The remains of Bridgnorth Castle are set on a cliff by the side of the River Severn. Today the castle is little more than a ruin, comprising of a 70 foot tall, 12th century Norman tower and some other small stonework built in the time of Henry II.
The tower leans at an alarming angle of 15 degrees, three times greater than that of the leaning tower of Pisa. This is due to an attempt to blow it up during the Civil War.
The castle was founded in 1101 by Robert de Belleme, who is reputed to have been a very nasty character. He tortured men and women and even is reported to have gouged his godson’s eyes out with his bare fingernails. He was the son of the French Earl, Roger de Montgomery, and was also a rich and powerful Norman baron who succeeded his father to become the Earl of Shrewsbury.
Belleme let his people build their own houses in the outer bailey of the castle, the evidence of which can still be seen in Bridgnorth’s East and West Castle Streets.
Belleme supported the Duke of Normandy in his attempts to depose King Henry I and take the throne of England.
During the Civil war, Bridgnorth was one of the Midlands main Royalist strongholds, and was an obvious target for attack by Parliamentarians. In 1102, the Royalists constructed a large earthwork on the south-west side of the Severn Valley, from which they could fire catapults into the castle.
Following a three week siege the commander in charge of the castle surrendered to the Royalists who then deported Robert de Belleme back to France. After this the castle became the property of the crown, and subsequently passed through many different hands, resulting in it deteriorating into a very poor state.
By the 14th century the castle had lost most of its strategic importance and with the onset of the Black Death in Britain the castle was largely forgotten. By the 15th and 16th centuries the castle had fallen into a ruined state.
By 1642 many Royalist troops were garrisoned there. By 1646 Cromwell’s roundheads arrived with orders to take Bridgnorth for the Parliamentarians.
The Royalist troops retreated to the castle and set fire the houses in Bridgnorth High Street in the hope it would hinder the progress of the roundheads. The fire spread quickly to the surrounding buildings and eventually took St Leonard’s Church which was being used as Cromwell’s gunpowder store.
The engulfing explosion reduced most of Bridgnorth’s High Town to burnt cinders. On the 26th April 1646 the town was surrendered to Parliament.
Cromwell ordered that the castle be demolished and by 1647 it was left as a few remnants of the structure that had once stood there. The Parliamentarians left it much as it is today, the stone from the castle taken and used to repair the towns damaged buildings.