, the bases of which are charged with the cognizances of the Stafford family. The principal timbers of this edifice were removed in the time of Queen Elizabeth; and the Hall and Chapel, with a range of other buildings, were demolished in the last century. “The ancient castles of England and Wales”, William Woolnoth & E.W. Brayley, jun, 1825
Mr. Gage, however, in his paper in the Archoeologia states that the survey was made in the reign of James the 1st. He refers to Rudder’s History of Gloucester- shire, who says, “I have been favoured with a more particular description of this Castle, written as conjecture about the time of King James the 1st.” That our readers may the better understand, and be enabled to apply this survey to the present condition of the Castle we annex a ground plan ; the index to which specifies the principal rooms therein described.
THE HOUSE OR CASTLE OF THORNBURY Containing these Rooms following.
“The house or Castle of Thornbury aforesaid, is standing, and being within two miles of the river Seaverne which runeth on the north thereof, and is bounded, and adjoyned unto the Church-yard of the Parish Church of Thornbury aforesaid on the south part ; the Park there, called New Park on the U North and East part ; and one small parcel of ground called the Petties, on the West part.
“At the first entry towards the said Castle is a fair base Court, containing by estimation 2½ Acres, compassed about with buildings of stone for servants’ lodging, to the height of 14 or 15 feet left unfinished without timber or covering, set forth with windows of freestone, some having bars of iron in them, some none. At the entry into the Castle, on the West side of the same, are two Gates a large, and a lesser, with a Wyck gate. On the left hand there is a Porters Lodge, containing three rooms, with a dungeon underneath the same, for a place of imprisonment. Next adjoyning unto the same is a fair room, call’d the Dukes Wardropp, with a Chimney therein. Within the same is a fair room, or lodging Chamber, with a Cellar or Vault underneath the same. Over all which are four lodging Chambers with Chimneys.
“On the right hand of the said gates are two fair rooms, called the Duchess’s Wardropp, and over them are two fair Chambers, called the Steward’s Chambers, Within all which is a court quadrant, paved with Stone, containing by estimation half an Acre, encompassed with the Castle buildings, and leading from the gates aforesaid to the great Hall, at the entry whereof is a porch, and to the right hand of a small room called the [sic orig.] On the left or North side of the said Court is one fair wet Larder, a dry Larder, a Privy, a Bakehouse, and Boyling house, with an entry leading from all the same rooms of Office, to the Great Kitchen ; over ail which are Chambers for ordinary Lodging, and over the same again is one long room, called the Cock-loft. The Great Kitchen having two fair flues or Chimneys, and one lesser Chimney, and within the same Kitchen is a privy Kitchen, over which is a lodging chamber over which is a lodging chamber for Cooks. On the back side of which last recited building, are certain decay ‘d buildings, sometimes used for a Bakehouse, and Armery, with certain decay’d lodgings over the same.
“From the great Kitchen (leading to the great Hall) is an Entry on the one side, whereof is a decay’d room called the Scullery, with a large flue or Chimney therein, and a Pantry to the same adjoyning. On the other side of the entry are two old decay’ d rooms, heretofore used for Clerks, on the back side whereof is a little Court adjoining to the said Kitchen, and in the same is a fair well or pump for Water, partly decay’d; between which decay’d cellars, at the lower end of the said Hall is a Buttery, over all which recited rooms are four Chambers, called the Earl of Stafford’s lodgings, partly decay’d, with one room call’d the Clerk’s Treasury thereunto adjoyning.
“From the lower end of the great Hall is an entry leading to the Chapel : at the corner of the entry is a cellar. . . . The lower part of the principal building of the Castle is called the New-building at the West end there of is a fair Tower : in which lower building is contained one great Chamber, with a chimney in the same, the ceiling and timber work thereof decay’d, being propped up with certain pieces of other timber ; within the same is one other fair Chamber with a chimney therein; and within the same again is one other fair lodging Chamber with a chimney therein called the Duchess’s lodgings with one little room or closet between the two last recited Chambers: within all which is one room, being the foundation or lowermost part of the said Tower, called the Duchess’s Closet, with a Chimney therein, from the which said Duchess’s lodging, leadeth a fair Gallery paved with brick, and a Stayer at the end thereof, ascending to the Duke’s lodging being over the same, used for a privy way. From the upper end of the great Hall, a stayer ascending up towards the great Chamber, at the top whereof are two lodging rooms. Leading from the Stayers head to the great Chamber, is a fair room paved with brick ; and a chimney in the same, at the end whereof doth meet a fair gallery leading from the great chamber to the Earl of Bedford’s lodging on the one side, and to the Chapel on the other side ; the great Chamber very fair, with a chimney therein. Within the same is one other fair chamber, called the dining chamber, and a chimney therein likewise and within that again is one other Chamber with a chimney therein also, called the Privy Chamber and within the same again is one other Chamber or Closet, called the Duke’s Jewell Chamber. Next unto the privy Chamber, on the inner part thereof, is a fair round* Chamber, being the 2nd Story of the Tower, called the Duke’s bed chamber (like unto the same,) being the 3rd Story of the Tower, and so upwards, to answer a like chamber, over the same, called the same again, where the Evedeuts do lye. 1 All which last recited buildings, called the New buildings, are builded fair with freestone, covered with lead, and [sic orig.]
“On the East side of the said Castle is one other Garden, containing by Estimation 1/2 of an acre, adjoining upon the Earl of Bedford’s lodging ; at the West corner whereof is a little void Court of waste ground. On the North side of the Castle adjoyning upon the Chapel, is a little Orchard, containing by estimation half an Acre, well set with trees of divers kind of fruits. All which Castle Buildings, Courts, Orchards, and Gardens Aforesaid are wall’d round about with a wall of Stone, part ruined and decay’d in divers places thereof, containing in circuit and quantity, by estimation, 12 Acres of ground or thereabouts. On the East side of the said Castle, adjoining to the utter side of the Wall thereof is one fair Orchard quadrant, containing by estimation 4 Acres, paled about well, and thick set with fruit trees of divers kinds of fruit. “
Since the period of this Survey, all the older parts of the Castle, comprising a great number of rooms as therein mentioned, have been wholly destroyed “History of Thornbury Castle”, Richard Ellis, 1839, pp. 24-32
After the Norman Conquest the estates at Ashby, or Aschebie as it is called in the Domesday Book, was owned by the Earls of Leicester. There was no castle here at that time, just an unpretentious fortified manor house. . . . In 1474 Hastings was granted leave to crenellate at least four manors, and maybe five. This was no little thing; to crenellate meant you were trusted by the king, for only a trusted official could be allowed to fortify his house. So not only did the right to fortify a house mean you could defend it against attackers, it meant that you had the ear of the king, and were thus a very important person indeed. Work on Ashby de la Zouch castle actually began before the license to crenellate. Was Lord Hastings jumping the gun a little, assured of his place at Edward’s side? Perhaps, but Hastings did not simply add defensive features; he added ornamental pleasure gardens and extensive outbuildings and enclosed an area of 1200ha (about 3,000 acres) to be a hunting park.
The outcome of this ambitious project was to transform Ashby from a small manor house into a superb fortified residence; an imposing and impressive seat of power for one of the most influential men in the kingdom. The most impressive new feature introduced by Hastings was a kitchen tower that was at the time one of the largest in the country. Hastings’ original plans called for a further three towers set in a high wall around the property, but these further towers were never built. The old manor house was rebuilt and extended beyond all recognition, a new chapel built, and a number of service buildings. The tower still stands to its original four storeys, rising from storerooms at the base, to a kitchen, hall, and solar on the top storey. It wa, and still is, one of the most impressive tower houses in England. Britain Express
During the Civil War Henry Hastings, younger brother of Ferdinando, the 6th Earl, occupied Ashby as a Royalist base, and Ashby formed a crucial link between Royalist operations in the north and south. Hastings fortified the town and castle on an impressive scale; the great tower was described in 1644 as ‘Hastings’ stronghold’. Charles I twice visited the castle during the fighting: on the second occasion he stayed the night at Ashby following the Royalists’ decisive defeat at Naseby on 14 June 1645. After a series of successful Parliamentarian raids on the town, Hastings eventually surrendered on 28 February 1646. He agreed to demolish the newly constructed fortifications around the town, while the garrison was allowed to march free with ‘trumpets sounding, drums beating, colours flying’. The castle buildings were initially used to imprison prominent Royalists, but later in 1646 it was directed that the defences be demolished. The earl subsequently complained that the demolition squad had far exceeded its orders and entirely ruined his ‘only convenient mansion’. English Heritage
A traveller who visited the place in 1801 wrote regarding it: “Its dimensions seem to have known no bounds, either in the lines of arrangement, or in the altitude of the several storeys. The great hall in particular can be traced out, as well as the kitchens and many chambers of State, wherein are to be found, in good preservation, rich doorways, chimney-pieces, arms, devices, and other ornamental accompaniments, which serve to confirm that this pile must have vied with any of its castellated competitors for architectural fame that this country has produced.” The castle consisted of two large embattled towers, and on the S. of these the great tower or keep, containing the hall, with apartments, kitchens. The N. tower appears to have been inhabited the owner’s family, and its rooms have still the appearance of great splendour. At a distance of 300 yards is the Mount House, a strong triangular building, which is connected with the cellars of the N. tower by a subterranean passage. “The Castles of England: their story and structure, Vol 1”, James Mackenzie, 1897, pp. 409-410