January 20, 2016

Castles and manors of England


Kenilworth Castle, Warwickshire, stands on a low hill that was once at the heart of a 4,000 acre park and surrounded by a man-made lake. The spectacular ruins, built mostly from the local red sandstone, reveal much of its medieval and Tudor past.The castle was the subject of the six-month-long Siege of Kenilworth in 1266, believed to be the longest siege in English history, and formed a base for Lancastrian operations in the Wars of the Roses. Edward II and his wife, Isabella of France, spent Christmas 1323 at Kenilworth, amidst major celebrations. Henry VII visited frequently and had a tennis court constructed at the castle for his use. 
Kenilworth was partly destroyed by Parliamentary forces in 1649 to prevent it from being used as a military stronghold. Ruined, only two of its buildings remain habitable today. The castle became a tourist destination from the 18th century onwards and English Heritage has managed the castle since 1984.
The defining components of Kenilworth were created in the 1120s by Geoffrey de Clinton, the king’s treasurer and chamberlain. At its outer end are the remains of the Gallery Tower which guarded the entrance and later served as a spectators’ gallery for the tiltyard. At the further end of the southern causeway is Mortimer’s Tower, the main medieval entrance to the castle. It was built as part of King John’s ring of stone defences for the outer bailey between about 1210 and 1215, in front of a simpler, 12th-century gatehouse. Even in their ruined form, both gatehouses are remarkable survivals.

On the north side is the massive sandstone tower, the defensive heart of the castle and the main residence during the 12th century. The two main floors were probably built in the 1120s. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, introduced the large grid windows on the first floor in about 1570–71 to light a great room for entertaining. The north wall was demolished in 1649–50. 

To the west of the forebuilding is a set of buildings constructed from 1371 by John of Gaunt, Edward III's fourth son. His great hall is the centrepiece, an architectural masterpiece intended to convey his princely status and aspirations. The interior has vast traceried windows and a huge bay, and originally had no fewer than six fireplaces. The walls are decorated with stone panelling and would have displayed magnificent tapestries. The windows of Gaunt’s apartments gave commanding views of the mere and park beyond, while the chase, the hunting ground created by later owner Robert Dudley, was an arena in which a hunting party could bring down beasts in the full view of castle spectators. 


The state apartments, which were on the first floor, are now lost, but their elegant entrance oriel survives.

The four-storey block, providing a grand entrance to the castle, is known as Leicester’s Building. It was constructed by Robert Dudley in 1571–2 specifically to accommodate Queen Elizabeth I during her progresses through the country. The block featured large glazed windows with superb views, huge fireplaces, and a luxuriously decorated and furnished chamber for dancing, a passion shared by Elizabeth and Dudley. The queen used the building in 1572 and again in 1575. Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, was keen to impress Elizabeth in an attempt to convince her to marry him, and no expense was spared. Elizabeth brought an entourage of thirty-one barons and four hundred staff for the royal visit that lasted an exceptional nineteen days. After the Civil War the building was converted into a residence. 


The stables built by John Dudley in the 1550s also survive and lie along the east side of the base court.
The Elizabethan Garden.

Lyme Park is a large estate located in Cheshire. The estate is managed by the National Trust and consists of a mansion house, the largest in Cheshire, surrounded by formal gardens in a deer park. 

The first record of a house on the site is in a manuscript folio dated 1465, but that house was demolished when construction of the present building began in the 16th century. Lyme Park was granted to Sir Thomas Danyers in 1346 by Edward III and passed to the Legh family in 1388 when his granddaughter married Piers Legh, who was executed only two years later by a rival of Richard II. It remained in the possession of the Leghs until 1946 when it was given to the National Trust. 



Modifications were made to the house in the 1720s by Giacomo Leoni who retained some of the Elizabethan features and added others, like the courtyard and the south range. His work contains elements of both Palladian and Baroque styles. Piers Legh XIII bought most of the furniture which is in the house today during the latter part of the 18th century. Further modifications were made in the 19th century, especially to the interior. 


The tower in the background is known as the Cage and was originally a hunting lodge, built in the 16th century. It was later rebuilt and used as a park-keeper's cottage and as a lock-up for prisoners.
Formal gardens were created and developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The house, gardens and park have been used as locations for filming and they are open to the public. 


Madresfield Court is a country house in Worcestershire and the ancestral home of the Lygon family, whose eldest sons bore the title of Earl Beauchamp between 1815 and 1979, when the eighth and last Earl died. The house contains magnificent collections of furniture, pictures, porcelain and a library. 


The original Great Hall, built in the 12th century, stands at the core of this building. In 1593 Madresfield Court was rebuilt, replacing a 15th-century medieval building. It was remodelled again in the 19th century to resemble a moated Elizabethan house, with the result that it contains 136 rooms. 

Madresfield Court has never been sold or bought in all its long history, instead simply remaining in the hands of the Lygon family. Visits to the house can be made, by appointment only, between April and July.

Shrewsbury Castle is a red sandstone castle in Shrewsbury, Shropshire. It stands on a hill in a meander of the River Severn on which the town originally developed. 

Building of a defensive fortification for the town began in 1074, on the site of the present castle. Town walls, of which little now remains, then radiated out from the castle and surrounded the town, which is located 9 miles from the Welsh border. The town of Shrewsbury in Shropshire, England, has a history that extends back at least as far as the year 901, but it could have been first settled earlier. During the early Middle Ages, the town was a centre of the wool trade, and this was a peak in its importance.
In 1138, King Stephen successfully besieged the castle held by William FitzAlan for the Empress Maud during the period known as The Anarchy. The castle was also briefly held by Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, prince of Wales, in 1215. Little of this original physical structure remains. The present day castle dates from the 13th century. 

The Shropshire Horticultural Society purchased the castle from a private owner and gave it to the town in 1924. The castle is currently owned by Shropshire Council. It can be rented for civil ceremonies and has housed the Shropshire Regimental Museum since 1985.  


Coombe Abbey is a hotel which has been developed from a historic building and former country house. It is located in the countryside of Warwickshire. The house's original grounds are now a country park known as Coombe Country Park.


Coombe Abbey was founded in the 12th century as a monastery. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century it became royal property. Elizabeth of Bohemia, the daughter of king James I, was educated there in the early 17th century. Had the Gunpowder Plot succeeded, she was to have been abducted from Coombe Abbey and proclaimed as Queen Elizabeth II.

The West Wing was added by architect Captain William Winde in 1682. Captain Winde also designed Buckingham House, which later became Buckingham Palace. 



For successive generations Coombe Abbey was owned by the Earls of Craven, in whose possession the estate remained until 1923. In November 1964 Coventry City Council bought Coombe Abbey with 150 acres of land. The park was opened to the public in 1966.

Tattershall Castle is a castle in Tattershall, Lincolnshire. The castle has its origins in either a stone castle or a fortified manor house, built by Robert de Tattershall in 1231. This was largely rebuilt in brick and greatly expanded by Ralph, 3rd Lord Cromwell, Treasurer of England, between 1430 and 1450.

The trend for using bricks was introduced by Flemish weavers. Brick castles are less common in England than stone or earth and timber constructions. When brick was chosen as a building material it was because it was fashionable (and more expensive) or for its aesthetic appeal. There was plenty of stone available nearby, but Cromwell chose to use brick. About 700,000 bricks were used to build the castle, which has been described as "the finest piece of medieval brick-work in England".
Of Lord Cromwell's castle, the 130 foot (40 m) high Great Tower and moat still remain. It is thought that the castle's three state rooms were once splendidly fitted out and the chambers were heated by great Gothic fireplaces with decorated chimney pieces and tapestries. It has been said that the castle was an early domestic country mansion masquerading as a fortress. Cromwell died in 1456, and the castle was initially inherited by his niece, Joan Bourchier, but it was confiscated by the Crown after her husband's demise. Tattershall was recovered in 1560 by Sir Henry Sidney, who sold it to Lord Clinton, later Earl of Lincoln, and it remained with the Earls of Lincoln until 1693. It passed to the Fortesques, but then fell into neglect.

It was put up for sale in 1910 when its greatest treasures, the huge medieval fireplaces, were still intact. When an American bought them they were ripped out and packaged up for shipping. Lord Curzon of Kedleston stepped in to buy the castle and was determined to get the fireplaces back. After a nationwide hunt they were found in London and returned. He restored the castle and left it to the National Trust on his death in 1925.


The tower is about 66 feet (20 m) across. There are separate entrances to the basement, to the ground floor, and to the spiral staircase leading to the upper floors of the tower. The design was extremely simple, with four floors, slightly increasing in size at each level by reductions in wall thickness. One of the four corner turrets contains the staircase, but the other three provided extra accommodation rooms.

The ground floor was the Parlour and it was here that local tenants would come to pay their rent. Today, the Parlour is licensed for civil wedding ceremonies for up to 90 guests.

The second floor was the Audience Chamber, and only the finest of guests would have been admitted here. A brick vaulted corridor led to a small waiting room, before the great hall of the Audience Chamber, which today houses Flemish tapestries bought by Lord Curzon. The third floor would have been the Private Chamber, where the Lord would have retired for the night. Above these are the roof gallery and battlements, which provide good views across the Lincolnshire landscape, as far as Boston to the south, and Lincoln to the north.


The brick foundations to the south of the great tower mark the site of the 15th century kitchens. Today, the old guardhouse is the gift shop, and the grounds are home to a number of peacocks.


Tofte Manor is a 17th-century manor house located in the village of Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire. According to the website it  is a wonderful venue for group retreats, providing a peaceful environment. A range of holistic therapies and activities including massage, workshops, meditation and yoga are available for people staying at the manor. Weddings can be held there and accommodation is available.

The first mention of Tofte Manor lies in the Doomsday book in 1086. The land was originally gifted by the Crown to Sir William Tofte, a Knights Templar, in the 12th Century. The village of Sharnbrook was known as a Templar settlement. Through the centuries Tofte Manor passed into the hands of the Newham Priory and afterwards to the families of Boteler, Cornish and Gambier, who built a succession of houses on the original site. In 1876 it was purchased by Charles Magniac.

The oldest part of the present day house dates back to the 17th century. A plaque dated 1613 sits above the central doorway ‘Except the Lord build the house, their labour is lost that build it’. This inscription was copied onto the London house of the famous artist James McNeill Whistler who frequently visited the mansion as a guest. 



The Alston family were responsible for the design of the present  house. It passed to Christopher and Suzy Castleman in 1995, who renovated the property and gardens to its present glory. Whilst taking down the walls during the alterations various pieces of old masonry were discovered. Recently the old Stables have been beautifully restored and converted into stylish accommodation and work space.

Thornton Abbey was a medieval abbey located close to the North Lincolnshire village of Thornton Curtis. It was founded as a priory in 1139 by William le Gros, the Earl of Yorkshire, and raised to the status of Abbey in 1148. It was a house for Augustinian or black canons, who lived a communal life under the Rule of St Augustine and also undertook pastoral duties outside of the Abbey. 

The abbey was closed in 1539 by Henry VIII as part of the dissolution. Thornton was a wealthy and prestigious house valued at the dissolution at the considerable sum of £591 (at least £180,000 in today's money). 

Thornton Abbey's impressive architecture reflects the abbey's history as one of Britain's richest Augustinian abbeys. The property is also amongst a handful of British abbeys that managed to survive the Suppression of the Monastries by becoming a secular college, until it was eventually closed in 1547. A house was then constructed behind the gatehouse in the 17th century, but sadly it was either dismantled or never completed.


The chapterhouse
19th-century excavations exposed the foundations of the church and cloister, built between 1261 and about 1418. The founding abbey building from the 12th century was Romanesque in style, but nothing of it remains above ground. The later abbey from the 13th and 14th centuries was built in Early Gothic style. Three walls of the chapter house and part of the cloister remain.

According to the antiquary William Stukeley and later commentators, the remains of a canon who had been ‘immured’ (effectively executed by being walled in) were discovered at Thornton in about 1722. Allegedly, he was found seated at a table with a book and a candlestick. He was believed to be the 14th abbot of Thornton, the immoral Walter Multon who died in 1443.



The main interest lies in the 14th-century gatehouse which is amongst the earliest large-scale uses of brick in England. It stands two storeys high and is structurally intact. There are few windows in the building, and the internal dimensions are cramped due to the thickness of the walls. The outside of the building is adorned with three almost lifesize statues directly above the gate. Many other stone figures would have stood on the gatehouse ‘battlements’ but most are now lost. A bridge over the moat adjoins the gatehouse and is fortified with walls and guardrobes.

The site is currently in the care of English Heritage and is open to the public.

Harlaxton Manor, built in 1837, is a manor house located in Harlaxton, Lincolnshire. Its architecture, which combines elements of Jacobean and Elizabethan styles with symmetrical Baroque massing, makes the mansion unique among surviving Jacobethan manors.


Harlaxton is first recorded in the Domesday Book as Harleston.The current mansion is the second Harlaxton Manor. The first was built on a different site during the 14th century and was used as a hunting lodge by John of Gaunt. Sir Daniel de Ligne purchased the manor in 1619. The original house was deserted after 1780. It was inherited by Gregory Gregory, and was torn down in 1857. He built the current house from 1837 to 1845 and helped usher in a renaissance of Elizabethan architecture. Eventually it fell into disrepair and in the 20th century the manor passed through several sets of disparate hands.


Abandoned by 1935, it was purchased two years later by Violet Van der Elst, a businesswoman and inventor, who made her money from developing the first brushless shaving cream and made her name by campaigning against capital punishment. She restored the house and had it wired for electricity. During the Second World War it was requisitioned by the Royal Air Force as the officers' mess for RAF Harlaxton and later to house a company of the 1st Airborne Division. In 1948, Harlaxton was purchased by The Society of Jesus, who used it as a novitiate. They in turn sold the manor, while retaining rights to some of the lands, to Stanford University in 1965. The University of Evansville began using the property in 1971 as its British campus, but it was owned by William Ridgway, a trustee of the university, until 1986. Immediately after the purchase, the University of Evansville began renovating the entire facility. 

Harlaxton is a popular location for filming and currently serves as the British campus for the University of Evansville and partners with Western Kentucky University.

Lympne Castle is a medieval castle located near the village of Lympne, Kent. It is an imposing, two-storey castellated mansion, formerly the home of the Archdeacon of Canterbury, and features a Great Chamber at either end of the building with a Great Hall situated between them.


The castle was built as a coastal defence during the 13th century on the site of a Roman castle, Port Lemanis, locally called Stutfall Castle. The remains of this earlier castle can be seen below the hill on which Lympne Castle stands, having slipped down the hill over the years. Stones from the ruined castle were used to construct the new building. There are indications that suggest the original castle would have been much larger, but what we see today dates mainly from c 1360.

During Tudor times the castle was managed as a farm and was sold in 1860 upon the death of Archdeacon Croft, after which it was left to decay. The castle was bought in 1905 by Sir Richard Lorimer and was restored.  During the restoration the original buildings were extended and modern buildings were incorporated into the castle.

Lympne Castle still has its great hall, wooden roof beams and gothic arched windows and a fireplace built in Tudor Times to replace the central hearth.



Lympne Castle has experienced a chequered and, perhaps, uncertain past with a variety of interesting conflicts. From persistent struggles between the excise and the notorious smugglers along the Kent Coast, to an important role in the Second World War when a concrete observation post was built atop the East Tower. Although incongruous with a medieval building, the views it allows of Romney Marshes, the Royal Military Canal and even the French coast on a clear day, influenced the decision that it should remain.

Today it is used primarily as a venue for corporate events and weddings. It is generally not open to the public. Since 2009 Lympne Castle has been named the Best Wedding Venue in Kent every year.