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‘It is impossible to contemplate the massive ruins of Wigmore Castle, situate on a hill, in an amphitheatre of hills, whence its owner could survey his vast estates from his square palace, with four corner towers on a keep, at the south-east corner of his double trench’d outworks, without reflecting on the instability of the grandeur of a family, whose ambition and intrigue made more than one English Monarch uneasy on his throne, yet not a memorial remains of their sepultures (burials).’

Richard Gough 1789, English antiquarian (1735 – 1809)

William Fitz Osbern, ordered by William the Conqueror to defend the Marches, chose Wigmore as the site for the largest and most powerful of the Marcher Castles from whence the Normans controlled the region. Throughout the middle ages, the Mortimers strengthened the castle and turned it into a palace and their power base.  Roger Mortimer held a three day Round Table here in 1329, entertaining Queen Isabella (wife of Edward II) and her son, the young King Edward III, with jousts and feasting. Roger entered the lists as King Arthur. The castle was full of treasures and sumptuous as befitted a palace used to entertain royalty.

Queen Isabella and Roger Mortimer with their army at Hereford. Note Hugh Dispenser being executed (in a very nasty way) in the background.  Illustration © British Library Board 083828 Jean de Wavrin Chroniques d’Anglerre.

In 1601 Queen Elizabeth I sold the castle to Thomas Harley of Brampton Bryan. In 1643 Lady Brilliana Harley, wife of Sir Robert Harley, a Puritan and Thomas’ son, slighted the castle to prevent Royalists from occupying it against her. 

Over the centuries Wigmore castle gradually fell into decay and ruin. Wigmore castle and the church of St James the Apostle hold within their stones echoes from a past that shaped the future of this great nation. They remain buildings of national importance.

By the time English Heritage began their innovative restoration and conservation project at the end of the 20th century, the castle was falling apart and was completely buried in trees and undergrowth.

The objective was to stabilise the ruins using ‘soft capping’ where rare grasses and vetches were removed from the walls, grown on and then replaced when the walls were finished. Their declared intent was to create a 'Romantic Ruin' – and that is exactly what they left to the village and the country.

“Having visited the castle with my Commissioners we decided to save it and to adopt an entirely new approach to its conservation and presentation. We would consolidate the ruins so that the castle would remain a romantic ruin forever. Once again we have fulfilled our promise and as a result Wigmore Castle’s spectacular ruins will continue to dominate their wild and windswept hilltop for many generations to come. The fragile ecology of the site, with species of plants and animals little changed since the early 1700’s, has been left intact. Likewise, much of the castle’s past lies buried, 8 metres deep beneath the surface – a time capsule and one of the most important archaeological sites in England, undisturbed.” English Heritage 1999

As you wander around the castle ruins today you can feel what an impressive fortified palace this once was. You can understand what the stunning far reaching views meant in strategic terms to the original architects and you cannot help but feel admiration for the men who built this massive stone castle using the most basic medieval tools.

Model of Wigmore Castle, Ludlow Museum: Green Lane derivative work:

Further detail can be seen on the English Heritage site http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/wigmore-castle/ and details of the findings of the 1996 - 1998 excavations can be read in Wigmore Castle Excavations from The Society for Medieval Archaelogy Monograph 34 available from Oxbow Books. http://www.oxbowbooks.com/oxbow/wigmore-castle-north-herefordshire.html

Wigmore Centre – Living History

The Wigmore Centre CIC has been supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Thanks to National Lottery players, we have been able to commence the development phase of the transformation of St James’ Church into an Interpretive, Heritage and Community Centre.

©The Wigmore Centre CIC 2017