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Old Wardour Castle

Visited July 2011

Location Tisbury, Wiltshire
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby    Tisbury, 2 1/2 miles, no taxi rank
Parking Yes
Facilities Toilets, Shop, Picnic tables







We were relieved to arrive in one piece after the journey along some very  narrow country roads, but once we caught sight of the castle it seemed worth the effort, as Old Wardour is certainly the crowning glory of Wiltshire castles.


The castle was built by John, Fifth Lord Lovell, which was quite exciting for me as Lovell is the name of several of my ancestors, and my Auntie always believed they were descended from nobility. This is more than likely wishful thinking on her part, but it was fun to walk around the castle imagining it was our family pile. Anyway, the castle was confiscated after the Lovells backed the losing side during Richard III v Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field , (sort of thing my family would do actually, maybe my Auntie is right!!!) It ended up in the possession of the Arundell Family, who owned large areas of land in Wiltshire.


The Arundells undertook major work to the castle showcasing their wealth by enhancing the building with stylish alterations which were the fashion of the time. The doorway to the great staircase, still beautifully preserved today, was an Arundell addition.


Originally the castle was strongly fortified, in the middle of Wiltshire the main worry would have been of a peasants revolt rather than attacking army, but by the Elizabethan times the need for such fortification was reduced. At this time the narrow arrow slits were replaced with the large windows to let in more light. The portcullis was also removed. A grotto was later built in the garden where the gatehouse once stood.






Given that the fortifications were altered as the threat of attack reduced, it is ironic that the castle saw its main period of military activity during the civil war, when the extra fortifications would have come in handy. The Arundells were staunch Royalists, and when the Parliamentarians came to Wardour the castle held out for a week under Lady Blanche Arundell, and a household staff made up mainly of women.  A small explosion of gunpowder was enough to scare the household garrison though and the  castle surrendered in May 1643.


The counter siege by Lord Arundell to gain back control of the castle began in December 1643, and  was the real cause of all the damage. Gunpowder was again used, this time to try to force the Roundheads into surrender- the plan was to merely frighten them, but a stray spark ignited a huge barrel of gunpowder under one of the towers and the whole back of the castle was blown away. This was much to the shock of Edmund Ludlow, the leader of the Roundheads, who was in bed at the time and woke up to find half of his bed chamber blown away and literally open to the enemy troops below. It sounds a bit like a comedy of errors - Honey I Blew up the Castle- but it had serious consequences for Wardour as it was deemed irreparable. The Arundell family, having re-gained the castle, had to then abandon it  once again.


Eventually they built a new house nearby- New Wardour Castle, and Old Wardour became a folly in their garden. The land around the castle  was landscaped by Capability Brown, the grotto & stone circle were built (the stone mason actually plundered a genuine prehistoric stone circle nearby and brought it back to Wardour as a garden folly- unimaginable today, but no one seemed to care at the time!!!)  A banqueting house was also added for the use of the family, and all these still remain to make up the site of the castle today as we see it today.


It may not be the biggest castle in the world, but if you compare the reasonably intact front of the castle, with the completely blown away back, it is certainly one of the most contrasting castles!!! There is a fair portion of the interior which is still intact, including the great staircase leading up to the magnificent great hall. From the tower you can look down and get a sense of the unusual hexagonal design, thought to have been inspired by a French chateau.





The beauty of the castle and the surrounding landscape and the peace and quiet of being in a remote location are the main draw of this site. The main drawback is the access roads, but we did find they seemed much worse going there than coming back. The more familiar you are with the passing places the better I guess.


The facilities consist of toilets and an English Heritage shop. There are ice creams on sale and we saw a coffee machine, but there is no actual cafe so bring your own food. There are picnic tables or else plenty of space in the grounds to put down a picnic rug. The grotto is charming, and see if you can find the stone circle- it is not initially obvious and takes a bit of finding. Good luck!!!





More info:  English Heritage Old Wardour

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