Stokesay Castle

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Stokesay Castle


Stokesay Castle from churchyard 1.jpg
Stokesay Castle
Type: Fortified manor house
Location: 52°25’49"N, 2°49’53"W
Village: Stokesay
Built c. 1285–1294
Key events: Civil War
Condition: Intact
Owned by: English Heritage

Stokesay Castle is a fortified manor house in Stokesay in Shropshire. It was built in the late 13th century by Laurence of Ludlow, then the leading wool merchant in England, who intended it to form a secure private house and generate income as a commercial estate. Laurence's descendants continued to own the castle until the 16th century, when it passed through various private owners.

By the time of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1641, Stokesay was owned by William Craven, the first Earl of Craven and a supporter of King Charles I. After the Royalist war effort collapsed in 1645, Parliamentary forces besieged the castle in June and quickly forced its garrison to surrender. Parliament ordered the property to be slighted, but only minor damage was done to the walls, allowing Stokesay to continue to be used as a house by the Baldwyn family until the end of the 17th century.

In the 18th century the castle fell into disrepair. Restoration began in the next century under new owners, who were in turn unable to maintain the work. The castle became a popular location for tourists and artists, and was formally opened to paying visitors in 1908.

In 1986 Stokesay Castle was placed into the guardianship of English Heritage, and formally left to them by will in 1992. Stokesay Castle continues to be operated as a tourist attraction.

Architecturally, Stokesay Castle is "one of the best-preserved mediæval fortified manor houses in England", according to historian Henry Summerson.[1] The castle comprises a walled, moated enclosure, with an entrance way through a 17th-century timber and plaster gatehouse. Inside, the courtyard faces a stone hall and solar block, protected by two stone towers. The hall features a 13th-century wooden-beamed ceiling, and 17th-century carved figures ornament the gatehouse and the solar.

The castle was never intended to be a serious military fortification, but its style was intended to echo the much larger castles being built by Edward I in North Wales. Originally designed as a prestigious, secure, comfortable home, the castle has changed very little since the 13th century, and is a rare, surviving example of a near complete set of mediæval buildings. English Heritage has minimised the amount of interpretative material displayed at the property and kept the castle largely unfurnished.


13th - 15th centuries

Stokesay Castle was built in the 1280s and 1290s in the village of Stokesay by Laurence of Ludlow, a very wealthy wool merchant.[2] Stokesay took its name from the Anglo-Saxon word stocce, meaning (in this context) a cattle farm, and the surname of the de Says family, who had held the land from the beginning of the 12th century onwards.[3] In 1241, Hugh de Say sold Stokesay to John de Verdon; John then left for the Eighth Crusade in 1270, mortgaging the land on a life-time lease to Philip de Whichcote.[4] John died in 1274, leaving his rights to the property to his son, Theobald.[5]

Laurence bought Stokesay from Theobald and Philip in 1281, possibly for around £266, which he could easily have afforded, as he had made a fortune from the wool trade.[6] Laurence exported wool from the Welsh Marches, travelling across Europe to negotiate sales, and maintaining offices in Shrewsbury and London.[7] He had become the most important wool merchant in England, helping to set government trade policies and lending money to the major nobility.[8] Stokesay Castle would form a secure personal home for Laurence, well-positioned close to his other business operations in the region.[9] It was also intended to be used as a commercial estate, as it was worth around £26 a year, with 120 acres of agricultural land, 6 acres of meadows, an expanse of woodland, along with watermills and a dovecot.[9]

Work began on the castle at some point after 1285, and Laurence moved into his new property in the early 1290s.[10] The castle was, as Nigel Pounds describes it, "both pretentious and comfortable", initially comprising living accommodation and a tower to the north.[11] In 1291 Laurence received the King a licence to crenellate and accordingly fortified the house and built the southern tower, which had a particularly martial appearance.[12]

In November 1294 Laurence was drowned at sea in the English Channel, and his son, William, may have finished some of the final work on Stokesay.[13] His descendants, who took the Ludlow surname, continued to control Stokesay Castle until the end of the 15th century, when it passed into the Vernon family by marriage.[14]

16th - 17th centuries

The courtyard, south tower and solar block, church and gatehouse

Stokesay Castle was passed by Thomas Vernon to his grandson Henry Vernon in 1563.[15] The family had hopes of becoming members of the peerage and, possibly as a consequence, the property began to be regularly called a "castle" for the first time during this period.[15] Henry divided his time between London and Stokesay, probably staying in the north tower.[15] Henry stood surety for an associate's debts and when they defaulted, he was pursued for this money, resulting in a period of imprisonment in Fleet Prison; by 1598 he sold the castle for £6,000 to pay off his own substantial debts.[16] The new owner, Sir George Mainwaring, sold the property on again in 1620, via a consortium of investors, to the wealthy widow and former Mayoress of London, Dame Elizabeth Craven for £13,500.[17] The estates around Stokesay were now valuable, bringing in over £300 a year in income.[18]

Elizabeth's son, William, spent little time at Stokesay and by the 1640s had leased it out to Charles Baldwyn, and his son Samuel.[19] He rebuilt the gatehouse during 1640 and 1641, however, at a cost of around £533.[20]

During the Civil War, Stokesay was held for the King. William meanwhile was abroad at the court of Elizabeth Stuart, the "Winter Queen" of Bohemia, at the Hague, and supported the King's war financially.[21]

The solar

By early 1645 the war had turned decisively against the King, and in February, Parliamentary forces seized the city of Shrewsbury.[22] This exposed the rest of the region to attack, and in June a force of 800 Parliamentary soldiers pushed south towards Ludlow, attacking Stokesay en route.[23] The Royalist garrison, led by Captain Daurett, was heavily outnumbered and it would have been impossible for them to effectively defend the new gatehouse, which was essentially ornamental.[24] Nonetheless, both sides complied with the protocols of warfare at the time, resulting in a bloodless victory for the Parliamentary force: the besiegers demanded that the garrison surrender, the garrison refused, the attackers demanded a surrender for a second time, and this time the garrison were able to give up the castle with dignity.[25]

Shortly afterwards on 9 June, a Royalist force led by Sir Michael Woodhouse attempted to recapture the castle, now garrisoned by Parliament.[26] The counter-attack was unsuccessful, ending in the rout of the Royalist forces in a skirmish at the nearby village of Wistanstow.[27]

Stokesay escaped substantial harm after the war.[28] Parliament sequestrated the property from William and ordered the slighting of the caslte in 1647, but only pulled down the castle's curtain wall, leaving the rest of the complex intact.[29] Samuel returned in 1649 to continue to rent the castle during the years of the Commonwealth, and put in wood panelling and new windows into parts of the property.[30] With the restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, William's lands were returned to him, and the Baldwyns continued to lease Stokesay Castle from him.[31]

18th - 19th centuries

A sketch of the hall in 1868

During the 18th century, Stokesay Castle continued to be leased by the Baldwyn family, although they sublet the property to a range of tenants; after this point it ceased to be used as a domestic dwelling.[32] Two wood and plaster buildings, built against the side of the hall, were demolished around 1800, and by the early 19th century the castle was being used for storing grain and manufacturing, including barrel-making, coining and a smithy.[33]

The castle began to deteriorate, and the antiquarian John Britton noted during his visit in 1813 that it had been:

"abandoned to neglect, and rapidly advancing to ruin: the glass is destroyed, the ceilings and floors are falling, and the rains streams through the opening roof on the damp and mouldering walls".[34]

The smithy in the basement of the south tower resulted in a fire in 1830, which caused considerable damage to the castle, gutting the south tower.[35] Extensive decay in the bases of the cruck tresses in the castle's roof posed a particular threat to the hall, as the decaying roof began to push the walls apart.[36]

Restoration work was carried out in the 1830s by William Craven, the Earl of Craven.[37] This was a deliberate attempt at conserving the existing building, rather than rebuilding it, and was a very unusual approach at this time.[37] By 1845, stone buttresses and pillars had been added to support parts of the hall and its roof.[38] Research by Thomas Turner was published in 1851, outlining the history of the castle.[39] Frances Stackhouse-Acton, a local landowner, took a particular interest in the castle, and in 1853 convinced William to carry out further repair work on the castle, under her supervision, at a cost of £103.Summerson 2012, p. 38</ref>

In 1869 the Craven estate, 5,200 acres in size but by now heavily mortgaged, was purchased by John Derby Allcroft for £215,000.[40] Allcroft was the head of Dents, a major glove manufacturer, through which he had become extremely wealthy.[41] The estate included Stokesay Castle, where from around 1875 onwards Allcroft undertook extensive restoration work over several years. Stokesay was in serious need of repairs: the visiting writer Henry James noted in 1877 that the property was in "a state of extreme decay".

Allcroft attempted what the archaeologist Gill Chitty has described as a "simple and unaffected" programme of work, which generally attempting to avoid excessive intervention.[42] He may have been influenced by the contemporary writings of the local vicar, the Reverend James La Touche, who took a somewhat romanticised approach to the analysis of the castle's history and architecture. The castle had become a popular sight for tourists and artists by the artists by the 1870s and the gatehouse was fitted out to form a house for a caretaker to oversee the property.[43] Following the work, the castle was in a good condition once again by the late 1880s.[44]

20th - 21st centuries

The south tower and the hall range reflected in the castle pond

Further repairs to Stokesay Castle were required in 1902, carried out by Allcroft's heir, Hebert, with help from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.[44] The Allcroft family faced increasing financial difficulty in the 20th century and the castle was formally opened for visitors in 1908, with much of the revenue reinvested in the property, but funds for repairs remained in short supply.[45] By the 1930s the Allcroft estate was in serious financial difficulties, and the payment of two sets of death duties in 1946 and 1950 added to the family's problems.[46]

Despite receiving considerable numbers of visitors - over 16,000 in 1955 - it was becoming increasingly impractical to maintain the castle, and calls were made for the State to take over the property.[47] For several decades the owners, Philip and Jewell Magnus-Allcroft, declined these proposals and continued to run the castle privately.[48] In 1986 Jewell finally agreed to place Stokesay Castle into the guardianship of English Heritage, and the castle was left to the organisation on her death in 1992.[48]

English Heritage has carried out substantial work to Stokesay Castle. It continues to be operated as a tourist attraction, receiving 39,218 visitors in 2010.[49] The castle is a Grade I listed building and as a scheduled monument.


Plan of Stokesay Castle: A - south tower; B - solar block; C - hall; D - north tower; E - well; F - courtyard; G - moat; H - gatehouse

Stokesay Castle was built on patch of slightly rising ground in the basin of the River Onny.[50] It took the form of a form of solar block and hall attached to a northern and a southern tower; this combination of hall and tower was not uncommon in the 13th century.[51] A crenellated curtain wall, destroyed in the 17th century, enclosed a courtyard, with a gatehouse - probably originally constructed from stone, rebuilt in timber and plaster around 1640 - controlling the entrance.[52] The wall would have reached 34 feet high measured from the base of the moat.[53] The courtyard, around 150 feet by 125 feet, contained additional buildings during the castle's history, probably including a kitchen, bakehouse and storerooms, which were pulled down around 1800.[54]

The castle was surrounded by a moat, between 15 feet and 25 feet across, although it is uncertain as to whether this was originally a dry moat, as it is in the 21st century, or whether it was water-filled from the pond and nearby stream.[55]{

The parish church of St John the Baptist, of Noman origins but largely rebuilt in the middle of the 17th century, stands just alongside the castle.[56]

Stokesay Castle forms what archaeologist Gill Chitty describes as "a comparatively complete ensemble" of mediæval buildings, and their survival, almost unchanged, is extremely unusual.[57] Historian Henry Summerson considers it to be "one of the best-preserved mediæval fortified manor houses in England".[1]

Carved 17th-century woodwork

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about Stokesay Castle)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Summerson 2012, p. 1
  2. Summerson 2012, pp. 25–27
  3. Summerson 2012, p. 25
  4. Summerson 2012, p. 25; La Touche 1899, p. 301
  5. La Touche 1899, p. 301
  6. Summerson 2012, pp. 25–26; La Touche 1899, p. 301
  7. Summerson 2012, pp. 26–27
  8. Summerson 2012, pp. 26, 28
  9. 9.0 9.1 Summerson 2012, pp. 26, 28; Stokesay Castle
  10. Summerson 2012, p. 26
  11. Pounds 1994, p. 105
  12. Summerson 2012, p. 26; Pounds 1994, p. 279; Cordingley 1963, p. 93
  13. Summerson 2012, p. 28
  14. Summerson 2012, p. 29
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Summerson 2012, p. 30
  16. Summerson 2012, p. 21
  17. Summerson 2012, p. 31
  18. Summerson 2012, p. 31
  19. Summerson 2012, p. 32; Mackenzie 1896, p. 157; Wright 1921, p. 6
  20. Summerson 2012, p. 32
  21. Donagan 2010, p. 48; Manganiello 2004, p. 135
  22. Wedgwood 1970, p. 397
  23. Wedgwood 1970, p. 399; Summerson 2012, p. 32
  24. Pettifer 2002, pp. 217–218; Summerson 2012, pp. 32–33; Wright 1921, p. 13
  25. Summerson 2012, p. 33
  26. Summerson 2012, pp. 33–34; Hutton 1999, p. 183
  27. Wright 1921, pp. 13–14
  28. Summerson 2012, p. 34; Pettifer 2002, p. 218
  29. Summerson 2012, p. 34; Wright 1921, p. 15
  30. Summerson 2012, p. 34; Cordingley 1963, p. 104
  31. Summerson 2012, p. 35
  32. Summerson 2012, p. 35; Cordingley 1963, p. 91
  33. Summerson 2012, pp. 35, 37
  34. Summerson 2012, p. 35; Britton 1814, p. 145
  35. Summerson 2012, p. 37
  36. Chitty 1999, p. 91; Cordingley 1963, p. 102
  37. 37.0 37.1 Chitty 1999, p. 91
  38. Summerson 2012, p. 37
  39. Turner 1851
  40. Hall 2010, p. 146
  41. Summerson 2012, p. 36
  42. Chitty 1999, p. 91
  43. Chitty 1999, p. 91; Summerson 2012, p. 38
  44. 44.0 44.1 Summerson 2012, pp. 38, 40
  45. Summerson 2012, p. 40
  46. Chitty 1999, p. 91
  47. Summerson 2012, p. 40; Chitty 1999, p. 91
  48. 48.0 48.1 Summerson 2012, p. 40
  49. "Visitor Attraction Trends in England, 2010", Visit England, p. 116,, retrieved 28 December 2013 
  50. Chitty 1999, p. 86; Summerson 2012, p. 3
  51. Pounds 1994, pp. 279–281
  52. Summerson 2012, pp. 6–7
  53. Cordingley 1963, p. 94
  54. Summerson 2012, pp. 6–7; Cordingley 1963, p. 91
  55. Cordingley 1963, p. 91; Summerson 2012, p. 22; Liddiard 2005, p. 45National Heritage List England no. 199: Stokesay Castle (Historic England)
  56. Pevsner 2000, p. 296
  57. Chitty 1999, p. 88
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