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

Clifton Hall Tower

CHall1

The Tower of Clifton Hall dates from about 1500 and is all that remains of a substantial medieval manor house which was begun in about 1400. The hall was constructed by the Engayne family and was demolished in the early 19th century to make way for the existing farmhouse. Gilbert Engayne had been granted the manor, village and lands of Clifton some time before 1173. One of his descendants, Elianor Engayne, married into the Wybergh family and it was during her lifetime that the first manor house was built on this site. Following the death of Elianor, the sole Engayne heiress, in 1412 the house passed to her son from her first marriage to William Wybergh and became the property of the Wybergh family. The late medieval tower wing was occupied continuously from the late 15th century until the early 19th century and retains considerable medieval fabric and many original architectural features.

CHall4

Characteristic of the borderlands of England and Scotland, tower houses are a type of defensible house that were important centres of medieval life. Fortified towers were often added to manor houses during the troubled and unsettled northern Border regions throughout the medieval period. Not only built for defence, they were fashionable additions to the houses of ambitious local gentry like the Wyberghs and provided comfortable accommodation for the family.

CHall2

Constructed of red sandstone, the ground floor of the tower is divided into three rooms which later functioned as service rooms and a kitchen. Originally a single large room that functioned as a parlour, the ground floor would have been well furnished with a wooden decorated ceiling and painted plaster walls. The room was converted in about 1600 to serve the new hall built to the south of the tower with three new doors inserted into the south wall. The principle chamber, or solar, was a comfortable living room for the family and was originally entered at first floor level from both the old hall and an external staircase to the south.

CHall5

Ground floor 18th century fireplace

Shortly afterwards the family got into financial difficulties and in 1640, Thomas Wybergh was forced to mortgage the lands surrounding the manor. In 1652, during the Civil War, the next Thomas Wybergh had his remaining estates forcibly sold owing to his support for the Royalists. Only the manor house itself now remained in the possession of the family. Further trouble arose during the Jacobite uprising when William Wybergh was kidnapped by Scottish soldiers in 1715. The building was occupied and plundered in 1745 shortly before the Battle of Clifton Moor which was the last military engagement on English soil.

CHall6

The Upper Chamber

Access to the upper floors is by a newel or circular stair situated in the south west corner of the tower. The Upper Chamber (above) was the most private and secluded space in the house accessible only from the principle chamber on the first floor. Still retaining an original fireplace, the Upper Chamber has been subdivided in more recent centuries with the addition of 18th century windows in the east wall. When the house was altered in 1600, the two upper chambers were retained with one of them perhaps used for dining.

CHall7

The hall was demolished in the early 19th century with the tower remaining in use as a farm building until renovation during the late 1970’s. The tower was placed in the guardianship of the Secretary of State in 1973.

CHall8

The present roof is a 17th century replacement

The present roof (above) is a 17th century replacement of an earlier roof and was raised at the same time that the tower’s crenellated parapets and south west corner were built. Clifton Hall Tower is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

CHall3

Remaining fabric of the old hall