Bill Klemperer is the Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Historic England – advising on aspects of national policy and casework around the country – especially the midlands where he is based in the Birmingham office. Here he talks about four important border fortresses he has helped save.
Altogether there are many hundreds of castles in the Welsh borders most of which are scheduled – protected by law under the 1979 ‘Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act, 1979’ and part of my job is to help look after them. One of my predecessors, the late Anthony Stretten, undertook a survey in the 1990s to identify those castles that would require most effort to save them for the future. A ‘top four’ emerged – all with significant stone buildings that required repairs – Wigmore Castle just west of the village in north Herefordshire, Hopton Castle in south Shropshire west of Leintwardine, Wilton castle on the River Wye at Ross-on-Wye, and Clifford castle further up the Wye just north of Hay-on-Wye. They have now all been repaired – but the solutions have been different in each case.
Wigmore. This was a case of state intervention. Following a collapse the then Secretary of State, Peter Walker, agreed to take the castle into public ownership – so it is now maintained by English Heritage as a free visitor destination. The ruinous state of the castle was an issue – with multi-phase buildings all higgledly-piggledy all over the place. Twenty years of careful excavation was going to cost too much and would have destroyed much of the later evidence in revealing the earlier phases. So a different approach was agreed – the walls would be consolidated as they were – and the site would retain its importance for flora and fauna – a stabilised place of wonder to be discovered and explored. This became the type site for ‘soft capping’ that now has become mainstream practice. The grass on the wall tops protects the walls from the weather and after twenty years is still doing a good job. Some limited archaeology was done to inform stabilising works,but these few trenches produced amazing findings – so do get the report to find out more
Hopton castle. An impressive earthwork site with motte and bailey and later gardens and associated buildings are evident, and also the site of a nasty civil war massacre and siege. When I first saw it I was struck that the impressive tower of c.1300 that dominates the site could be abandoned in a field without access. A condition report revealed that the north west corner was about to fall off – but how to get the money to fix it? We talked to the locals and the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust was born. English Heritage funded a condition survey and work to prepare a lottery bid and the committee decided – by the Chair’s casting vote – to award about a million pounds! Archaeological ‘clearance’ followed and CBS Conservation came in to do the works. The Duke of Gloucester helicoptered in for the official opening. The site now has free access every day of the year and is secure for the future.
Wilton Castle was done at about the same time as Hopton in the first decade of the millennium. Here the ‘White Knight’ solution came to the fore in the shape of owners Alan and Sue Parslow. Wilton is a multi-phase stone castle and much work was needed to repair the walls and towers. This was jointly funded by the Parslows and English Heritage. Various different conservation techniques were used – full roofs were put back on the north west and south west towers – the former complete with chimney found in the excavation of the basement! A ‘hidden’ lightweight modern roof put onto a large 13thC east tower. Gracile [DO YOU MEAN GRACEFUL?] walls were supported by buttresses in contrasting material, wall walks discovered and replaced, a section of curtain wall rebuilt, and decayed stone, including some lintels and cills replaced. The site is now safe and the owners have open days each year.
Clifford was the most recently repaired – and this came about when the site came into the new ownership of Keith and Ann Hill, who are also keen to care for the castle in their care. Historic England (as we became in 2015) gave a grant to help the owners repair the buildings on top of the motte and this was done by Treasures of Ludlow – a well-known firm of conservation builders. Archaeological interpretation of the buildings has been undertaken by Nigel Baker while the Castle Studies Trust funded a geophysical survey and excavations there too. Amongst the tightly packed stone buildings on the large flat-topped motte is the so-called Rosamund’s Tower. Rosamund Clifford – the ‘Rose of the World’ – was brought up at Clifford Castle, daughter of the Marcher Lord Walter de Clifford. She became the mistress of Henry II and died, still not 30 in 1176. The site with its large bailey containing remains of an interesting barbican can be visited by appointment with the owners.
Much work has been done and much more remains to be done. The ‘local Trust model’ is achieving spectacular results at Snodhill castle near Peterchurch in Herefordshire’s Golden valley. Another notable success in recent years has been the repair of the rare shell keep at Kilpeck castle south of Hereford. All of these places are part of our shared inheritance Looking after them is our responsibility to future generations so they can share in that wonder.