"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Astley Castle

On Monday B and I went along to the village of Astley as the castle was open for Open Heritage Week and, although I had seen the exterior of the building on the last visit, I had never been inside.

There is an interesting story connected to the original 1343 church which tells of a lantern from the church spire being lit at night to guide people through the huge forest which then covered the area. Today there is a new "Lantern of Arden" created by artist Johnny White. Built from red sandstone its stainless steel panels show symbols connected with the history of the village including George Eliot, the castle, church and 3 queens.

The church of St Mary the Virgin. It is a shame I didn't visit at the weekend as the church was open then and I could have seen the misericords and floor tiles I missed on my last visit.

If you want to read more about the interior of the church please see the blog post of my earlier visit to Astley here

Astley Castle is now looked after by The Landmark Trust which is a charity that rescues historic buildings at risk and gives them a new lease of life by letting them out for self catering holidays.

Astley Castle, located in North Warwickshire, is listed Grade II and a Scheduled Monument.

Via the castle's ownership by the Grey Family it has connections with 3 Queens of England namely Elizabeth Woodville who married Edward IV, her daughter Elizabeth of York who married Henry VII and the tragic Queen for nine days - Lady Jane Grey. It is a fortified manor house rather than a castle and it has a moat, gateway and curtain walls.

The medieval "castle" was built in the 13th century by the Astley family who held the manor. Sir Thomas Astley founded a chantry in the nearby parish church and later converted this into a small college to house secular clergy who prayed for the souls of the deceased of his family and also distributed alms to the local poor. He also built a new church next to the castle.

Sir William Astley who died in 1420 left no male heirs and his daughter Joan inherited the estate. The estate passed to her husband's son Sir Edward Grey and then later to Sir John Grey who was Elizabeth Woodville's first husband. John Grey died fighting for the Lancastrians at the 2nd Battle of St Albans in 1461 leaving Elizabeth a widow with 2 young sons. Stories tell that the resourceful and beautiful Elizabeth deliberately waylaid the young King Edward IV under an oak tree near Stony Stratford to plead for the future of her young sons. Edward fell in love with her and they secretly married in 1464 and she was crowned Queen in 1465.

When Edward died in 1483 his brother Richard III seized the throne. Henry VII who had defeated Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth married Elizabeth of York (the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville). This was an important marriage as it united the white rose of York with the red rose of the Tudors.

In 1537 Lady Jane Grey, Henry VIII's niece, was born. Although there is no evidence that she ever visited Astley castle which her father Henry Grey owned, their main family seat was nearby at Bradgate House so it is possible that she may have done so. Following the death of the young Edward VI who had inherited the throne on the death of Henry VIII, Lady Jane Grey became a pawn in a power struggle for the succession and was proclaimed queen by her ambitious parents. Her "reign" lasted just nine days when Mary I, the rightful successor, was declared Queen. Lady Jane Grey was imprisoned in the Tower of London and condemned to death. She was beheaded at the Tower on 12th February 1554.

Between 1600 and 1674 the Chamberlain family lived in the castle. They refurbished the building and also made alterations to the church. Astley Castle was garrisoned by Parlimentarian troops in the mid 1640's.

In 1674 Astley was bought by a Richard Newdigate, a prosperous lawyer, who also owned the nearby Arbury estate.

In the early 19th century the author George Eliot grew up on the estate. She was born in 1819 as Mary Ann Evans and her father Robert was the agent for the Newdigates. Her memories of Astley and Arbury inspired some of her work - for examples "Scenes of Clerical Life" where it is said Knebley Abbey is modelled on Astley Castle.

Astley Castle was requisitioned by the army during World War 2 and used as a home where soldiers could recuperate. After the war the castle was left empty and suffered from neglect and vandalism.

In 1953 the castle was advertised on a repairing lease and a Pat and Charles Tunniciffe took on the lease and managed to repair the building and turn it into a hotel and restaurant. The lease expired in 1978 and not long after a fire gutted the castle.

In 1995 The Landmark Trust became aware of the castle's plight and took out a lease from the Arbury estate hoping to restore part of the castle as a holiday let. The debris was cleared and archaeological surveys carried out but it was discovered that a conventional restoration of the building was not feasible for various reasons and the lease was returned. The castle was again vandalised and became overgrown with vegetation and it was identified by English Heritage as one of the most endangered British sites.

In 2005 when seeking a new challenge to celebrate their 40th anniversary The Landmark Trust took on the challenge of Astley Castle again although it was acknowledged that a conventional restoration was still not possible due to lack of surviving historic fabric and lack of funding. Architects Stephen Witherford, Chris Watson and William Mann won a competition to introduce into the ruins well designed living accommodation. The Trust raised £2.5 million from donations and work was undertaken between 2008 and 2012.

Most of the castle ruins were consolidated and repaired and the oldest part of the castle was chosen for the self catering holiday accommodation for up to 8 people.The bedrooms and bathrooms are on the ground floor and the first floor where the great hall used to be has been turned into a large open plan living area consisting of a sitting and dining room area and a kitchen. The apartment has retained many original features from the castle ruins and the views from the first floor are stunning.

Views from the first floor

After having a look round inside we had a look round the rest of the castle

The Knot Garden was newly planted in 2012 and makes reference to the 3 queens associated with the castle.

The restored Coach House

When we visited last time I did not have time to explore Dark Lane which is a holloway. Holloways are ancient tracks which have become sunken and eroded over the centuries due to the passage of people, coaches and erosion by rain water. The depth of Dark Lane suggests it dates back to medieval times.

After leaving the castle we paid a brief visit to the nearby Astley Farm Secondhand Bookshop - which is huge and stocks over 75,000 books! I did make one purchase "The Little Book of Tombs and Monuments" by Mike Harding although no cake this time!

Last Sunday D and I went to our usual location - a public footpath - to look for blackberries.

There were a few butterflies around - Speckled Wood, Comma and Red Admiral

Most of the blackberries had "gone over" but we did collect enough to be frozen to make hopefully a couple of Apple and Blackberry Crumbles.

All photos taken by me with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330 bridge camera

Reference: Astley Castle guidebook by The Landmark Trust


amanda peters said...

It must have been quite magical looking for the lights on the church, if not a little scary.It has been wonderful reading the history on the place, such a great building . So pleased they have looked after it.
It is a shame so many buildings caught fire back then, the Hall I photographed the other day burned down twice!
What a great place to stay, I do like the pictures on the wall above the lamp,and I would love the kitchen.Did you look to see how much it would cost to stay for there ?

Dark Lane would be not walked in the dark, I can imagine coming across a ghost horseman.
Still plenty of blackberries about, butterflies and other insects were making the most of them today in the warm sunshine.
Another wonderful blog post.
Amanda xx

Simon Douglas Thompson said...

Very much a mansion castle rather than a defensive one, I'd say

CherryPie said...

Astley Castle looks like a really interesting place to visit. I like the fact part of it has been turned into a holiday let. What a fabulous place to stay :-)

Midmarsh John said...

You do find some really interesting places to visit. Don't remember hearing of The Landmark Trust before. The have a novel way of helping to preserve some of our heritage and raising a bit of money at the same time by renting out parts of a building. Looking at the photos of the rooms to let I wonder how they are heated on cold days.

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks so much. Having seen the photos of the castle before The Landmark Trust and architects got to work on it they have done a superb job.

Yes, I did check the cost - it is expensive! Have just tried again on their website but it all now seems booked so can't re-check the price unless there is a fault on the website at the minute. But there again it does sleep 8 so sharing the cost would work out much cheaper if lots of you went. I've been looking at another of their properties near Ludlow which is also lovely and a lot cheaper but this one has just 3 bedrooms. Wouldn't mind staying there as on the border with Herefordshire and I do like Ludlow.

Agree about ghostly horsemen!! :)

Simon Douglas Thompson - Thanks Simon. I agree with you.

CherryPie - Thank you - yes it would be a lovely place to stay - very atmospheric and peaceful and all that history :)

Midmarsh John - Thank you. They were a new charity to me too tbh. They do have a range of very unusual historic places where you can stay looking at their website. The holiday part is heated by underfloor heating and also has a woodburner. I think the architects won an award for the design of it all.

Pam said...

Such a shame when somewhere like this is damaged by fire, how can it come back from that?! A lovely tour of it and what a bonus to have a bookshop close by too!!

Rosie said...

Books and blackberries, castles and churches, such a great post. The ruins look wonderful as does the view from the self catering appartment which looks interesting ancient and modern together makes a good combination, nice that you could see inside, it looks warm and comfortable. The stories of the church lantern and the holloways are fascinating too:)

Ragged Robin said...

Pam - Thank you. You would love the bookshop - it is just superb. OH was with me but I got away with one purchase! If on my own there may well have been more!!

Rosie - Thanks so much Rosie. It is a very interesting area and in my view the way they have blended in the old and new with the self catering area is brilliant. I was surprised about the holloway - to be honest I didn't realise we had them in Warwickshire as I always connect them with places like Dorset. So it was a real discovery :)

Pete Duxon said...

thanks for sharing that... I've never visited looks good..... I know I have been in an Astley church.... I don't think it's that one though!

Ragged Robin said...

Pete Duxon - Thanks Pete. I'm not sure if you visited the post I did on the interior of the church but it has a lot of interest. Probably not in the Jenkins's book though. You can see the castle from outside even when closed. Church I think open some Sundays limited hours and also for the Heritage Weekend. The book shop a couple of miles away is well worth a visit even though they didn't have Hospital Station! :)

Toffeeapple said...

I was unaware of the connection with Stony Stratford and Elizabeth Woodville, though a school in Deanshanger is now named for her. (I used to live in Stony and am just a few miles from it now).

Smashing post as usual, thank you!

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thanks so much. Interesting to hear a school in Deanshanger is named after her. So glad I was able to give you some new information on Elizabeth Woodville. Have you read the White Queen by Phillipa Gregory? I was going to take it to the charity shop but held it back after last year's visit to Astley and will read again.

Chris Rohrer said...

Blackberries! Yum! I have always been fascinated by the Lady Grey story. Bad parents for putting her in that position.

Ragged Robin said...

Chris - Thank you. One Apple and Blackberry Crumble made so far! The Lady Jane Grey story is fascinating but so tragic.

Caroline Gill said...

Well done, RR, on the blackberry and apple crumble! I bet it was delicious, and I hope Timothy managed to eat his share without spilling blackberry on his new jumper! Astley Castle looks a wonderful place to visit - and full marks to The Landmark Trust for their efforts.

Ragged Robin said...

Caroline Gill - Thanks so much - I will try and post a photo of the crumble. Timothy, much to his disgust, wore a bib to protect the jumper :)

It is so good to see an organisation like the Landmark Trust protecting buildings that are in such a state. Have been looking at some of their holiday places - there is a good one in Herefordshire near Ludlow.