A few weeks ago we spent a weekend in the lovely city of Hereford. As well as spending time visiting the beautiful cathedral and interesting shops we also took a trip by car to see an old favourite of ours.
Stokesay Castle is a medieval fortified manor house situated on the A49 between Hereford and Shrewsbury. It was originally built in the 1280’s and much of that first building phase has somehow survived.
Some additions and alterations were made in the 16th century, most notably the construction of an ornate gatehouse. The only other major change to the layout came during the civil war when the Parliamentarians demolished the curtain wall after the castle was surrendered to them.
Stokesay was built as a grand country residence by a powerful wool merchant named Richard of Ludlow, who was one of the richest people in England.
The great hall is the stand out feature of the castle and gives a powerful impression of how basic life in a medieval household must have been. We had last visited Stokesay about fifteen years before on a warm summer’s day. This time we came on a bleak freezing day in February and it really brought home how cold life was in large uninsulated buildings without glazing to keep the wind out.
Things became more civilized in the sixteenth century when a private room adjoining the great hall was converted into a solar, with glazed windows and wood panelled walls.
The building of the decorative gatehouse as part of the sixteenth century updating illustrates how life had become much less dangerous on the Welsh borders by this time. The gatehouse is very beautiful but looks slightly incongruous in the context of the other buildings. The missing outer castle wall adds to its sense of dislocation.
Today, Stokesay Castle is owned and maintained by English Heritage. In a world where heritage sites too often try to be entertaining, this old building that has survived so miraculously is presented to visitors with the minimum modern embellishment possible and that is very refreshing. If you are ever in that part of the world it is worth a visit.