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Astley Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Estleye; Ashley

In the civil parish of Astley.
In the historic county of Warwickshire.
Modern Authority of Warwickshire.
1974 county of Warwickshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SP31168949
Latitude 52.50239° Longitude -1.54231°

Astley Castle has been described as a probable Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Fortified Manor House.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 2* listed building protected by law*.

Description

The monument survives well and is largely unencumbered by modern development. The moated island will retain considerable structural and artefactual evidence of the original manor house known to have existed here since before 1266 and for a succession of later structures on the site. Organic material will be preserved within the waterfilled moat ditches and also, within the seasonally waterlogged fishponds. The garden earthworks of both 17th and 19th century date not only provide important evidence for the setting and layout of Astley Castle moated site, but they also reflect the changing trends of garden design over a period of more than three centuries. The gardens to the west of the moated site reflect the 17th century emphasis on formal, ornamental gardens, while the garden earthworks to the north and east provide evidence for the 19th century fashion for naturalised parkland with isolated earthwork features. Astley College is a well-documented example of a collegiate church with historical records dating from its foundation in the 14th century through to its dissolution in the 16th century. Earthwork remains and map evidence indicate that structural remains associated with the collegiate church will survive as buried features in the area to the north and north-east of the church. Both the collegiate remains and those of the formal gardens to the north must have been laid out to respect the settlement site whose earthwork remains occupy the south-western corner of the site. These remains survive in good condition and will provide evidence both for the date and character of occupation by lower orders of society, when compared to the castle site, and for the manner in which the settlement was deserted. The monument is situated to the north-east of St Mary's Church in Astley village and includes the moated site of Astley Castle, its associated garden features and fishpond complex. It also includes the earthwork remains of a medieval settlement, the earthwork and buried remains of Astley College, and an area of ridge and furrow cultivation. In 1266 Warin de Bassingburn was granted a licence to enclose the manor house at Astley with a dyke and walls and to crenallate it. The moated site has external dimensions of 100m north-west - south-east and up to 115m south-west - north-east. The waterfilled sections of the moat measure approximately 10m wide, and the moat ditches, themselves, measure up to 20m wide. Access onto the moated island is by means of a bridge across the south-west arm of the moat. The bridge has a round arch of probable 19th century date and a later parapet. At the northern end of the bridge is evidence for the layout of the medieval gatehouse, which took the form of a rectangular tower projecting forward into the moat on a large masonry platform. The gatearch was asymmetrically set within the tower to the east of a block of rooms, of which that adjoining the gatehall must have served as the porter's lodge. The wall between the gatehall and the porter's lodge survives and is pierced by an arched doorway, now blocked. An illustration of 1875 shows that, by this date, the gatetower had been demolished and the doorway to the porter's lodge was serving as an entrance to a garden walkway around the inner edge of the moat. Only the northernmost gatearch survives, providing the frame for the modern doors. It has a four-centred arch of two chamfered orders with a shield panel above. The arch jambs are partly original, though the arch itself is mostly of post-medieval date. The gatehouse appears contemporary with the remains of the curtain wall along the inner edges of the south-west, south-east and north- west arms of the moat. The lower courses of this wall are thought to date from the 14th century. The bridge, gateway and the curtain wall are all built of regular coursed and squared sandstone and are Listed Grade II. These features are included in the scheduling. There are the remains of the stone pier for a timber bridge across the north- east arm of the moat. It is considered that this bridge was built during the 19th century to provide access to the garden situated to the north of the moated site and it is included within the scheduling. The moated island measures 60m north-west - south-east and 70m south-west - north-east. The north-east edge of the island slopes upwards from the edge of the moat to form an internal bank. The south-west corner of the moated island is partly occupied by the ruined house known as Astley Castle, a Grade II Listed Building. The house has its origins in the 13th and 14th centuries and exhibits many periods of construction. It is considered that the materials from the original fortified manor house, built on the moated island, were re- used in the 16th century when the house was rebuilt. This house was remodelled in c.1820. The house is excluded from the scheduling. An estate map of 1664 indicates that, at this date, there was a range of buildings along the southern curtain wall. There is no surface evidence for the range of buildings, but they will survive as buried features. In 1664, a formal garden occupied the northern half of the moated island. Immediately to the north and east of Astley Castle moated site are the earthwork remains of garden features which are thought to have been laid out during the 19th century and are probably contemporary with the remodelling of the house in c.1820. The features to the north include an earthwork avenue which is approximately 30m long and is bounded by yew trees. The avenue runs between the bridge across the north-east arm of the moat, and a small pond situated to the north. The pond is bounded by earthwork banks and is now dry. There are raised platforms on either side of the avenue which were also planted with yew trees. To the east of the moated site is a raised area which has been built parallel with the south-east arm of the moat. A large cedar of Lebanon tree and the stumps of several others indicates that the edges of the platform were originally planted with trees in order to stabilise it and to create a garden feature visible from the house. These garden earthworks provide evidence for the landscaped setting of Astley Castle moated site during the early 19th century and represent the most recent phase in the historical development of the site. There is a complex group of earthworks in the area to the west of Astley Castle moated site and this includes the remains of part of a medieval settlement which is situated in the south-west part of this area. The earthwork remains of the settlement include three house platforms built adjacent to each other and aligned east-west. These remains are bounded along their western side by a hollow way. The hollow way is now in use as an access road and does not survive well. It is therefore, not included in the scheduling. To the east of the northern platform are the remains of a second hollow way with a linear bank immediately to the east. The area between the south-west corner of the moat and the north wall of the parish church forms a levelled platform which is thought to be the site of Astley College. In 1338 Sir Thomas de Astley founded a chantry served by four secular priests in the Lady Chapel of the parish church. In 1343 the chantry was converted into a collegiate establishment and the Lady Chapel was rebuilt and rededicated. The chapel, which was still called 'new' in 1493, was probably sited within the choir of the parish church, which eventually became the nave of the present building. A series of openings and other features in the north wall of the present nave, opening onto the levelled platform, probably indicate where the collegiate buildings were attached. The college itself was dissolved in 1545 although an estate map of 1664 shows that, at that date, there was still a large building immediately north of the parish church. The buried remains of the collegiate buildings will survive both within and to the north of the present graveyard and are included in the scheduling. North of the College site and to the north-west of the moated site is a second large earthwork platform. At its north-west corner (some 60m north-west of the moated site) is a mound with a diameter at the base of 18m. It is thought that the platform represents the site of formal gardens known to have been laid out north-west of the moat in the 17th century, whilst the mound is probably a prospect mound from which the layout could be viewed. In 1664 this part of the site was known as the 'New Garden'. Despite some damage caused by subsequent ploughing, the layout of this garden, its walkways and planting layout will survive as buried features beneath the ground surface and this area is included in the scheduling. North-west of the platform on which sat the formal garden, and occupying the area along the eastern side of the hollow way to the north of the settlement remains, is a complex of fishponds and other water-control features. The group of four inter-connecting ponds and their associated leats are seasonally waterlogged. The ponds are rectangular and have been constructed around a raised central area. Sluices would have originally controlled the water supply within each individual pond. The pond at the south-west edge of the complex was surveyed in 1967 and has been recently infilled. It will survive as a buried feature and is, therefore, included in the scheduling. The fishponds are bounded along their northern edge by an outer bank. The leat which connects the fishpond complex with the moated site is visible as an earthwork. It has been partly straightened during the post-medieval period, but is included in the scheduling. The uniformity of the ponds and their proximity to the 'New Garden' indicates that they are likely to have been incorporated within the formal garden layout in the 17th century. There is a slight circular depression within the central raised area. This may be the remains of a further pond added to the complex when the gardens were laid out. Immediately to the north-west of the moated site, and south of the inter- connecting leat is a brick-lined well and the remains of a small pumping house. The lower courses of a building that housed both the well and the pumping machinery are visible on the ground surface. Two concrete bases for a pumping engine which originally lifted the water from the well and the remains of machinery within the well itself, are visible. These remains provide evidence for the development of water management on the site in the 19th century and are included in the scheduling. To the north, north-west and east of the moated site are the earthwork remains of ridge and furrow cultivation. The ridge and furrow respects the moated site and provides a stratigraphic relationship between the moated site and the earthwork features in the surrounding area. A 10m wide sample area of ridge and furrow to the north and east of the site are included in the scheduling in order to preserve these relationships. In 1166 Phillip de Estlega held three knight's fees, including Astley. After the death of his descendant, Thomas de Estleye, who was killed at the battle of Evesham, the manor of Astley was granted to Warin de Bassingburn. By the Dictum of Kenilworth, in 1266, Andrew de Estleye received royal confirmation of the grant to him by Warin de Bassingburn of his lands, including Astley. The last of the male line of the Astley's died in 1420. In this year, the manor of Astley passed to the family of Lord Grey of Ruthin and it was held by the Greys until the mid 16th century. (Scheduling Report)

The original fortified manor house was home of Sir Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk and his daughter Lady Jane Grey. The house was dismantled in 1555, but almost immediately rebuilt. The existing house, still moated, is almost entirely C16, but there is evidence of C12 work. There were substantial alterations in C17 and again in 1820 when it was restored. The building is roughly rectangular, of 2 storeys, with embattled parapets throughout. The principal front, in which C17 and C19 inteference is marked, has 5 large stone transomed-mullioned windows, all restored, 2 of them having arched traceried heads of early C19 character. On W side is a little timber framing. The interior is wholly modernised and has no early features except for a Jacobean fireplace. There are only scanty remains, in grey and red sandstone, of the original curtain wall and gatehouse. Some portions appear to be C14, but may date from 1266, when a licence to crenellate was issued. The bailey is level and the present house is on its W side with outbuildings lining the W curtain wall. There was a manor house here from quite early times; the Astleys lived here from the time of Henry II (1154-89). There is no certainty that a castle was built here in 1266. In 1963 it was a hotel. The house was abandoned after a fire in in 1978 and is falling down. (Warwickshire HER)

The Landmark Trust has 'consolidate the ruins that were left after a disastrous fire in 1978' and constructed 'unequivocally modern living accommodation clasped within the shell of the ancient Castle' (Landmark Trust). This will be open for visitors from July 2012.

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1266 Oct 22 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).

Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

Data >
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
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This record last updated on Friday, November 14, 2014

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