Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Stokesay Castle

Stokesay castle is near the town of Craven Arms in Shropshire, on the A49 road between Ludlow and Shrewsbury. It is a very strange building in many different ways. For a start, it was not built by a nobleman, but by a rich wool-merchant called Lawrence of Ludlow, who bought the manor in 1281 and received a "license to crenellate" (that is, to make it defensible) from King Edward I ten years later. But it is not really a castle at all, just a sketchily-fortified manor-house: it had a moat and a wall, and  its defences might have deterred parties of Welsh cattle-raiders, but it would have fallen quickly to any serious assault. (It was only once attacked, as will be explained). The fact that it survived so long indicates how much safer and more peaceful the Welsh marches had become by the end of the 13th century.

This is the northern view of the castle, from the churchyard next to it.  It shows the north tower at the right, with behind it Lawrence's Great Hall and in the centre background the south tower. The gatehouse on the left is a 17th century building, replacing an earlier fortified gatehouse. Running from the north tower to the gatehouse is all that remains of the original defensive wall.

The north tower is the oldest part of the castle, dating from the early 13th century. The big windows at the top are a later addition, when standards of comfort were better!

This is Lawrence's Great Hall, seen from the courtyard. At the left hand end, with the smaller windows, is the Solar block, where the ladies of the castle could live in greater privacy.

This is the interior of the Great Hall. In Lawrence's day, all the main business of the castle would take place here. The tall windows would have had shutters, but probably no glass. There was no chimney; just a circle of stones for a fire where we are standing; from where the smoke was supposed to find its way out somehow!  The splendid staircase leads up to the private rooms in the north tower. This is one of the best-preserved building interiors of its kind in the country.

The ladies in the Solar could look down on the Great Hall through a hole in the wall. The main feature of the Solar today is this magnificently grotesque wooden carving around the fireplace, dating from the early 17th century.
     The only time Stokesay  faced an attack was in the civil wars in 1645. A Parliamentary force marching south from Shrewsbury reached the castle and demanded that it surrender, which the governor very wisely agreed to do. After some fighting in the vicinity soon afterwards the order went out for the castle to be  "slighted" (that is, to for its defences to be demolished). The wall around the courtyard was much reduced in height, but not much more damage was done.
   In the 18th century the castle ceased to be inhabited. Local farmers used to Great Hall as a barn, and knocked a huge doorway in the outer-facing wall to allow their carts to enter. Restoration began in the late 19th century. The castle is now run by English Heritage.

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