29 November 2013

Astley Castle and the English Civil War

Astley Castle after Restoration
Astley Castle in Warwickshire. Photo: © RIBA

The 2013 RIBA Stirling Prize for Architecture was recently won by Astley Castle in Warwickshire.

In the publicity surrounding the prize a brief mention was given to its role as a Parliamentarian garrison in the 1640s. Here's a bit more about it's role during the conflict (video and map below) ...

Built in the 12th century as a fortified manor house, the castle was associated to three Queens of England through its ownership by the Grey family in the 15th and 16th centuries. Additions were made in the 17th and 19th centuries, and it laterley served as a hotel before being damaged by fire in 1978. After its prize-winning restoration by the Landmark Trust, Astley is now open as holiday accommodation.

Astley Castle prior to Restoration
Astley Castle prior to renovation. Photo: © Copyright Graham Burnett (CC BY-SA 2.0)

During the English Civil War Astley was one of a number small fortified houses or castles used by Roundhead forces in the West Midlands staffed by similarly small garrisons of around 250 men, including Tamworth Castle, Maxstoke Castle, and Edgbaston Hall

Ann Hughes (see further reading, below), notes that Warwickshire forces in the 1640s did not compete for supplies, as was seen elsewhere in the country, and had mostly harmoneous relationships both between one another and the local population from whom they collected levies: 94% of money owed was collected by Astley between February 1644 and June 1645, a similar figure to the other garrisons mentioned above.

Landmark Trust video telling the story of the castle and its restoration.

What distinguishes West Midlands Parliamentarian garrisons such as Astley is the degree to which their social composition was used in Royalist propoganda. Sources frequently refers to the non-gentle status of the officers leading rival garrisons in these 'rebel towns', damning them as rag-tag bands of cobblers and pedlars.

Thomas Hunt, governor of Astley and captain of dragoons, was described by the Royalist Mercurius Aulicus as a 'broken mercer'. His brother, Lieutenant Goodere Hunt, also served at Astley and attracted similar attention: an illiterate shoemaker before the war, he was subsequently prosecuted in 1647 for requisitioning a gentleman's horse.

Others from the region who were a thorn in the Royalists' side include John 'Tinker' Fox, governor of Edgbaston Hall who, besides having commited the crime of being low-born, was also one of many subsequently rumoured to have wielded the axe that severed the King's head (see the Andrew Hopper paper, below).

The castle from above (Gmaps image prior to renovation). View larger map

Hughes notes that Astley 'suffered' from its role in the conflict, though can't have been too badly damaged: in 1674 it was sold to the Newdigate family, who resided at the nearby Arbury Hall and made it their second home. The property remained in the family until the early 20th century.

If you want to visit Astley today a number of open days are planned, and there are footpaths around the wider site open every day, together with information boards describing its history.

As mentioned above, the castle's available for holiday rents, but if you fancy going you'll have to wait - it's fully booked (or so the website says) until 2016!

Further reading

A. Hughes, Politics, Society and Civil War in Warwickshire, 1620-1660 (2002)
A. Hopper, 'Tinker' Fox and the Politics of Garrison Warfare in the West Midlands 1643-50 (1999)


Astley Castle - Landmark Trust site
More photos of the restored property
The castle on Wikipedia

More articles on 17th century architecture

No comments:

Post a Comment