(Extract from W.S Atkins draft scoping study report commissioned by Whittington Castle Preservation Trust)
The broad outline of the site’s history is relatively well understood from the thirteenth century but the evidence for activity before this time is very sketchy. Despite the proximity of Oswestry hillfort and other prehistoric sites nearby, there is no evidence to suggest that the site of Whittington Castle was occupied in the prehistoric periods There are two references to a ‘castle’ at Whittington during the Anglo-Saxon period. In AD 785 (Gibson c1830, 8) and AD 893 (Shrop Mag 1953, 18), which may relate to a fortified site in Whittington township. Whittington was listed in the Domesday Book as Wititone. At this time the crown and included eight corn farms, a mill and extensive woods held it but there is no mention of a castle.
The earliest structure on the site is assumed to be a simple motte and bailey castle with timber palisade, as there may be a reference to a strong tower being built as the motte (S. Ray pers. comm. 1999). However, when the manor was confiscated by the king and granted to William Peverel of Dover there is no mention of a castle (Jackson 1988, 65). The first definite mention of a castle at Whittington is for the year 1138 when it was recorded that the castle was fortified against Stephen (Sykes 1902, 5-6). In 1173 Henry II granted aid to Roger de Powys for the repair of the castle (Jackson 1988, 65).
In 1204 King John granted the Fitz-Warins (or Fitz-Warines /Fitz-Warrens) and they held the lordship until the death of the 11th Lord in 1420 (Clark 1878, 193). The Fitz-Warins had substantial estates throughout England with land in several counties including Yorkshire, Lancashire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Gloucester and they also had a stone-walled castle at Alberbury which is 17km south of Whittington Castle (Eyton 1860a, 74-76 and Eyton 1860b, 40). Alberbury Castle is situated on nearly level ground with no signs of any defensive ditches. The castle design has similar features to Whittington Castle with a rectangular keep, probably built about 1205 to 1215 and a later bailey wall probably built about 1220 to 1230 (Salter 1988, 18).
A Licence to Crenellate was issued for Whittington Castle in 1221 (Jackson 1988, 65) and in 1222 the castle was repaired and fortified (Gibson xxxx,14) In 1223 the castle was besieged by the Welsh leader Llywelyn the Great (Jackson 1988, 65). In 1265 it was one of several border castles given to Llewelyn Prince of Wales but it was restored to the Fulk-Warins in 1282 (Sykes 1902, 11). In 1375 the castle was reported to be in great need of repair although the Welsh in 1405 then apparently unsuccessfully attacked it.
In 1638 the castle and lordship was acquired by marriage by the family of the Lloyds of Aston Hall which is situated 4km south of Whittington and this family has retained possession of the castle up to the present day. A plan and field schedule of Whittington township dated 1778 shows that in that year the Lloyds owned over 500 acres of land and were the largest landowner in the township. In 1643 the castle was attacked with cannon by the Parliamentarians during the Civil War. No restoration work was undertaken after this destruction and the inner bailey has been uninhabited ever since (Gibson c1830, 20).
In 1760 one of the eastern towers of the inner bailey collapsed after a severe frost (Sykes 1902, 14) and some years later one of the northern towers and the western wall were demolished to repair the highway (Sykes 1902, 14) from Whittington to Halston Bridge (CAA 1923, 412). The northern tower that now remains was also undermined for the same purpose (CAA 1923, 412).
In the late 18th century (Jackson 1988, 65) the castle site was laid out as a fancy garden with pebble-laid walks and various brick structures (Clark 1878, 191). In 1809 a small tower, used for many years as a pigeon house (CAA 1923, 412) was demolished and the stone used to repair the outer gatehouse towers (Acton 1868, 18).
A newspaper report dated 8th December 1841 describes the total destruction by fire of a range of farm buildings at Whittington castle. The range was described as forming two sides of a square and included wooden barns, stables and cow-houses. The newspaper report states that the wind carried the fire in the direction of the castle and several trees surrounding the ruins caught fire (Wattons 1, xxx). The 1874b map of the area shows only a small square building where the large L-shaped buildings had previously been sited.
In 1878 a report on the castle ruins stated that the eastern side of the walled area was covered by earth and thick vegetation and part of the inside of the walled area was laid out as a garden. The gatehouse was apparently more accessible as the same report stated that its southern tower was in good condition whereas the northern half is nearly all destroyed. The ruinous state of the castle appears to have continued as in 1820 a large maple tree was reported to have been growing within the central keep (OS Arch 1969, 1).
In the late 1960s the earth and vegetation covering the inner bailey were cleared. In 1973 the northern outer gatehouse and possibly other parts of the structure were repointed at the instigation of the then Department of the Environment (Shropshire Star Thursday 23rd August 1973,1).
There is a lot to interest the archaeologist on this site.
- The site covers 4.35ha and appears to contain all the remains of the medieval castle site.
- Three rows of outer ditches and platforms lie to the west and south, which defended the outer and inner wards or baileys. An area of marsh lies along the north edge of the site. Even today this area is often flooded and, as during the medieval period the site was probably bounded to the north and east by marsh, it seems likely that this area formed part of the original defences. There is a large outer bailey and the inner bailey consists of a rectangular raised platform, enclosed by a curtain wall with the remains of round towers at each corner and an additional tower, forming a gatehouse at the northwest angle. The footings and lower courses of at least two substantial buildings are preserved within the inner bailey. Although the curtain wall was reduced to its present height and much of the facing removed in antiquity most of the height and diameter of the east tower of the inner gatehouse survives. A doorway or postern with a four centred arch leads from the former moat to a small chamber set in the thickness of the wall on the east side of this tower.
- Much of the moat, surrounding the inner and part of the outer wards is infilled, and now survives as a lower grassed area but stretches of the moat survive as ponds along the eastern edge of the site. There are other earthworks on the site which are not well understood. An oval flat-topped mound, which may be the remains of an earlier motte or a prospect mount, lies to the west of the inner ward. A smaller mound lies opposite the entrance to the inner bailey, which may have supported a bridge to the inner gatehouse. It is possible, however that both mounds relate to landscaping works in the late eighteenth century, when part of the site was apparently laid out as a fancy garden. A rectangular depression at the north end of the western portion of the outer bailey has been described as a fishpond, although the antiquity of this feature is unknown.
- A stone bridge leads from Castle Street into the imposing outer gatehouse, consisting of two D-shaped or horeshoe towers, now infilled. Two further towers lie to the north west of the outer gatehouse, linked by curtain wall. The gatehouse, towers (save for the western tower) and curtain wall survive to their full height, apparently having been restored in the 1950s. A three bay timber framed cottage runs east west behind the north tower and an extension was added to the south gatehouse tower in the nineteenth century. A modern stone-faced lavatory block has been built between the west end of the cottages and the western round tower.