On the outskirts of Ashby De La Zouch stands the ruins of Ashby Castle and the earthwork remains of an associated formal garden, known as The Wilderness. The Castle was the creation of William, Lord Hastings, who was one of the leading political figures and artistic patrons of the 15th century. Edward IV granted license to fortify the site in 1474. Adapting an existing manor house, Lord Hastings also built a new chapel and two towers – the Great Tower and The Kitchen Tower. Work to the Castle was interrupted in 1483 when Lord Hastings was executed but Ashby became the principle seat of his descendants. Remaining in the ownership of the Hastings family until the mid 17th century, the Castle was besieged during the Civil War and surrendered to the Parliamentarians in 1646. The site is primarily a 12th century house that was redesigned and rebuilt over several centuries. The early Norman house and buildings were originally timber structures which were replaced by stone after 1150.
The Kitchen Tower (above) stands to the west of the hall and was erected between 1350 and 1400. The lower two storeys originally formed a vast vaulted space which was ringed with hearths and cauldron stands. The kitchen had its own well, set in a wall niche. Above the kitchen was a spacious room with large windows, a timber floor and its own latrines. To either side of the Kitchen Tower there were further service ranges. The size of the kitchen is unusually large and featured a high vault decorated with carved bosses of stone. Only two hearths remain following the demolition of one wall in 1648 and would have incorporated several cooking spaces, such as cauldron stands for boiling, fireplaces for roasting and ovens for baking.
The Great Chamber is at the opposite end of the hall from the services and probably featured a parlour at ground level. Used as a principle room for entertaining important guests, the Great Chamber still retains a fine 15th century fireplace (below) and a huge grid window, cut through in the 16th century.
The Great Tower is the architectural centrepiece of the castle and is thought to have been completed shortly after Lord Hastings obtained a licence to crenellate in 1474. The Tower could be secured with a portcullis which fitted within the grooves on each side of the small entrance door. The Tower is elaborately detailed and features heraldic achievements of Lord Hastings and lions of England which ornament the entrance door. The Great Tower was the last major addition to the Castle and reflected the power and wealth of Lord Hastings. The Tower was blown up on the orders of Parliament in 1648. The operation was directed by William Bainbrigg of Lockington, a local cavalry commander.
The Chapel (below) would have been served by priests and singers from the household and is thought to be the earliest of the extensive additions which took place between 1464 and 1483. Situated to the south east of the solar building, the Chapel had two balconies at the west end. Seated in stalls along the sides of the Chapel, original wooden panelling and a first floor gallery were located on the west wall. In 1907 the eastern part of the chapel was screened off for use as a burial place for the Hastings family.
The remains of the garden earthworks date to the 16th century and are known as The Wilderness. The rectangular garden is divided in two by a raised walkway. Some garden designers are known to have built fortifications which had a strong appeal for the 16th century English nobility. By 1615, the gardens included a ‘wilderness’ which was a newly fashionable type of shady garden planted with trees. The gardens largely disappeared after the Civil War although a kitchen garden was maintained until the 18th century to serve Ashby Place.
Ashby Castle is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I Listed.