Ruined Castles - Midlands and South
One of the best examples of a Medieval fortified manor
house in England
is a small settlement with a castle, farm and church just to
the south of Craven Arms. The Church of St John the Baptist
is one of the few to have been rebuilt during the
Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell.
The house castle dates from 1291 and is one of the best surviving examples of a medieval fortified manor house in England. It was built by Lawrence of Ludlow, a wool merchant and one of the richest men in England. The end of Welsh independence in the C12th made the Welsh Marches a safer place to live although there were problems from roving bands of thieves. Stokesay was designed to meet the need for security with walls and a moat, but to also demonstrate the wealth and status of the owner. The living quarters had a tower at each end with the great hall between them.The tall south tower beyond the solar block, was designed as a self contained unit reached by a defensible stairway.
Lawrence's descendants remained Lords of Stokesay until the end of the C15th. It was the centre of a large estate with 120 acres of arable land, six acres of hay meadows, woods, two watermills and a dovecot.
When the last male heir died, Stokesay passed through the female by marriage to Thomas Vernon, from an important Derbyshire family, with connections to Haddon Hall. By the end of the C16 the Vernons were effectively bankrupt and the property passed through a series of owners before it was sold to dame Elizabeth Craven and her son William.
William immediately set about improving the property, spending £530. He was responsible for the gatehouse which with its timber framing and plaster walls is very different to the stone built castle. He also responsible for the wood panelling in the solar, replacing the ceiling and adding the highly carved overmantel.
Craven was a Royalist and garrisoned the castle on the king’s behalf. When the Parliamentary armies seized Shrewsbury, the castle surrendered without a shot being fired. Although Craven recovered his estates after the restoration of Charles II, the family spent little time here. The castle was let to a series of tenant farmers. Some of the buildings were used as stores and workshops, the hall was a granary and the base of the south tower was a smithy. A fire starting in their burnt out all the floors above.
The castle and estate was bought by John Derby Allcroft, a successful London Glove Manufacturer in 1869. He built a new mansion nearby and ‘decided the castle should be left empty but kept safe and sound as an historic monument.’ He funded a sympathetic restoration making the buildings structurally sound without altering their appearance. The gatehouse was made habitable for a caretaker to live. The castle was open to the public as a tourist attraction. It eventually passed into the care of English Heritage.
Although surrounded by a wall and moat, Stokesay Castle was never intended to be a serious military fortification. It was more a comfortable but secure home. Apart from the C16th gatehouse, and cosmetic alterations to the solar, it is virtually unchanged since it was built, although little is left of the surrounding wall and the moat is now dry.
Entry is through the C16th gatehouse with its timber framing and plaster walls. It has highly carved lintels and brackets supporting the upper floors.
Inside is a grassed courtyard with the great hall with its tall dormer windows flanked by the north and south towers. The angular south tower with its heavy buttressing, was designed as the most defensible part of the castle, with thick walls and being reached through the solar. The basement would have been a secure storage area, accessed from the first floor. Windows were unglazed and had wooden shutters. There would have been good views of the surrounding are from the top.
The great hall still has its massive cruck beam ceiling and would have had a central open fireplace. It still has the steep wooden staircase leading to the north tower with treads made out of whole tree trunks. The north tower is very different to the south tower with its glazed windows set into a timber frame jettying out above the stone walls. It still has its medieval tiled floor.
The solar was the private living quarter and was reached by an external staircase from the courtyard. The walls are panelled and their is a beautifully carved overmantel above the fire.
The castle is in the care of English Heritage. The post code is SY7 9AH and the grid reference is S0 436817.
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