Near Craven Arms, Ludlow, Shropshire - SY7 9AH
Stokesay Castle is quite simply the finest and best preserved fortified medieval manor house in England. Set in peaceful countryside near the Welsh border, the castle, timber-framed gatehouse and parish church form an unforgettably picturesque group.
Lawrence of Ludlow, a wealthy local wool-merchant wishing to set up as a country gentleman, bought the property in 1281, when the long Anglo-Welsh wars were ending. So it was safe to raise here one of the first fortified manor houses in England, 'builded like a castle' for effect but lit by large domestic-style windows. Extensive recent tree-ring dating confirms that Lawrence had completed virtually all of the still surviving house by 1291, using the same team of carpenters throughout: more remarkably, the dating also revealed that it has scarcely been altered since.
Stokesay's magnificent open hearthed great hall displays a fine timber roof, shuttered gable windows and a precipitous staircase, its treads cut from whole tree-trunks. It is flanked by the north tower, with an original medieval tiled floor and remains of wall painting, and a 'solar' or private apartment block, and beyond this the tall south tower - the most castle-like part of the house, self-contained and reached by a defensible stairway.
The solar block contains one of the few post-medieval alterations to the house, a fine panelled chamber. Its dominating feature is a fireplace with a richly carved overmantel, still bearing the traces of original painting in five colours. This was added in about 1641, at the same time as the truly delightful gatehouse: an example of the Marches style of lavishly showy timber-framing, bedecked with charming carvings of Adam and Eve.
During the English Civil War Stokesay was used as a supply base for the King's forces in the area, based in strength at nearby Ludlow Castle. Loop holes drilled through the heavy main gates demonstrate how the fortifications were hastily improved in an age of musket and cannon. It was during this time that Stokesay experienced its only known military encounter, a brief siege in which the King's forces surrendered to the Parliamentarian forces without a protracted fight.
Stokesay was lived in as a farmhouse and barn until the early 19th century. In 1869 it was purchased by John Derby Allcroft, a Worcester glove manufacturer and Member of Parliament, who recognising the value of the building's history and architectural features set about restoring and maintaining it while he also had Stokesay Court built nearby. Since 1992 the monument has been in the care of English Heritage, which provides a recorded audio tour of the entire premises for visitors.