Caverswall Castle

A review of the history of Caverswall Castle, a 13th Century gem in the middle of the village.

Caverswall Castle stands a short distance to the south west of the village square. The main entrance is on Blythe Bridge Road adjacent to St Peters Church. The castle is currently a private residence and is not open to the public.

Photo of castle and moat
Image : The Telegraph

The Present Day :

My starting point for this article is the present day because there have recently been several online enquiries about the current status of the castle. As I write this (November 2019) it appears that the castle has been put on the market for sale by the Official Receiver. The Birmingham Mail published this story in September.

Since purchasing the castle in 2006 Robin MacDonald has spent a considerable amount of money on repairs and improvements. In addition he has looked at ways of turning the castle into a commercial enterprise. Unfortunately this has led to a number of wrangles with the planning authority. Matters came to a head after the planing authority served an enforcement notice. Sadly subsequent breaches led to a court case and a hefty fine and costs order.

Key to understanding the issues is the fact that the domestic properties immediately adjacent to the castle are owned by other persons. Secondly the access road is very narrow and the castle does not have a car park. The castle currently has 3 planning applications in progress. You can view them on this web site. The applications include correspondence from people who object or support the proposals.

We will have to wait to find out if Robin Macdonald continues with his plans for the castle or whether ownership passes to someone else. I think it would be fair to say that nobody wants to see the castle fall into decline.

The dedicated website which had been created by Robin appears to have been taken down. The most recent version of the Caverswall Castle page on Facebook is also no longer available.

Early History :

Caverswall is listed in the Domesday Book of 1086. Prior to the Norman Conquest Caverswall had been held by Wulfgeat. By 1086 it was held by an important Norman Knight- Robert de Stafford. Robert’s tenant was Arnulf of Hesdin. The origins of the castle that we see today probably started as a fortified manor house built during the 13th century.

The manor house was probably built on the site of an earlier construction erected during the Anglo Saxon period. It was constructed on a mound and surrounded by a moat. A document from 1166 reveals the presence of a Walter de Caverswall. Other records reveal that William de Caverswall held the office of sheriff of the county in 1260 and again in 1269. In 1275 he applied for a licence to crenellate the house. (Crenellation is the construction of battlements which include gaps in the stone blocks on the top of the walls.)

It seems that after the Caverswall family died out the Castle passed into the hands of the Montgomery family and later to the Giffords. A period of decline for the castle then followed caused by the neglect of a local farmer who had become the tenant.

A Renaissance for the Castle :

Matthew Craddock was a wealthy wool merchant from the county town of Stafford. He served as the Mayor of Stafford and he was also an elected Member of Parliament. Matthew was an MP until 1629 when King Charles 1st dispensed with Parliament and began an 11 year period which became known as the Personal Rule. The increasing tensions between the King and Parliament would eventually lead to the outbreak of Civil War.

Matthew Craddock purchased Caverswall Castle in 1615. He appointed an architect (thought to have been Robert Smythson or John Smythson) to design a new mansion house on the existing site using what was left of the old castle.

Design and Layout :

The work carried out for Matthew Cradock produced most of the features that we can still see today. The Castle is built on the original mound and surrounded by curtain walls forming a square. The lower part of the walls are thought to be the only remains of the original medieval castle. These outer walls were enclosed by a moat as they are today.

Angle towers were built at each of the four corners of the curtain walls. The entranceway at the end of the bridge crossing the moat is flanked by two turrets linked together with an archway.

The mansion house was built on the northern side of the square enclosure with the facade facing towards the south. Built from red sandstone stone ashlars (blocks) there are three stories and a cellar. All three stories have chamfer mullion windows. A stair tower with four stories was built on the western elevation which impacted on the symmetry of the whole structure.

The English Civil War – Orders Issued To Blow Up The Castle :

The english civil war started in 1642 following a long series of disagreements between King Charles 1st and Parliament. In 1643 the castle was apparently taken over without a fight by Parliamentary Forces. By December Captain John Ashenhurst had become the govenor of the castle commanding a force of 40 troops. His father Randle had also joined the Parliamentary side attaining the rank of major and later colonel.

In 1644 the County Committee issued an order to John Ashenhurst to slight the castle. The Committee wanted the castle to be destroyed or at least damaged to the point where it could not be used as a military stronghold by Royalist forces in the future. Captain Ashenhurst refused to carry out the order and for a short time he was removed from his position. Happily for all concerned the castle was not slighted and Captain Ashenhurst was back in control by March 1645.

Parliament were also looking closely at the activities of the major landowners in the parish. George Parker of Park Hall was found to be a Royalist delinquent and his estates were confiscated. Sampson Coyney of Weston Coyney was also a Royalist. He came to the attention of the Compounding Committee where a fine could be paid in order to regain his confiscated estates.

Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector and William Jolliffe buys the Castle :

King Charles 1st had been executed in 1649 and in 1653 Oliver Cromwell was sworn in as the Lord Protector to undertake the “chief magistracy and the administration of government”. The Joliffe family were from the town of Leek in Staffordshire where they had been mercers (dealers in textiles) since the mid 15th century.
William purchased Caverswall Castle in 1655 and his second son, also called William inherited the castle in 1669.

To be continued