Stokesay Castle: Gatehouse


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.


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)


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.


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).


“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.


Little Langdale: Ting Mound


Located at the rear of Fell Foot Farm in Little Langdale is an unassuming moot mound. Known as the Ting Mound, moots were open air meeting places during Anglo Saxon and Medieval times. Such monuments were situated at convenient or well known sites and could take several forms – a natural feature such as a hilltop, tree or rock, existing man made features such as prehistoric standing stones or a purpose built monument such as a mound. First established between the seventh and ninth centuries AD, moots were originally situated in open countryside but gradually became located in villages or towns. By the 13th century, construction and use of rural moots largely disappeared. Only a small number of man made mounds survive today and the moot at Fell Foot Farm is one of only three known moots in Cumbria. The moot includes a flat topped rectangular earthen mound with rounded corners and is almost three meters high. It features two terraces on the north and east sides, three on the west side and on the south side of the mound, there were originally four terraces.


This particular spot was on the crossroad of busy trading routes that were established in Roman times. The Romans had built the road along the valley and over Wrynose Pass to link the Galava Fort at Ambleside and Mediobogdum Fort at Hardknott Pass. These forts were two of several fortified structures built to protect the vital trade route through Cumbria with Galava being constructed around 79AD. The Roman road, known as the 10th Iter, ran from the coastal fort at Ravenglass (Glannaventa) up the Eskdale Valley to Hardknott Fort and continued over the Hardknott and Wrynose passes towards the forts at Ambleside and Kendal. Mediobogdum Fort is situated on the western side of Hardknott Pass and was built between 120-138AD. Several centuries later, this long established highway route would have provided the Vikings with the perfect site for their Thing – from the Old Norse meaning meeting or assembly place. The Lake District Vikings arrived from western Norway, via Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man. The legacy of the Vikings remains not only in local place names – the practice of dividing holdings with drystone walls has its origins in Norse traditions which has influenced the distinctive view we see in the countryside today. The existence of such Thing Mounds in Cumbria provides a small link to the Viking political system of their time in North West England. The Ting Mound is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.


Gilsland: Genii Cucullati


On display as part of an exhibition at Birdoswald Roman Fort is the above stone figurine. The small figure is of a god called Genius and is of a type called Genii Cucullati (meaning hooded spirit). Wearing a full length hooded robe, such figures were spirits of place and both stone altar pieces and small votive figures in rock and bronze have been found throughout Roman Britain and Gaul. Genii Cucullati sculptures resemble those of the Greco-Roman deity Telesphorus who was the son and hooded attendant of Asclepius. Like many mythological figures, Asclepius was trained by the wise and gentle Chiron (a centaur and tutor of heroes) and became a heroic physician (Illiad). As the son of Apollo, the god of medicine, Asclepius himself was transformed into a god and his birthplace became Epidaurus, the major centre of his worship in ancient Greece. His son Telesphorus was also depicted cloaked and he was the protector of children and deity of fertility with his powers lying in the realms of sleep and dreams. Small carved cucullati have been found on the continent as grave goods which suggests they were viewed as protectors both during life and after death. Ancestors of the Landvættir (spirits of the land in Norse mythology), the Genii Cucullati derived from popular tradition and were a deity connected with the earth, agriculture and healing. The Genius (guardian spirit of a person) also represented the creative power of a man and was associated with the continued well-being of the family. Slaves swore oaths by the Genius of the head of the family and offerings were made to it on his birthday. The equivalent of the male Genius for women was her Juno. These wonderful sculpted figures represent a multitude of religious connotations and often appear in trios.

Barnard Castle


The Great Hall, Great Chamber and Round Tower

Commanding a strategic point overlooking the River Tees are the remains of Barnard Castle. The castle was the principle stronghold of the Baliol family who founded the town at its gates and turned the castle into one of the largest fortresses in northern England. The land on which the castle was built had been given to the Church in the ninth century but was forcibly taken by the Earls of Northumberland by the eleventh century. The land reverted back to the Crown at the end of the eleventh century after William II crushed a rebellion by the Earl. In 1095, the king granted the land to Guy de Baliol who was a loyal supporter from Picardy in north eastern France.


The Great Ditch

The foundations of Barnard Castle date from the twelfth century when Guy de Baliol built a timber castle here. The site was chosen specifically as it was naturally defended on two sides by steep cliffs and the River Tees and to the north of the site, there was a road and a ford laid out by the Romans. The castle includes an early twelfth century ringwork which was a medieval fortification comprising of a small defended area which was surrounded by a substantial ditch. Acting as strongholds for military operations, ringworks in some cases defended aristocratic or manorial settlements. Guy de Baliol held the lands around Barnard Castle for thirty years and was succeeded by his nephew Bernard de Baliol in 1125. Together with his son, Bernard turned the castle into a major fortress by rebuilding in stone and enlarging the site.


The Inner Ward with 13th century Round Tower

By the early thirteenth century the family fell into financial difficulties and in about 1190, Bishop Pudsey of Durham held the castle in security for a loan made to Eustace de Helicourt, a member of a local tenant family, who inherited the estate in 1199. The castle was returned to the family around 1212 when King John ordered the castle to be returned to Eustace’s son Hugh. The king granted the lordship to Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, in 1307 but as the Beauchamps main interests were in the Midlands, the castle was used mostly as a source of revenue with the outer wards largely abandoned making the castle smaller and cheaper to run.


Outer wall of the Town Ward

The bishops tried once again to recover possession of the castle in 1471 however, the lordship passed to Richard, the Duke of Gloucester. In 1483, Richard became king and although he made alterations and had plans for the castle, most were never realised because of his early death at Bosworth Field in 1485. The castle remained in royal hands until 1603 during which time the castle went into decline despite requests for money to pay for repairs.


The deep rock-cut ditch surrounding the Inner Ward

In 1603 James I gave the castle to Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset. The estate was transferred to the Prince of Wales in 1615 following the disgrace of Somerset and was subsequently sold to the City of London in 1626. Sold to Sir Henry Vane in 1630, the castle was dismantled to provide materials for an extensive rebuilding programme at his main residence at Raby Castle. Lord Barnard of Raby became the eventual owner of the estate and in 1952, he placed the Inner, Middle and Town wards in the guardianship of the Ministry of Works.


The ruins of Barnard Castle are Grade I Listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.


Tamworth: Ethelfleda Monument


Ethelfleda, known as ‘The Lady of the Mercians’, was the daughter of Alfred the Great and sister of Edmund the Elder. Ethelfleda governed the Kingdom of Mercia from 913 – 918 AD leading attacks on the invading Danes. The statue of Ethelfleda was built for Tamworth’s Millenary Celebrations of 1913 marking the 1000th anniversary of when Ethelfleda freed Tamworth from the Danes and fortified the town.


The monument is the work of the sculptor Edward George Bramwell and was the design of the stonemason Henry Mitchell. The column and plinth are granite with the statue sculpted from ashlar stone. The capital of the column details relief Anglo-Saxon knot-work with the statue of Ethelfreda depicted in Anglo-Saxon dress holding an unsheathed sword in her right hand. The child depicted is Aethelstan, the nephew of Ethelfreda, who would later become king.


The pedestal consists of a circular base and bench supporting the inscribed octagonal base of a column decorated with a spiralling line. Unveiled by Earl and Countess Ferrers, the Ethelfleda monument is Grade II Listed.