Looking for a different Holt Castle? Try Holt Castle (nr Wrexham)
Replacing a much earlier fortification that had previously occupied the same site, Holt Castle was built in the late fourteenth century in the form of a fortified manor house. Its owner was John Beauchamp, a favourite of Richard II, and Holt briefly became the caput of a short-lived barony. It later underwent significant modification and remains a private residence to this day.
Holt Castle was built by Urse d'Abitot, Sheriff of Worcester (who had previously built Worcester Castle). Its precise date of construction is unknown but it was in existence at the time of the Domesday Book (1086). Standing on the west bank of the River Severn, it would have ensured Norman control of that key artery through the Welsh Marches. How long this fortification remained in use for is uncertain but by the twelfth century it had been acquired by the Beauchamp family.
The Beauchamps rose in prominence becoming Earls of Warwick in the mid-thirteenth century. However, prior to their move east into Warwickshire, they dominated Worcestershire first from their base at Worcester Castle and later from Elmley Castle. Holt became a residence for a junior branch of the family prompting the castle to be rebuilt in the late fourteenth century by John Beauchamp. The centrepiece of the new castle was a four storey tower designed to act as an elaborate porch. This led into an L-plan structure consisting of the Great Hall and a combined service and residential wing. Aside from a moat, which surrounded the site, Holt had few defensive features and was intended to provide for comfortable living rather than defence. Interestingly contemporary residences at Dormston and Strensham were fortified suggesting the greatest threat in the area actually came from the Beauchamp family.
John Beauchamp was a favourite of Richard II (1377-99) and initially prospered during his reign. He was knighted in 1385 and two years later Holt Castle became the caput of the Lordship of Kidderminster, the first time a barony had been created without an associated gift of land. However, John lost everything (including his life) when the Lords Appellants took over Richard's Government in 1388. Although the King regained control and restored the estates and titles to John's son, the accession of Henry IV in 1399 saw them confiscated once again and the Lordship of Kidderminster permanently eliminated.
Holt Castle passed out of the hands of the Beauchamp family in 1420 when John Wysham took ownership. It passed by marriage to John Guise in 1472. His family held it until 1557 when it was sold to Sir John Bourn who in turn sold it to Thomas Fortescue in 1578. It then passed through marriage to the Bromley family who made extensive modifications to the site. In particular the rear of the Great Hall was extended to create a regular rectangular block and it was later divided into two floors. In 1760 the Bromley family sold the castle to Thomas Foley (later Earl of Dudley). Finally the residential wing was doubled in size in the nineteenth century. The castle remains in use as a private residence.
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Historic England (1951). Holt Castle Listing Number 1082922. Historic England/Ministry of Works, London.
King, C.D.J (1983). Castellarium anglicanum: an index and bibliography of the castles in England, Wales and the Islands. Kraus International Publications.
Oswald, A (1940). Holt Castle. Country Life Magazine.
Salter, M (2000). Castles of Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Folly Publications, Malvern.
Holt Castle remains a private residence with no public access but the structure can be viewed from the adjacent public road.
Tower. The four storey Tower dates from the reign of Richard II (1377-99). Its entrance gateway is original and would have led directly into the Great Hall. The large windows make it clear that this was a structure designed to impress rather than serve as a defensive fortification.
Holt Castle Layout. The castle was dominated by the entrance tower and this led into an L-plan structure. A southern wing (now demolished) may have been added in the fifteenth century. The hall was expanded in the seventeenth century to create a rectangular block and a final wing, to the north, was added in the mid-nineteenth century.
St Martins Church. The south chapel of Holt Church was contemporary with the fourteenth century rebuilding of the castle.