"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

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Trip to Herefordshire - Part 3: Wigmore Castle


Friday was dry with sunny intervals so we returned to Wigmore Castle which D and I had visited last year and loved.  Wigmore is one of those "special" places with a very strong sense of "place" and history and is SO atmospheric.

Wigmore Castle was a major centre of power in the Medieval period in the Welsh Marches.  It is one of the largest castles along the Welsh border and is located on a steep ridge which assisted defence.  Deep ditches and walls also strengthened the castle.

William FitzOsbern, Earl of Hereford, built  a castle here c1069.  It soon passed to Ralph de Mortimer and remained with the Mortimer family until the 15th century.  Earthworks date mainly from the 12th century and most of the surviving ruins are late 13th or 14th century mainly from the time of Roger Mortimer who inherited in 1306. The original Norman castle consisted of timber walls on top of earthworks and was rebuilt in stone by Roger Mortimer.

The castle is made up of 3 parts.

  1. The Outer Bailey which would probably have contained stables and storage buildings such as granaries.
  2. The Inner Bailey surrounded by a deep double ditch and walls was the main residential area of the castle
  3. Above this a Shell Keep with very thick walls and a tower was sited on top of a motte.

Nearby were deer parks, fishponds, a dovecote and rabbit warren to provide fish and meat for the castle inhabitants.

Land in the valley was farmed and Wigmore Abbey (privately owned and not open to the public today) was founded where several members of the Mortimer family were buried.

When English Heritage conserved the site in the 1990's they decided to retain the wildness of the site.  The castle had rare species such as Lesser Horseshoe Bat and unusual wild flowers, for example, Ploughman's Spikenard.  Debris that had accumulated was left where it was.   The Shell Keep can't be accessed at the moment and English Heritage is hoping to repair the steps.

The footpath to the castle was lined with frothing cow parsley and wild flowers such as germander speedwell.

First view of the castle with the shell keep high on the motte.

You gain entrance through the 14th century gatehouse - only the upper part is visible today with the rest buried between centuries of accumulated rubble and soil. Also to be seen are some of the preserved sections of the curtain wall.

Below the keep can be seen what remains of the Great Hall - just part of one wall are still visible.

The views are stunning.

The South Tower contains two chambers in the Inner Bailey which would have been used by guests.  There are 14th century ogee headed windows, signs of window seats and a fireplace.

I spotted a fledgling Great Tit in the undergrowth and, after taking a few quick photos, I left it in peace and an adult flew down to feed it.

Plants in Walls

Great Spotted Woodpecker in trees just below one of the towers.

Bracket Fungi

Following in the Footsteps of the Mortimers

Mortimer Connections

  • Wigmore is the starting point of much of the history of the Mortimers in the Welsh Marches and England.
  • Wigmore was given to Ralph I Mortimer c 1075 and it became the Mortimers main residence held as tenants in chief directly from the king.
  • It is one of the few Herefordshire boroughs mentioned in the Domesday Book.
  • Over the following two centuries Mortimer descendants rebuilt the castle, making it larger and strengthening the fortifications etc. This work was done mainly by Roger III in 1262 and Roger IV in the 1320's.
  • Wars and battles were fought around the castle for over 200 years and on occasion it was besieged.
  • Roger IV Mortimer, due to the increased wealth of the Mortimers and the final conquest of Wales, rebuilt the castle into a palatial residence. In 1329 he held a great feast and tournament where his son called him "the King of Folly" for behaving like royalty.
  • Archaeological excavations 1996-98 revealed that in the 14th century Wigmore Castle had glazed windows and the floors were laid with glazed tiles decorated with Mortimer motifs.  It was also a military fortress as arrowheads and pieces of armour were found.
  • During the 14th century Wigmore was still important as a Mortimer residence but the family also lived at Ludlow Castle which they had acquired in 1308.
  • Wigmore finally declined in the early 15th century when Ludlow became the favourite residence.
  • In 1601 the castle was bought by Thomas Harley of Brampton Bryan where he also had a residence.  During the Civil War they couldn't defend both Brampton Bryan and Wigmore so Lady Brilliana Harley ordered that Wigmore be partially destroyed.

I'll save until the next post a few photos of Wigmore village and a very brief visit to the church of St James.

I hope everyone is staying safe and well.

All photos taken by me with the Panasonic Lumix FZ330. D decided not to take his camera this time as he had many photos from the visit last year.

Reference: English Heritage Information Boards at the Castle
Pevsner "The Buildings of of England Herefordshire"
by A Brookes and N Pevsner Published 2017.
"On the Trail of the Mortimers" by Philip Hume, 2016, Logaston Press


Billy Blue Eyes said...

It reminds me of Wallingford Castle where there are very few parts let to see which I always thing is a shame. Cromwell really went to town on it, at least there is a little more of Wigmore to see. I don't mind woodpeckers in the wild its when they come into our garden and wreck my tit box that ticks me off. Nice shot of the fledgling

Rustic Pumpkin said...

The views are stunning! I suppose when it was built the landscape would have looked very different, probably thickly forested? The cow parsley lined path looks like walking through a tutu!
Glad Master Timothy seems to be behaving today.

Rustic Pumpkin said...

Did you add more overnight, or is my computer playing up? Only now just seeing the baby Blue Tit, the gorgeous bracket fungus, and that super shot of the woodpecker. Odd.

Ragged Robin said...

Billy Blue Eyes - thanks so much. It is terrible how many castles (and churches) were damaged in civil war but at Wigmore the ruins are really quite romantic. We have had problems with woodpeckers at home and had to put brass plates round the entrance hole. Unfortuantely they can sometimes attack wood elsewhere on the box.

Rustic Pumpkin - Thanks so much. Yes the views are stunning and there isn't a huge hill to walk up. Just a short steep bit at start and then sets of steps to get into castle. Hedgerows and verges look so beautiful at this time of the year. Timothy was good wasn't he!!!!! Although he did mutter something about wanting to go up to the keep which yoc an't atm!

No I haven't added anything since I first published it. I find blogger does sometimes play up and you can't see certain pictures not sure why :(

Bovey Belle said...

Wigmore is high on my places to visit. I'll get there soon but sadly K won't be able to manage it so I'll have to take lots of photos.

Love the Wallflowers and Corydalis growing out of the walls and that froth of Cow Parsley too.

Definitely the top Mortimer stronghold in these parts.

Ragged Robin said...

Bovey Belle - Its super there it really is - so atmospheric and romantic. Last visit we parked in village hall car park there are supposed to be toilets alawys open there but note they were shut when we went :( Not the place for someone with mobility problems as lots of steps and paths are uneven. I had to be carefully descending from one area due to my wonky kneews.

I think they delibrately soft capped walls to protect them - English Heritage that is.

I was there on my own for ages as no other visitors and OH and son had disappeared so I just sat on a wall and imagined what is was like in the times of the Mortimers :) It must be in my top 10 of favourite places.

CherryPie said...

It looks so different in the sunshine. I love your little fledgling it reminds me of the Robin that followed us around when we visited.

Ragged Robin said...

CherryPie - Thank you. Last time we were there we saw flocks of Redwings. A truly magical place.