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Whittington Castle was a motte-and-bailey fortification built no later than the twelfth century amongst the earthworks of an Iron Age defended farmstead. It was transformed into an enclosure castle in the thirteenth century and later successfully withstood an attack by Owain Glyndŵr. The structure was ruined during the Civil War and never rebuilt.
Iron Age Fortified Farmstead
Whittington is located near the River Perry, an important waterway that served as the link between Shrewsbury and the northern Welsh Marches, and was also near overland routes to Wrexham, Oswestry and Whitchurch. Its nodal position saw a settlement emerge during prehistory and it was first fortified during the Iron Age when a defended farmstead was established. This was protected on the south and west sides by deep ditches and a timber palisade whilst on the east there were water filled ditches and pools fed from natural springs. No man-made defences were needed on the north where there was an extended area of marshy ground. Archaeological evidence has found that the site was occupied by a number of round houses, each of which was probably occupied by a family group. The site continued in occupation throughout the Dark Ages and into the early medieval period. By the time of King Offa of Mercia (AD 757 to 796), the site was in Crown ownership.
The First Castle
Whittington was still in Royal ownership at the time of the Norman Conquest, by which time it had evolved into a large and valuable manor. However, in 1067 William I created three Earldoms - Hereford, Shrewsbury and Chester - which were granted to magnates who would be responsible for containing the Welsh. Whittington formed part of a package of lands given to Roger de Montgomery who was created Earl of Shrewsbury. It is uncertain if he raised a fortification on the site at this time. When Roger died, his title and estates passed to his sons, first Hugh and then Robert of Bellême. The latter opposed the accession of Henry I but in 1102 he was forced to capitulate and thereafter went into exile. Whittington was then granted by Henry I to William Peverel. It was in 1138, during William's tenure, that Whittington Castle first appears in the historical record. At this time England was on the verge of descending into civil war as two rival claimants for the throne - Stephen and Matilda - vied for power. William supported Matilda and it is probable he raised (or rebuilt) Whittington Castle as part of his preparations for the upcoming conflict.
William's castle was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. The motte was topped with a timber tower and surrounded by a ditch. Extending to the north and west was the bailey and this would have hosted the ancillary buildings such as the Great Hall, stables, brewhouse, bakehouse and storerooms. An Outer Bailey was located further to the north and an additional enclosure to the north-west may also have been a bailey; both of these were probably used for livestock. The site was protected by a series of water filled moats, the earthworks of the Iron Age fortifications and the extensive marshland to the north. Within a few years, rebuilding in stone commenced starting with the Great Keep which was raised on top of the castle's motte. It is not certain if the Keep was ever completed.
In 1140 Whittington was ceded to the Welsh but was in the hands of Henry II by 1160. In 1164 he granted it to Geoffrey de Vere and it later passed to Roger de Powys. The King granted him financial aid in 1173 to help enhance the castle's fortifications. It passed from Roger to Fulk Fitz Warine in 1204 who made numerous upgrades possibly prompted by his rebellion against King John in 1215. When that King died the following year, Fulk made his peace with Henry III and sought a licence to crenellate at Whittington. This was granted in 1221 albeit with the caveat that modifications should be "only as much as was essential to fortify it against the Welsh". The twin-tower Gatehouse into the bailey was the main structure built at this time.
Whittington Castle was attacked by the Welsh in 1223 and seemingly suffered damage. In the years that followed, the facility was remodelled into an enclosure castle. A stone curtain wall was constructed around the base of the motte and the ground within was heightened to create a flat platform. A twin towered gatehouse and a further three towers strengthened the defences of this new Inner Ward and also provided extra accommodation. A Great Hall was constructed in the eastern portion of the courtyard. The Inner Bailey of the original twelfth century castle was modified to become an Outer Ward. The gatehouse, built by Fitz Warine, was retained as the entrance into this part of the fortification. The Outer and Inner Wards were connected via a long barbican.
Henry III ceded control of Whittington to Llywelyn ap Grufford, Prince of Wales in 1265 as part of the Treaty of Montgomery. It remained in Welsh hands until 1276 when it was recovered by the English Crown during the First War of Welsh Independence. In 1282 Edward I restored it to the Fitz Warine family and they continued to hold it into the fifteenth century. It was during their tenure that the castle may have had a link with Dick Whittington, Lord Mayor of London. He lived from circa-1350 to 1423 and was a younger son of Sir William Whittington, who owned landed in Gloucestershire. However, it is possible Dick lived at Whittington and travelled from the castle to London to seek his fortune.
In 1404 Whittington was attacked by the forces of Owain Glyndŵr. Whilst the castle survived the assault, the manor itself was economically ruined. The male line of the Fitz Warines ended in 1420 and subsequent owners were unable or unwilling to commit the resources to restore the manor. This rendered the castle superfluous and it drifted into ruin. Both castle and manor passed into Crown control in 1545. It was granted to Henry, Earl of Arundel by Mary I but he had little use for it and in 1562 he mortgaged it to a number of London traders. A timber-framed cottage, built behind the Outer Ward gatehouse, was built at this time.
Whittington Castle passed to the Lloyd family in 1638 whose descendants retain legal possession today. This family, who were major landowners, supported the Royalist cause during the Civil War resulting in Whittington Castle being attacked by Parliamentary forces in 1643. The damage was extensive and the castle was never rebuilt. In the mid-eighteenth century extensive material was removed from the site to support renovation of the Whittington to Halston road. However, by the late eighteenth century an ornamental garden was laid out around the castle ruins and the (Outer) Gatehouse was restored into a habitable residence.
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Whittington Castle is a well preserved example of an enclosure fortification alongside a thirteenth century gatehouse. Earthworks ranging from the Iron Age through to the eighteenth century landscaping are also visible. Although the site is privately owned, there is public access to the ruins.
Whittington Castle Layout. Iron Age earthworks, thirteenth century rebuilding and eighteenth century landscaping have created a confused picture of the layout of the various fortifications. The first castle, built in the twelfth century, was a motte fortification and the mound itself seems to have been located under the Inner Ward. A crescent shaped bailey extended to the north and west of this castle. When it was rebuilt in the 1220s, the motte became the Inner Ward and the bailey was reduced in size and became the Outer Ward. Both castles had an Outer Bailey to the north. The entire site was surrounded by water filled ditches.
Whittington Castle. The castle as viewed from the main road. The Outer Ward Gatehouse is to the right, the Inner Ward (enclosure castle) to the left. The castle was surrounded by substantial water features that were fed by natural springs. The water provided a defensive function, by filling moats that surrounded the components of the fortification, and also met domestic requirements including provided a source of fresh water, a means of waste removal and a rearing ground for fish and eels.
Outer Ward Gatehouse. The Outer Ward Gatehouse was built by Fulk Fitz Warine under a licence to crenellate granted in 1221. The structure was modified in the eighteenth century and the stone bridge was added at this time. The cottage to the rear of the gatehouse was added in the sixteenth century.
Outer Ward Defences. The Outer Ward was defended by a curtain wall on the northern side that was probably built over the rampart of the Inner Bailey of the twelfth century castle. The curtain wall was augmented by at least two semi-circular towers.
Garden Mound. The mound to the west of the enclosure castle was a viewing platform for the eighteenth century garden. It is unlikely it was a wholly new creation and was probably crafted from existing earthworks associated with the twelfth century castle's Inner Bailey.
Inner Ward. Following an attack by Welsh forces in 1223, Whittington Castle was substantially rebuilt. A stone curtain wall, augmented with three towers and a double-drum gatehouse, was built around the base of the motte and the ground level within raised to create a flat platform. This became the Inner Ward and hosted the Keep and Great Hall.
Keep. The rectangular Keep was started during the early stages of the Anarchy, the civil war between Stephen and Matilda, and may never have been fully completed. It originally sat on top of the motte but, during the thirteenth century rebuilding, that earthwork was morphed into the Inner Ward.
Inner Ward Gatehouse. The gatehouse into the Inner Ward was originally a double drum structure. Only part of one tower still survives.