Whittington Castle is a “chocolate-box” ruin complete with a bridge, gatehouse, heavy wooden entry door, towers and water frontage.
In 2007 a major restoration of the castle was completed, including the provision of a new tea-room and improved visitor access. See www.whittingtoncastle.co.uk for the latest information.
Whittington is an unusual borderland castle in that it does not stand on high ground; in fact, it’s quite the reverse as it sits on lowlands. In its day it had defences in the form of ditches, spring-fed moats, and marshy bogs and succeeded quite well in defending any attacks.
The present day castle was built in 1221 by Fulk Fitz Warine during the reign of King Henry III. The site had earlier fortifications starting about 843. The first real printed mention of the castle is 1138.
The castle passed through many owners before the FitzWarins. Two years after Fulk Fitz Warine built the castle it was destroyed by the Welsh (1223). The castle was rebuilt and again in 1259, it was found having to defend the Marches from Llewelyn who captured it for a short time before he surrendered it and went back to Wales. The 1200’s were a time of constant fighting and defending. Lots of the attacks were more like raids rather than real wars with their main purpose being to collect supplies and run.
The 14c was a more relaxed period in the castle’s history and it was during this rest period that the castle was “remodelled”, gardens added and water courses rerouted. The green space began to have vegetables and herbs, fruit trees and quiet places to sit. If you get a map of the area you will still be able to find the garden area north west of the castle ruins. When you walk about the site, note that the garden was surrounded by water which is a common feature in medieval gardens.
The FitzWarine title remained at the castle until 1654.
What makes Whittington so picturesque is that the gatehouse has a bridge that you can walk across to the entryway, perhaps stopping to look into the water and watch the various nesting waterfowl. The twin towers are still intact and there is a huge studded wooden door with a smaller door in the centre that you pass through into the inner bailey and castle grounds. What remains of the grounds is only a tiny portion of the entire estate which included Babbinswood where the castle got its supply of timber.
The outer bailey remains are accessible via a present day circular staircase. Once you reach the top, you can walk through a few rooms, look down a tower and are afforded a good view of the moat and some of the surrounding ditches. The ground is all different levels because they made use of watercourses as a means of protection and also for the castle’s private use. The castle also had a well located in the northwest corner of the courtyard and some evidence still remains.
If you are lucky, like I was, you will be able to gaze at the castle’s reflection in the water and imagine “The drawbridge - 42’ long and 6’ broad, crossing a moat 36’ broad with fair fresh water.” Knights and their horses were the form of transport and protection as the bridge was raised and lowered.
Archaeological finds from the site include armour, musket shot, swords, glass bottles, a carved stone head, assorted bones and a large jug which is on display at The Shrewsbury Museum & Art Gallery (Rowleys House).
The castle itself was of good size with 4 towers. The keep was thought to have been about 125 ft. in diameter and there were more levels than you can see today.
The gatehouse was renovated in the 1800’s but still retains the original 1200’s location and design.
In medieval times the town’s main presence consisted of the castle and the church and remains so today.
Because of the A5 bypass, fewer people are aware that the castle exists, but at one time because of its location on the Holyhead Road, people used to pass by and it was frequently painted. Joseph Turner is just one of the famous artists who have painted their impression of the site.
If you would like to walk around the grounds further and inspect the mounds, pool sites, stream and western defence ditches, there is access from the car park into the field and there is a footpath near the main entry to the drive by the Remembrance Gardens. This field still floods in inclement weather giving you an idea of the marshy protection it afforded the castle.
The Civil War was probably the castle’s last stand. As the structure started to tumble, people found uses for its stone and bits and pieces of its history went to parts unknown, some went into roadworks, other buildings etc.
Today Whittington Castle still retains the fairy tale image because it is one of the few castles that is protected by a trust created by the villagers who have chosen the task of loving and looking after it for at least the next 99 years.
For information about Whittington Castle Trust and the tremendous work in progress by the local people see www.whittingtoncastle.co.uk