Stokesay Castle: Gatehouse

StokesayGH2

At the time of the compilation of the Domesday Book in 1086, Stokesay formed part of a prosperous estate called Stoches. An Anglo-Saxon word which suggests the presence of a cattle farm, Stoches was held by the Lacy family who became lords of Weobley and Ludlow. The first recorded tenants appear to have built a small keep with an adjacent hall (Jenkins, 2003). Dendrochronological evidence shows that building at Stokesay did not begin until after 1285 when the local wool merchant, Laurence of Ludlow, owned the rights of the manor – purchased some four year earlier. Laurence erected the impressive manor house with crenellated tower and built walls round an inner bailey. His family occupied Stokesay until 1598.

StokesayGH6

While Stokesay is a castle in name only, when the antiquary John Leyland passed through Shropshire in 1543 he described it as “buildid like a castel.” The title of Stokesay Castle only became common during the 16th and 17th centuries which no doubt reflected the social pretensions of its owners and as Alec Clifton-Taylor (1986) notes, “a castle was a good address.” Although a stone curtain wall was built to enclose Stokesay, the present gatehouse was not built until 1640. Nothing remains of the original gatehouse which was likely to have been of stone construction (Summerson, 2009). Unique to the Middle Ages, castles, or feudal residences, were more often than not lived in than fought over. Simple gate towers were in use throughout the medieval period, usually as secondary gates, and the ostentatious embellishment of gatehouses had their part to play from the 14th century onwards (Friar, 2003).

StokesayGH5   StokesayGH3

The widow of a former Lord Mayor of London, Dame Elizabeth Craven, purchased Stokesay in 1620. Her son William was a soldier who spent much of his time abroad and he made permanent alterations to the appearance of Stokesay between 1640 and 1641. The gatehouse timbers are dated between 1639-1641 – when William was busy with building work. Given the ornately decorated character, the gatehouse was not concerned with defensibility. The two storey gatehouse is half-timbered and features a central passageway with a studded door. The ground level walls are close studded with the first floor jettied out above. Carved along the lintel above the entrance is the biblical story of the fall of man with the trees of life and the knowledge of good and evil at each end. Adam and Eve appear on the ornately carved brackets flanking the entrance with others exquisitely depicting angels, acanthus leaves and dragons. “A real touch of the Renaissance – what fun those craftsmen had!” (Clifton-Taylor, 1986)

StokesayGH8

At some point the gatehouse became a refuge for a coiner and by 1877 there was a caretaker living in the building. When the architectural historian Thomas Hudson Turner visited Stokesay in 1845, he described it as “one of the most perfect and interesting buildings which we possess.” Following the death of Jewell Allcroft in 1992, Stokesay was placed in the guardianship of English Heritage and a four year campaign of restoration got underway.

StokesayGH4

Referred to as domus defensabiles in the Domesday Book, fortified homesteads were both a residence and a personal stronghold. The inherent desire to provide a facade with a “satisfying architectural climax” (Friar, 2003) is more than evident at Stokesay. What survives at Stokesay Castle is a remarkable example of a fortified manor house and the “breezy Jacobean gatehouse is a gem” (Jenkins, 2003).

StokesayGH7

“I do love these ancient ruins: We never tread upon them, but we set our foot upon some reverend history.” John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi (1612)

The gatehouse is Grade I Listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

StokesayGH1

Advertisements

Stokesay Castle: The Great Hall

StokesayGH3

South wall

Early medieval houses tended to have halls of aisled construction but gradually the obstructive posts were omitted resulting in a magnificent building type. The 13th century carpenters were experimenting in methods which would obviate the need for aisle posts and the cruck form of roof construction, which transferred the weight of the roof to the walls, eventually made them unnecessary. There is no evidence that the hall at Stokesay ever had aisles but there was likely to have been a screen across it. Reducing the size of the hall when it was used for its principle function, a wooden screen would have provided shelter from the draughts from the screens passage which led to the service rooms – the buttery, pantry and kitchen (Friar, 2003). The hall in a medieval castle or manor house, such as Stokesay, was the nucleus of an estate and considered the most important room in a dwelling. The walls of the hall would have been plastered and whitened and some of the original plasterwork can be seen on the north and south walls at Stokesay (see above). The hall at Stokesay stands on the western side of the courtyard and was built in the early 1290’s.

StokesayGH4

Built of sandstone rubble and retaining its extraordinary timber roof, the Great Hall at Stokesay is described as “one of the most evocative medieval halls” (Friar, 2003). Built to replace an earlier wooden hall, it comprises four bays with separate gables above each window and the doorway. The roof was originally supported by three pairs of crucks with each pair braced by two collar beams. Each cruck rested on a stone corbel above the hall floor but they were replaced by stone pilasters in the 19th century. The roof is a fantastic range of raised crucks, aisled end trusses and an unusual example of collar-purlins without crown posts (vertical king or crown posts provided extra stability). The fabulous cruck timbers cover the whole expanse of the hall and the three great wooden arches over the room are a rare survival for this period. Each supported by two horizontal collars, the topmost collars are supported below by pairs of struts. The arches are linked by purlins (the horizontal beams) which run along the side walls of the roof.

StokesayGH5

It is unknown where Laurence of Ludlow obtained his timber however, following his death some years later, his eldest son William was recorded as buying 24 oaks from the royal woods at Bushmoor and Haycrust – five miles north of Stokesay. Under the supervision of the carpenter, trees were cut up where they fell and the same marks of arcs and circles are found in the north tower, hall and solar block. The timbers have been dated by dendrochronology to the late 1280’s and show that these buildings were erected at the same time and possibly overseen by the same carpenter. The two upper floors of the north tower are accessed from the hall via a wooden staircase (below). Similar to the roof, this staircase survives from the late 13th century and the same carpenter’s marks occur on both. Using high quality wood, the treads of the staircase are cut from whole tree trunks and the sturdy brackets supporting the landing also date to the 1290’s (Summerson, 2009).

StokesayGH6

North wall with 13th century timber stair

Three large windows feature on the east and west walls and as was usual in the 13th century, only the upper parts of the windows were glazed. The lower levels were commonly open to the elements in fine weather and covered by wooden shutters in cold or rain. Shutters were almost invariably fitted to window openings with surfaces often painted with heraldic and other decoration. With glazing an expensive commodity, shutters were often braced like doors with pulleys and ropes used to close larger sets (Friar, 2003). The pointed trefoil head to the lights, which was much more common during the 13th century, feature at Stokesay and the hall windows have soffit cusps – more usual for the period are cusps built as part of the chamfer of the lights (Wood, 1994).

Enchanted by what he saw, the writer Henry James visited Stokesay in 1877 and remarked: “I have rarely had, for a couple of hours, the sensation of dropping back personally into the past so straight as while I lay on the grass beside the well in the little sunny court of this small castle and lazily appreciated the still definite details of medieval life.”

StokesayGH2

North end with wooden window shutters

Broseley: Benthall Hall

Benthall5

Benthall lies on the right bank of the Severn facing the town of Ironbridge in Shropshire. Benthall was recorded in the Domesday Book as belonging to Wenlock Priory and the Benthall family took their name from the place. Described as lords of the manor, they held the property from the priory. The first record of a house at Benthall dates to 1250 when Philip de Benthall owned land in Benthall Edge. The estate was acquired in 1283 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells and Lord Chancellor of England. The estate passed from Robert to his elder son Philip and from him the estate descended in the male line to William Benthall. William is believed to have built part of the present house which dates to circa 1535 with later, major improvements around 1580. The two storey building, with attics, is constructed of brick faced sandstone and features continuous mullioned and transomed windows on each level. The building has a central hall, eastern service wing and western parlour wing. The Hall also has semi-octagonal bays on the west side of the parlour, on the hall and on the service end.

Benthall2

Overmantle in The Hall

Lawrence Benthall was the owner of the estate in 1642 and he married Katherine Cassy of Whitfield, Gloucestershire. They made many improvements to the interior of the house when the southern rooms were richly panelled and made into additional parlours or bedrooms. Panelling and a moulded plaster ceiling in the parlour are probably contemporary with a new staircase. Its older fittings are now of the 18th century and perhaps contemporary with alterations, including new fireplaces in both wings, attributed to T. F. Pritchard. New doorcases at the foot of the staircase and a new ceiling there were probably inserted after a fire in 1818. The overmantle in the parlour (below) shows the Benthall and Cassy crest joined together.

Benthall1

King Charles I rallied many of the local gentry to his cause when he made Shrewsbury his headquarters on the outbreak of the Civil War. Col. Lawrence Benthall fortified his house for the King, and, in March 1643, commanded the garrison in a successful attack on a Parliamentary plundering party led by Col. Mytton of Wem. The King’s garrison remained at Benthall for a further two years until February 1645 when the Royalist stronghold of Shrewsbury fell in a surprise attack led by the same Col. Mytton. The surrounding country then came under Parliamentary control and in July of the same year, a Parliamentary garrison occupied Benthall. The neighbourhood of Benthall and Broseley was one of the most important coalfields in the west of England at the time and Benthall was a strategic vantage point from which to command the River Severn. The Parliamentarians used Benthall as a base to control coal to the Royalists at Bridgnorth and Worcester. A failed Royalist attack in 1645 led to a window and panelling in the Drawing Room sustaining damage.

Benthall3

Benthall Coat of Arms – Overmantle Dining Room

Lawrence was succeeded by his eldest son Philip who died in 1713. His son Richard died in 1720 with no children but his uncle Edward had a daughter named Katherine. Married to Ralph Browne of Caughley Hall, Katherine had a daughter named Elizabeth whom Richard had settled his estate upon. Upon Richard’s death, litigation ensued from his two sisters when they made claim to the estate. The case was decided in favour of the Brownes in 1746 by the House of Lords and it remained in their possession for over a century. Another Ralph Browne inherited the estate and from him, Benthall passed to his wife’s niece. She married the Rev. Edward Harries and their son, Francis Blythe Harries, continued to own the estate until 1843. Following the fire of 1818, a new wing containing a large dining room was built at the east end of the house. In 1962 this was demolished except for two rooms in the basement, leaving a raised terrace.

Benthall6

The house was sold in 1844 to the 2nd Lord Forester who was the owner of the neighbouring Willey estate. Various tenants occupied Benthall between 1845 and 1930. George Maw took up residence in circa 1852 when Maw & Co began to make tiles in the parish. Maw was a distinguished botanist and assembled a collection of rare plants in the garden which included 3-4000 distinct species. In 1866 he published A Monograph of the Genus Crocus. Another notable tenant was Robert Bateman, the son of James Bateman, the creator of Biddulph Grange. Both Maw and Bateman made changes to the interior of the house and major changes to the garden. The dovecote in the Rose Garden (above) is attributed to Robert and is thought likely to have been a garden room.

Benthall7

Benthall came up for sale at auction in 1934 and Mary Clementina Benthall managed to purchase the house and the estate. In 1958 Mary proposed to leave the estate to her cousin Sir Paul Benthall. Sir Paul persuaded her to leave it to the National Trust along with some of the contents. Sir Paul and Lady Benthall became the first tenants of the Trust from 1962 until their deaths in 1992 and 1988 respectively. Sir Paul’s son James and his wife Jill then took up the tenancy and in 1996, Richard Benthall, the twin brother of James, took over with his wife Stella until 2004. While grand, the understated exterior of this beautiful property conceals a wonderfully lavish interior that is rich with ornamentation and detail.

Benthall Hall is Grade I Listed.

Benthall4

Craven Arms War Memorial

WMStokesay1

Standing in St John the Baptist Churchyard in Stokesay is Craven Arms War Memorial. The memorial was unveiled on 29 July 1921 by Brigadier General Rotton C.B., C.M.G. and dedicated by the Venerable Archdeacon Lilley. Originally erected on Corvedale Road in Craven Arms, a rededication service took place on the 17th October 1999 when the memorial was re-positioned in its current location. The monument has a two stepped base of Hornton stone and depicts a WW1 rifleman sculpted from sandstone. Inscribed onto the sides of the plinths are the names of those who lost their lives in both World Wars and the names of those who fought but happily returned home are also listed. The monument is the work of the sculptor William G Storr Barber who served in the Great War with the Royal Marines. At the time the monument was moved in 1999, the War Memorials Trust contributed funds to renovate and conserve the memorial which included re-pointing, re-lettering and cleaning.

The memorial is Grade II Listed.

WMStokesay2

Stokesay Castle: Solar

StokesaySolar3

At the south end of the hall range at Stokesay Castle is a cross wing which houses the solar block. Reached by an external stair, the solar was originally private apartments for Laurence of Ludlow who built the castle in the late 1280’s. As with many of the rooms in the castle, the solar was refashioned in the 17th century. The ceiling dates to that time as do the carved overmantel, the cornices and panelling round the walls.

StokesaySolar4

A principle feature of the Renaissance period was the tradition of elaborately carved fire mantels dominating a room with surrounding walls covered in plain panelling. This is finely demonstrated at Stokesay where undecorated panelling frames the stunning centrepiece of the room – the overmantel.

StokesaySolar2

The overmantel is divided by pilasters shaped as human figures (above)into four squares, two of which have a grotesque head at their centre (below). Originally brightly coloured, the design may have been Flemish and the cornices used to cover exposed portions of the wall after the overmantel had been put up, suggest that it was not made specifically for its present position.

StokesaySolar1

Respecting the room’s medieval outline, the 17th century designer hid the openwork roofing from sight with a new ceiling. The panelling carefully framed the peepholes on either side of the fireplace and although covering some 16th century paintwork, the windows and window-seat were left untouched. The only significant change inside the room was in the east wall where the original window was blocked up however, the medieval window has since been opened up.

StokesaySolar7

The solar was intended for use as a bedroom and afforded some privacy for the noble family of the castle. Typically situated on an upper floor, it was a secluded room used as private living and sleeping quarters. A room of comfort and status, the solar at Stokesay is a wonderfully preserved example of such historic indulgence.

StokesaySolar5