The History of Tamworth Castle
This is some History of Tamworth Castle, but having the article for so long, I know not who wrote it nor where it came from, and whilst I'm reproducing it here, it's not my intention to infringe any copyright, etc., so please, if you may know where it orignated, let me know.
Tamworth is one of the ancient Boroughs of England, with a history which began when it was the capital of the Kingdom of Mercia in the eighth century.
There is no evidence of Tamworth having existed during the Roman occupation of Britain, notwithstanding its proximity to Watling Street. It is likely that the town had its origin as a place of settlement of the Anglo-Saxon invaders, who penetrated this part of the Midlands by means of the River Trent and its tributaries; the confluence of the Tame and the Anker would be regarded as a suitable place to make a clearing in what was then part of the ancient Forest of Arden.
When the renowned Offa came to the throne of the Mercian Kingdom in 757ad he chose Tamworth as his capital, and tradition says that he built a large palace here on a site near the Market Street entrance to the present Castle Grounds, making it his principal residence. It is also said that he constructed a large earthwork for the defence of the town, with a ditch forty-five feet wide. Traces of the ditch were found during excavations for the sewering of the town in 1908, and again in 1957 and I960. References to the "King's Ditch" frequently appear in Court Leet rolls and other old documents dating back to the thirteenth century.
After the death of Offa in 796, Tamworth continued to be the residence of the Mercian kings. Danish invaders destroyed the town in 874 and it lay in ruins for nearly forty years.
Soon after Mercia ceased to exist as a separate kingdom, King Alfred the Great bestowed the nominal government of it upon an Anglo-Saxon nobleman named Ethelred, the husband of the King's eldest daughter Ethelfleda. Ethel-red became the Ealdorman of Mercia, an office created by Alfred to enable him to give more attention to his royal duties, the ealdorman acting as his deputies in the provinces. Upon the death of Ethelred in 912, King Edward the Elder, Alfred's son and successor, permitted his sister Ethelfleda to assume the government of Mercia.
It was Ethelfleda who enabled the town to rise again from the destruction which had been caused by the Danes. Assisting her brother in his campaign against the invaders, she created defences commanding the Watling Street and chose Tamworth as a strategic point, causing the town to be re-built in 913 According to local tradition, now proved to be only a legend, she constructed the huge mound upon which the present Castle stands, erected a wooden stockade which was the predecessor of the Norman Keep we see today, and made her royal residence in the grounds below. Dugdale, the Warwickshire historian, writing in 1656, says that Ethelfleda restored the town "to its antient strength and splendor, raysing a strong tower upon an artificial mound of earth, called the Dungeon, for defence against any violent assault thereof; upon which mount that building now called the Castle hath of later times been erected; for the body of the old Castle stood below towards the Mercate Place"
In 1960 the town celebrated the 400th anniversary of its incorporation, and as part of the celebrations then held, the late Dr. F. T. Wainwright, head of Anglo-Saxon studies at the University of St. Andrew's made excavations in the Castle Grounds in the hope of discovering the foundations of Offa's palace or the residence of Ethelfleda. He also excavated the site of the ditch ascribed to Offa. As a result of his investigations, he gave the opinion that although the historical evidence, specially that of charters issued by Offa from his "Palace at Tamworth", left little room for doubt that Offa had a great hall or residence in Tamworth, and that it may well have been, as the historian Palgrave had written, "The admiration and wonder of the age", the ditch must now be attributed to Ethelfleda as part of the defences against the Danes. Further excavations carried out in 1967 and 1968 revealed the structure of the great earth and timber rampart that she built, and the town gate on Lichfield Street. The mound attributed to Ethelfleda is now accepted as the motte of the normal motte-and-bailey type of castle built by the Normans.
Ethelfleda died in 918 and was buried at Gloucester. Her nephew Athelstan, son of King Edward the Elder, had been a favourite of hers, for she taught him to read and trained him in the arts of war and kingship. When he came to the throne in 924 he made Tamworth one of his royal residences, and the king's council, or witenagemote, met here. Athelstan entered into a peace treaty with Sihtric, the Danish King of Northumbria, and gave him the hand of his sister Editha in marriage, Sihtric, who was a pagan, promis ing as part of the arrangement to accept the Christian faith. The betrothal took place at Tamworth in the presence of King Athelstan on 30th January, 925. Sihtric accepted baptism but soon afterwards he left Editha and relapsed into idolatry. Editha spent the rest of her life in acts of charity and devotion, and being given by Athelstan the royal resi dence of her aunt Ethelfleda, she established a convent with in it. Tamworth Parish Church is dedicated to her.
In 943, three years after the death of Athelstan, Tamworth was again invaded by the Danes, and suffered a second destruction. The town then ceased to be a royal seat.
After the Norman Conquest, Robert le Despencer, a contemporary of King William, was granted possession of Tamworth Castle, which afterwards passed to his nephew-in-law, Roger de Marmion, a baron from Fontenay-le-Marmion in Normandy.
Marmion had performed the office of champion to the Conqueror in his own country and the gift of Tamworth Castle and the Manor of Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire required him to render service as Royal Champion to the King of England. He was to come "to the coronation of the Lord King, completely armed with royal arms of the livery of the Lord King, and sitting upon the principal royal war-horse, and oppose himself against any person who should gainsay the royal coronation".
The Marmions held the Castle until 1294, when the male line ceased. Lady Jane Marmion dying without an heir, the Castle was granted by Edward I to her niece's husband, Sir Alexander de Freville. He was the last holder of the Castle to perform the office of Royal Champion; he appeared in this role at the coronation of Edward HI in 1327. The youngest daughter of the last of the Marmions had been granted her father's estate at Scrivelsby, and her successors claimed successfully that the office of Royal Champion was attached to that Manor and not to Tamworth Castle .
In 1423, the male line of the Frevilles having failed, the Castle passed to Sir Thomas Ferrers, who had married a daughter of the Frevilles. He was a descendant of Henry de Ferrers, who came to England with the Conqueror. From the Ferrers' the Castle passed by marriage to the Shirleys of Chartley in 1688, again by marriage to the Comptons, Earls of Northampton in 1715, and finally by marriage to the Townshends in 1751.
The Corporation of Tamworth purchased the Castle from the Marquis Townshend for �3,000 in 1897 in commemoration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, and on 22nd May, 1899, it was formally opened by the Earl of Dartmouth, Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire, and dedicated to the use of the public for ever.
In former days Tamworth Castle received many royal visits — Henry I (1110), Henry II, accompanied by Thomas Becket (1158), Henry III (1257), Edward II (1325), and James I (1619, 1621 and 1624). On his second visit James was accompanied by Prince Charles (later Charles I), who stayed at the Moat House, an Elizabethan mansion in Lichfield Street.
The Castle played its part in the Civil War. In 1642 it was held by the Royalists, and was a source of trouble to the Parliamentary Army in their endeavour to secure Lich-field. The garrison at the Castle "did keep their holy brethren from dulling their spirits with over much sleep in giving their several alarums no rest nor respite night and day, with some particularized skirmishes". The Castle was captured by the Cromwellian forces in the following year after a siege lasting two days.
Twice the Castle was threatened with destruction. King John gave orders to destroy it in revenge for Sir Robert Mar-mion, the fifth baron, having sided with the Barons against him at the time of Magna Carta. Cromwell also ordered it to be dismantled or destroyed.
With the exception of short periods, the Castle has been used as a residence from the date of its erection until its purchase by the Corporation, and this has helped to keep it in a good state of preservation. It is now used as a local Museum. This Museum contains a very fine collection of Early English coins from the Tamworth Mint. Tamworth was one of the towns which possessed a royal mint in the Anglo-Saxon period. It is not known for certain whether the mint was in existence in the time of Offa, during whose reign the penny, then a small silver coin, was introduced, but in any case it was either established or confirmed in the reign of Athelstan, who regulated the national coinage and ordered that regal money could be minted only in a town. The Tamworth Mint continued to operate until Henry II re-organised the coinage in 1154.
The Castle Grounds
The Castle and Grounds cover an area of about three acres. The public entrance is in the Holloway. The Lodge was built in 1810 by the Marquis Townshend, and bears the arms of the Marmions, the Ferrers and the Townshends.
Just inside the grounds is the statue of Ethelfleda and her nephew Athelstan, erected in 1913 "to commemorate the building of the Castle Mound in 913 by the Lady of the Mercians". The memorial was unveiled by the llth Earl Ferrers.
The footpath near the statue ascends to the Castle Keep. On the right of the main drive is a Russian anchor which was brought from the Crimea in 1855 by Captain Sir William Peel, who was a son of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel and was one of the first to receive the Victoria Cross. The drive, which was formerly a dry moat, continues as far as the entrance from Market Street. Outside this entrance, on the left, can be seen a portion of the late 13th Century Gatehouse Tower . In 1972 excavations exposed, on the right, the foundations of the other half of the Tower and the stone causeway over the moat, which still stands beneath the existing path to Market Street. The Lodge just inside the gate was built in 1825. From this lodge a footpath leads to the Keep over the famous "Curtain Wall". This wall is ten feet thick and twenty-five feet high and is one of the finest examples of herring-bone masonry in the country. It is all that survives of the curtain wall of the Bailey.
The mound was planted by the Marquis Townshend, when the Castle Lodge was build.
The lawns occupy the place where the Castle buildings formerly stood. Excavations near the bandstand in 1960 revealed the foundations of the stables and outbuildings which existed in the Tudor period. The historian Leland, who visited the town in 1541, recorded that "the base-court and great ward of the Castle is cleane decayed and the wall fallen downe, and therein be now but houses of office of noe notable buildinge. The donjon hill yet standeth and a great round tower of stone, wherein Mr. Ferrers dwelleth, and now repaireth it".
On the eastern side of the lower lawns there is an ancient well which is believed to have been in existence since Saxon times. It certainly existed in 1276, for a record shows that one William Chelle was fined for placing an obstruction in the pathway to it. It is known as the well of St. Ruffin or St. Ruffianus. Wulfhere, a pagan king of Mercia (657-675) had two sons, Wulfade and Ruffin. Tradition says that one day Wulfade was hunting when he met St. Chad, Bishop of Mercia, who lived in a hermit's cell at Stowe, Lichfield. St. Chad converted him and, later, Wulfade's brother Ruffin. Thereafter the brothers used to visit St. Chad to pray with him until their father came upon them in their devotions and in his anger slew them both at Stone, Staffordshire. Afterwards he repented. The name ascribed to the well suggests that King Wulfhere came occasionally to Tamworth; if he did so there may have been a Mercian royal residence of some kind here before that of Offa, and it is therefore possible that Wulfhere may have dedicated the well as a holy well in penitence for the murder of his sons. The surroundings of the well were improved in 1960 to commemorate the 1200th anniversary, three years previously, of the accession of Offa to the Mercian throne.
Near the entrance to the Castle Keep is a large stone which formerly stood on Lady Bridge, then called "the Bridge of Our Lady" or "the Bridge of St. Mary", and which had a pedestal with a.stone or cross. It formerly bore the arms of the Marmions and Lord Bassett of nearby Dray-ton, and probably served as a boundary stone when the land on one side belonged to the Castle and on the other to the Manor of Drayton.
From the Castle terrace an excellent view of the surrounding countryside can be obtained. Below the Castle, on the other side of the River Anker, are the Castle Pleasure Grounds. These lands were acquired by the Corporation at various times for the tipping of household refuse, but were extensively developed in 1930, when a large area of lowlying land was raised above flood level with material obtained from colliery mounds in the district. Various sports facilities were then provided and seven years later an openair swimming pool was constructed.
The Castle mills formerly stood at the confluence of the Rivers Tame and Anker. They were held of the Crown by the lord of the Castle, and there the inhabitants of the town were required to grind their corn, for in earlier times the grinding of corn at the lord's mill was one of the foims of suit and service. In the time of the Marmions the manorial mills stood on the same site. The people of Tam-worth often objected to grind their corn at the lord's mill, claiming that by custom they had no obligation to render such service and their resistance persisted occasionally up to the time of Queen Elizabeth I, when many of the inhabitants, refusing to go to the Castle mill, erected small querne mills of their own at their houses. In 1589 the lord of the Castle, Humphrey Ferrers, obtained an injunction compelling the inhabitants to grind their corn at the "Queen's corn-mills". The last remaining mill was demolished by the Corporation in 1920 to carry out improvements to the grounds near Lady Bridge.
Description of the Castle
Ground Floor Plan
The Norman Shell Keep and Tower were built in the twelfth century, and contain walls ten feet thick in parts. The doorway near the Tower is the only entrance to the Castle. Over the doorway is the Warder's House, built in Tudor times.
Entering the Courtyard, a door in the wall of the Keep on the left leads up to the Watchman's lookout. This little stairway, built within the thickness of the wall, once led up to the battlements. Nearby a medieval drain can still be seen. On the top of the wall is a footpath which connects the interior buildings with the Warder's House.
On the right of the Courtyard there is an eighteenth century pump and, round the corner, underneath the Tower, is a dungeon 13 feet square and 18 feet high, with walls from 8 to 13 feet thick, with no windows or ventilation. It is believed that another dungeon, now filled in, existed underneath. The decayed stonework over the doorway to the Castle itself bears the arms of the Ferrers. This portion of the Castle was built by Sir John Ferrers in the reign of James I.
To the right of the entrance is the GREAT HALL or BANQUETING HALL, a magnificent room built in the time of Henry VIII. It has a high pitched timber roof, a large ancient fireplace and a very large window with small leaded panes. The elaborately carved doorways and the panelling are mid-seventeenth century additions. On the north wall there was formerly a fresco of a combat between Sir Lancelot de Lake and Sir Tarquin, a Saxon Knight, but unfortunately the wall was whitewashed in 1783, when various structural alterations were made at the Castle. For two years, from 1790, the Banqueting Hall was rented by the first Sir Robert Peel (then Mr. Peel, who had brought the cotton industry into the district from Lancashire) as a blacksmith's forge in connection with the factory which he had built in Lady Meadow near Lady Bridge. The very fine oak refectory table was made in the first half of the sixteenth century.
The broad oak stairway to the left of the fireplace in the Banqueting Hall leads to the STATE DRAWING ROOM. First, however, should be noticed the window overlooking the Banqueting Hall, called the "Minstrels' Window". It is believed that before Sir John Ferrers made alterations to the Banqueting Hall, there existed a "Minstrels' Gallery" which was used when guests were entertained in the hall.
The State Drawing Room is a very fine apartment, with wainscoting throughout in oak and finely carved pilasters at each corner. The frieze contains 52 panels bearing the arms of the Ferrers and other lords of the Castle. The first panel, near the door leading to the Oak Room, bears the following inscription:
"here foloweth the coates of armes antiently borne in ye name of F,errers, with an abstract of such howses and antient families as have since the Conquest been lynially descended from Henry de Ferriers, lord of Ferriers in Normandie, who came into England with William ye Conqueror, and tooke his first denomination from the said towne called Ferriers, lying in ye Dukedome of Normandie".
Three panels over the fireplace show the descent of James I and Sir John Ferrers from the same ancestor, David, King of Scots. This room now contains a collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century furniture on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. The most interesting piece is a Dole Cupboard made about 1500 with a pierced front carved in the Gothic style.
The room adjoining the State Drawing Room is known as the OAK ROOM, also panelled throughout in dark oak. It contains further panels of arms of the Ferrers. The notable feature of this room is the mantel-piece, with a panel containing the twelve principal quarterings of the Ferrers and the motto "Only One". The figures of a man, woman and a child are believed to be likenesses of Sir John Ferrers and his wife and child. The surrounding panels bear mythological subjects, Jupiter, Pronjetheus and Adonis. This room is being furnished with eighteenth century pieces.
On leaving the Oak Room the visitor should proceed up the staircase on the left. The room above, originally one of the principal bedrooms, is to-day used to display costume. The large showcase, now set out as a Victorian drawing room, was in Victorian times a bathroom, the only one in the Castle. From this room the twelfth century wallwalk, behind the battlements, gives access to a room known as the LONG GALLERY. This formerly had partitions dividing it into four rooms, which were probably used as servants' bedrooms. The early nineteenth century fireplaces can still be seen. A new exhibition, showing selections from the History of Tamworth, is on show in this gallery. It includes a kitchen display, with a reconstructed wash-house, a Victorian children's room, and a maids bedroom. The military history of the Castle is illustrated, and the development of the medieval market town into a growing industrial community. A selection from the important collection of Tamworth Mint coins is on show here.
From the centre of the Long Gallery a staircase made of solid oak logs descends to the State Dining Room. The door at the other end of the gallery gives access to a narrow staircase leading to the Tower, from which excellent views of the town and the surrounding district can be obtained.
Returning from the Tower, before proceeding down the Haunted Staircase, a visit may be made to an oak-panelled room formerly used as a bedroom.
The visitor should then return to the Haunted Stair case, so called from what is known as "the Marmion legend". As stated previously, Editha, the daughter of King Edward the Elder and sister of Athelstan, established a convent in her Aunt Ethelfleda's castle or in its precincts. It is known that the convent was still in existence in 1010, for the will of Wulfric Spot, the ealdorman of Mercia who founded Burton Abbey, referred to it. When Marmion took possession of the lands granted to him by the Conqueror he expelled the nuns, who fled to a nunnery at nearby Polesworth which had been founded in the previous century by . King Egbert, whose daughter, also called Editha, had been its first abbess. The nuns met a similar fate there for Marmion, having been granted lands at Polesworth also, compelled them to leave. The legend says that one night after" Marmion had retired to bed following an entertainment given by him at the Castle, Editha appeared to him in a vision, dressed in the habit of a nun. Chiding Marmion for his behaviour to the nuns, she struck him with her crozier and prophesied that he would meet a terrible death unless he allowed them to return to the convent at Polesworth. Bleeding from his wounds the terrified Marmion, says the legend, promised to make restoration. Like most legends, the story does not agree with the historical facts, for although the nuns were expelled from both convents by the first Marmion, it was the third baron who restored the Polesworth convent, in 1139 or 1140; furthermore, the Editha of the legend could be either the Abbess of Tamworth or the Abbess of Polesworth.
First Floor Plan
This staircase leads to the ROYAL BEDCHAMBER, a room possibly used by James I on his three visits to the Castle.
Adjoining is the STATE DINING ROOM, a fine room now used as an Exhibition Gallery. It has a large carved Chimney piece, and a stone doorway of the Tudor period. An ante-chamber at the other end of the room contains a fifteenth century timber ceiling (restored). Before the par tition walls, with their finely carved mid-seventeenth century doorways, were erected, these three rooms formed one long hall. This was the Great Hall of the Castle prior to the building of the Banqueting Hall. The blocked doorway in the ante-chamber was, in the fifteenth century, the only entrance, reached at that time via an outside staircase from the courtyard. From the Dining Room a Tudor staircase of solid oak enables the visitor to return to the Banqueting Hall.
Second Floor Plan
Sir Walter Scott visited the Castle in 1828. Some twenty years earlier he had written his poem "Marmion", in which the following lines appear:
"And there, with herald pomp and state,
They hail'd Lord Marmion:
They hail'd him Lord of Fontenaye,
Of Lutterward and Scrivelbaye,
Of Tamworth tower and town".