Castles · England · Travel

8 Castles of Staffordshire

Staffordshire might not be the first place you think of when it comes to castles, but there are certainly enough to keep you busy for a few days.

Having lived in Staffordshire for most of my life, it’s crazy to me to think that I would normally travel hours to explore historic places, but Staffordshire does have a few hidden gems and there is certainly plenty for people who love history to have a good time!

Sure, they won’t be as big as Caernarfon castle in Wales or as impressive as some others, but I’ve visited/seen all and have found them and their history to be absolutely fascinating, and well worth a look into. Some of these castles are private, but if you get your timing right you use to be able to visit them on a private tour – but this is something which might have changed in the last few years.

Either way, even if you are still doubting about visiting Staffordshire, you really should come visit one day. This scenic landlocked county is one that is filled with green, leafy landscapes and sleepy villages and market towns. It’s full of natural scenery, and obviously a series of historic castles, making this a brilliant place to go for a day trip!

Here are the best castles in Staffordshire!

1. Alton Castle

Alton Castle is a Gothic-revival castle, on a hill above the Churnet Valley, in the village of Alton, Staffordshire, England. The site has been fortified since Saxon times, with the original castle dating from the 12th century! Originally the stone castle was founded by Bertram III de Verdun, though later it was reconstructed in the 15th century to suit military needs, so it’s not quite the same but still impressive!

You might have heard of this castle under a different name though, it is also known as Alverton Castle or Aulton Castle (but these are obviously the same castle).

Over the centuries, the castle took on a more Gothic architectural style, particularly during the 19th century, where the  famous Catholic architect, Augustus Pugin undertook the challenge of renovation and clearly did a very good job! He did this as the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury wanted it as his own country house in 1852.

There was actually a school on site at this time, but it was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy in 1855 and the presbytery became their convent. The castle remained a private residence until 1919 when the Sisters of Mercy brought it to extend their boarding school. The school closed in 1989 and the castle was left empty until the Archdiocese of Birmingham purchased the building in 1995 and opened it as a Catholic Youth Retreat Centre in 1996.

Where: Alton
When: 12th century
Open for visit: No, check here for information

2. Caverswall Castle

This is somewhere I would love to explore, but haven’t had the opportunity to since this is a private castle. From the photos I’ve looked at it’s clearly a stunning Grade I-listed building that dates back almost 800 years! It really is a fairytale castle with its very own moat and dungeons, it’s just a shame that we can’t explore it.

It was built in the late 13th century on the site of the Anglo-Saxon manor and is one of the few remaining castles in England that is surrounded by a moat, so I really hope that this is a castle that we can look after properly, it would be a shame if something happened.

It was once the home to the Wedgwood family, boasting 18 bedrooms, 9 reception rooms, 13 bathrooms, a library, billiard room and even a dungeon all set within 20 acres of land. It was sold though for an undisclosed fee having been on the market for years (as confirmed by the estate agent Jackson-Steps).

We do know that it was previously owned by controversial property tycoon Robin MacDonald who purchased the castle for £1.7 million in 2006 and it was put on the market for 5 million in 2016, but who knows what it sold for in April 2021.

Where: Caverswall
When: 13th century
Open for visit: No

3. Chartley Castle

This castle use to open once a year, but I think since the last visit people were noisy and basically not on their best behaviour the person who owns this castle has decided not to open it to the public since. Which is a shame, as I would love to visit this one. I’ve passed it several times going up towards Uttoxeter and I’ve always been fascinated.

It really is a beautiful castle, but unfortunately there is no public access and I do respect the private owner’s decision to do so. But even so, from afar, you can still tell that Chartley has large scale ruins and certainly an interesting past! It was briefly a place of imprisonment for Mary, Queen of Scots and I love that connection, knowing that a Queen was present hundreds of years ago (even if the circumstances were dire as it was last stop before her execution).

You can view this castle from the A518, but be warned this road is busy and there is normally several lorries that drive past so it’s not ideal and you can only see the ruins from afar. But I think because of the history of this castle you should definitely drive near it!

To give you a brief idea of what the castle looks like since we can only see if from afar and from pictures. The motte and bailey castle is in ruins, but substantial remains stand including an unusual cylindrical keep, a curtain wall flanked by two D-shaped towers, a twin-towered gatehouse and an angled tower.

Where: Near Stowe-by-Chartley
When: 12th century
Open for visit: No, guided tour might be available once a year if lucky

4. Eccleshall Castle

Eccleshall castle might not be the most exciting castle to visit, but it certainly has an interesting history. Although it was built in the 13th century, it wasn’t until the War of the Roses, when Margaret of Anjou, Queen consort of Henry VI took refuge within the castle after the Battle of Blore Heath in 1459.

In June 1643 the castle was besieged by Sir William Brereton and his Parliamentary forces encamped around the church. Their guns caused considerable damage to the walls but the castle held out, with Bishop Robert Wright sheltering within. When the Parliamentary forces finally took the castle on August 30 they found that the bishop had died of a heart attack during the siege and most of the defenders were either drunk or had gone into town drinking in the taverns.

The castle was slighted to prevent future use as a stronghold but enough of the building, including an unusual nine-sided tower, together with the moat walls and medieval bridge, remained to be used as a prison for Royalist gentry. The castle and its grounds were confiscated and sold, but bought back again by the diocese.

Although the castle is closed to the public (and there’s not really much of it left as there is now a house there), the gardens do occasional open to raise money for local Eccleshall charities as well as for the occasional wedding – so if you get your timing right you might be able to get a sneak peak!

Where: Eccleshall
When: 13th century
Open for visit: No, but the gardens do open occasionally

5. Stafford Castle

Finally! A castle on the list that you can actually visit without any real issues!

This is an ancient fortress that is situated in the heart of the town of Stafford in Staffordshire. It has a rich, fascinating and magically history that has kept people coming back to explore this castle.

The origins of the castle date bate to 1070s, where a wooden castle was constructed by Robert de Stafford, who was a Norman magnate. But by the 15th century, the castle had been completely modernised and was entirely in stone – it was resided in numerous royals and nobles and was central to several historic battles.

Unfortunately, by the 18th century the castle fell into ruin, although it was partially rebuilt in 1813 in the Gothic Revival style. Rebuilt by the Jerningham family in the early 19th Century using the same foundations the keep was again a magnificent four storey structure. However, given over to caretakers and then abandoned again in the 1950s it became derelict once more.

Now the castle is open to the public and it gives visitors a fascinating insight into the 900 years of history of this important site! Be warned there is a steep climb up to the castle from the car park, but if you walk around the grounds you can have a much more gentler climb up the castle – and it’s good to walk around the grounds as well because you can read several signs detailing the history of the castle.

There’s also a museum on site, so it really is a perfect spot to explore for families with young children interested in history. The site itself extends to over 26 acres and consists of Keep, inner bailey, outer bailey, woodland, herb garden, visitor centre and car park. The Keep is open to the public during Visitor Centre opening hours.

Where: Stafford
When: 13th century
Open for visit: Yes, grounds are open all year round, but please check the opening hours for inside the keep

6. Stourton Castle

This castle is also known as the lost castle! It would have been huge and must have looked a bit like Lacock Abbey, but it’s gone, apparently without a trace. So why have I included this castle in this list, because it really is one that shouldn’t be missed, the rise and fall of the Stourton family who once called Stourton Castle home really are interesting, plus it’s also interesting learning about the National Trust’s efforts to locate the lost castle!

The estate dates back to the 12th century, when Stourton was a royal hunting lodge. The surviving records trace the family back to the 12th century, but the Stourton’s emerge as lords of the manor in the 13th century documents. During the 14th and 15th centuries, the family did very well and built up cash reserves through good marriages and military service in France.

All was looking well until the 16th/17th century.

In the early 16th century, William Lord Stourton was working for Henry VIII in France and left the care of his estate to his trusted steward, William Hartgill, who also looked after Lord Stourton’s wife Elizabeth.

When Lord Stourton died in 1548, his son, Charles, inherited the estate. He rode with a band of henchmen to Kilmington near Stourton and found his mother living at Hartgill’s house. A feud grew up between the men and eventually in 1557 Lord Stourton kidnapped William and his son John, murdered them and buried their bodies in a cellar within the Castle.

He believed he could get away with the murders, but when the castle was searched, the bodies were found, and Charles was arrested, convicted and executed in Salisbury. His wife left alone and forced to pay for her husband’s property which had been forfeited to the Crown following the trial. It’s safe to say that from this moment, the family fortune declined and things were not going well.

A really interesting history really, although very morbid. But it’s a shame that there is no castle to look at now. Despite the National Trust first thinking that it would be simple to locate this castle, as an 1880s map marks a cross about 100m east of Stourhead house with the legend ‘site of Stourton Castle’. Despite searching, nothing has been found… You can find out more about locating Stourton Castle here.

Where: Stourton
When: 12th century
Open for visit: No

7. Tamworth Castle

This is a castle that dates back to the 1080s, during the aftermath of the Norman Conquest of England; it originally functioned as the residence of the Mercian Kings during the Anglo-Saxon era, though during the Viking invasions that followed, it fell into disrepair and was abandoned.

It was later refortified by the Normans, at which it was enlarged and modernized and it is certainly an impressive castle. Not just because of its history, but because it is famous for being one of the most well-preserved historic motte and bailey castles in the country!

It is a Grade I-listed building, that overlooks the River Anker into the Tame in the town of Tamworth. Interestingly though, if we went back to 1889, this castle might not have made the list though, as boundaries were changed in this year, and the castle was within the edge of Warwickshire (whilst the town belonged to Staffordshire)!

Where: Tamworth
When: 11th century
Open for visit: Yes

8. Tutbury Castle

Another one that you can actually visit!

It is a largely ruined medieval castle at Tutbury, in the ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. and has had some very famous people staying here! You’ve got Eleanor of Aquitaine and Mary, Queen of Scots, who was a prisoner there (poor Mary really, as she was help prisoner here on four occasions)!

This castle was occupied since the Stone Age, and the castle was first recorded in 1071 as one of the new castles built to stamp the authority of the Norman conquerors across the Midlands. Since then, the castle has played an important part in English history on many occasions, in warfare and in peace.

Seat of the de Ferrers family and later of the earls and dukes of Lancaster, Tutbury was also one of the great centres of power in medieval England. It was visited by many English kings, and home to the great John of Gaunt, 2nd Duke of Lancaster, who established a great annual feast. This tradition lasted for hundreds of years.

It also had its bloodier side, as it was besieged, destroyed and rebuilt several times. It was destroyed for the last time by Act of Parliament in 1647-48, after holding out for Charles I in the Civil War. The destruction was incomplete, leaving the dramatic ruins that we see today, and the castle has never been completely abandoned.

Since 2000, the castle has taken on a new life, welcoming thousands of visitors every year. With historical re-enactment, archaeological excavation, an authentic Tudor garden and mediaeval herbery, the ‘haunted’ Great Hall and King’s Bedroom, and of course the tearoom, there’s something for everyone

Where: Tutbury
When: 11th century
Open for visit: Yes

So there you have it! Eight castles in Staffordshire which are absolutely fascinating. Although you can’t explore all them, it’s great knowing that Staffordshire really does have a history, and it’s not something to miss! People often go straight to Wales for castles, but really, they need to come to Staffordshire, just once, to enjoy the history of this place!

Have you been lucky enough to visit any of these castles?

5 thoughts on “8 Castles of Staffordshire

  1. What a fantastic post, I’ve visited a few of these castles before, I can’t believe that Tamworth Castle is situated on the edge of two county borders. I can’t wait to see what your next post is going to be, I would love to see what castles there are in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A lot of people don’t realise how many there are in Stafford – I did a poll on my Instagram and nearly 60 people said they were surprised that Staffordshire had 8 castles! Stafford is definitely a good one to explore though, always good to return as well 😀

      Like

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