History of Stokesay Castle
Following the Norman conquest the settlement, originally known as 'Stoke', which means 'Dairy farm', became the property of the de Say family, from whom Stokesay takes its name. It remained their home until about 1240.
Although the lower two storeys in the North tower survive from this early era Stokesay Castle, as it stands now, is largely the work of Lawrence de Ludlow, who owned it between 1281 and 1296.
It is said that Lawrence bought the land for the price of a 'juvenile sparrow hawk'.
Lawrence was a self-made, wealthy wool merchant, so rich he is said to have lent money to the King and Marcher Lords. He was granted a licence from King Edward I to fortify his house at Stokesay and he set about turning the castle into a fine country residence. It was Lawrence who built the Great Hall, comfortable living quarters, South Tower and the crenulated curtain protective wall. The result was a large elegant residence, surrounded by a water-filled moat, now dry but that was originally fed from a nearby pool.
Despite Lawrence drowning in a shipwreck in 1294, Lawrence's descendents inhabited Stokesay for the next 300 years until 1497.
In 1598 Stokesay was sold to pay off debts, passing through a few owners, including the Craven family, until it was let to Charles Baldwyn, who in the 1630's was MP for Ludlow.
It is Baldwyn who is credited with building the timber-framed Jacobean gatehouse on the site of a medieval predecessor. The gatehouse remains today and acts as an entrance to the courtyard.
CIVIL WAR 1642-46
During the civil war many of Shropshire's castles were destroyed. It was 1645, when Shrewsbury had fallen to the Parliamentarians and an army was sent to seize Ludlow Castle, that Stokesay Castle was first threatened. On their way to Ludlow troops came across Stokesay; it had been garrisoned by the Royalists but surrendered to Cromwell's troops in 1645. The Royalist governor in charge of Stokesay Castle originally refused to surrender; however, before a single shot was fired he changed his mind.
Following this siege, Stokesay Castle was ordered to be 'slighted' or flattened. Whilst many other Shropshire castles including Bishops Castle and Bridgnorth were ruined as a result, their stones plundered and used elsewhere, Stokesay escaped this fate and by 1647 only the curtain wall had been demolished.
These events during the Civil War are the only recored military encounters at Stokesay, which the castle, of course, managed to survive.
The nearby church of St. John the Baptist, however, suffered extensive damage during a battle in the following year. Consequently, the church had to be virtually rebuilt, in 1654. This makes the church important as one of the few churches built in England during the Commonwealth period. Inside the church there are elegant canopied pews where the gentry would have sat and box pews for the village folk. It also has texts carved and painted on the walls.
In the meantime Stokesay has passed to Charles Baldwyn's son, Sir Samuel Baldwyn, who in turn passed Stokesay to his son Charles, who died in 1706.
Sadly 150 years of neglect followed. During this time Stokesay came close to destruction, its buildings being used by a nearby farm. However, Stokesay Castle was bought in 1869 by a Victorian visionary, J.D. Allcroft.
Allcroft began restoring the historic Stokesay Castle to its former glory. During the Victorian era many historic houses were restored by their well meaning owners, which normally resulted in them removing key original features in favour of the owner's personal tastes.
Fortunately this did not happen to Stokesay, which Allcroft effectively saved from ruin. Allcroft died in 1893, passing the Castle to his son who carried on the work, before finally opening to the public in 1908 for the first time.
The castle was passed to English Heritage in 1992, which still manages and maintains the site today.
Stokesay's superb condition today is largely due to the care of its successive owners and the fact that it only changed hands five times in 700 years.
Despite its name Stokesay is not really a castle; it never was. It is a fortified manor house, built to impress but also to withstand potential land battles with the Welsh.
However, its appearance can be deceptive. South Tower looks very fortress-like, with its buttressed walls and battlements. The North Tower, however, is solely domestic, with its timber framed upper storey.
Stokesay Castle is located seven miles north west of Ludlow, off the A49.