The castle was established in 1086 on rock one hundred foot above the river Teme. Stone walls were erected with four towers protected on two sides by the cliff and on the other two sides by a moat cut into the rock. The gatehouse was later enlarged into the tall tower that can be seen now. The castle was continuously extended until the end of the 16th Century but then fell into decay during the 1700’s. There is an unusual early circular Norman church inside dating from around 1120. It really is one of the best examples of Norman castle and shows you many different phases of development as well as being home to plenty of events that occurred here.
The first fortifications here were probably by Roger de Lacy, Earl of Shrewsbury, shortly after 1086. By the time de Lacy was banished by William II in 1095 a curtain wall with defensive towers had been built around a bailey, Ludlow was built in stone from the beginning, rather than hastily thrown together in earth and timber and later converted to stone as with most other Norman fortresses.
The Castle itself which was at first a Norman Fortress, but then extended over the centuries to become a fortified Royal Palace, has ensured Ludlow’s place in English history. Originally built to hold back the unconquered Welsh that passed through generations of the de Lacy and Mortimer families to Richard the Duke of York. It became Crown property in 1461 and remained a royal castle for the next 350 years, during which time the Council of the Marches was formed with a responsibility for the Government of Wales and the border counties. It was then abandoned in 1689 and the castle quickly fell into ruin, it was once described as ‘the very perfection of decay’ by Daniel Defoe. Whilst walking around the castle grounds, it’s really true to its heritage; you can see its wealth of houses which were home to kings, queens, princes and judges. Very much a glimpse intro medieval society.
Since 1811 the castle has been owned by the Earls of Powis, who have arrested further decline, and allowed this magnificent historical monument to be open to the public. Today the Castle is the home to Ludlow’s major festivals throughout the year and open for all to enjoy, Over 50,000 visitors now come to the castle each year.
The Castle’s long history is reflected in its varied architecture; Norman, Medieval and Tudor, many of the buildings still stand. From the huge Outer Bailey a bridge across the moat leads to the Inner Bailey with the Keep, the Great Chamber, the other side of the moat is the Ice House – this building was once used to store explosives.
The curtain is defended by a ditch cut into the solid rock of the cliffs, crossed by a single drawbridge. Outside this ditch is a larger outer bailey, itself surrounded by an extension of the curtain wall. There is only one large entry through the outer curtain, from Castle Street, while the other sides of the site are protected by the high, steep cliffs.
Where we begin of tour, upon entering inside Ludlow you are taken into the castles outer bailey, this bailey is massive at over 500 feet north to south. Within the bailey they would have had storerooms, stables and workshops in order to resupply the needs of the garrison. With its large space its said that this could have been a meeting place for the soldiers during the invasions of Ireland where Hugh de lacy, the castles owner was heavily involved in 1171. The outer bailey could have also seen the medieval sport of Jousting that could have taken place here. Most of the earliest structures that were present are now ruinous, but a number of stone buildings still exist.
The Tudor buildings at the back contain buildings used for stables and a prison.. Along from here is the Chapel of St Peter built by Roger Mortimer, unfortunately during our explore we were unable to visit here. It’s also near here that Mortimer’s tower was built, taking its name from the owner of the castle in 1308, this tower is semi-circular, which is different to most of the towers found here at Ludlow. As you walk in you get an eerie feeling with how dark and dreary it is and it’s a possibility that it was built as a gatehouse.
After crossing the bridge, your first encounter and beside the gatehouse is the Judge’s Lodging, added in the Elizabethan period. These consist of a three story block built up against the Norman curtain wall, these rooms were used to accommodate judges and attorneys who needed a place to stay when the courts of the council of the marches were in session.
The great tower or the keep as its more well known as is stunning to see with its combination of a gatehouse and keep rolled into one. Interestingly there were four storeys to this tower and the development of the tower was very complex. There was a two story living hall on the first floor along with a solar, the third floor had the original entrance but this was blocked to give the tower greater security, and the fourth was that the great tower was reduced in size with floors inserted creating new rooms. This keep is remarkable and a worthwhile trek to the top!
Standing in the middle of the inner bailey is the Round Chapel, dedicated to St Mary. This is a very unusual circular building, retaining beautifully carved Norman doorway arches. Although it was not unusual for a Norman church to have a semi-circular apse, building an entire chapel on a circular plan is exceptionally rare.
Though the church has been heavily damaged and worn with age, the richly carved arches and capitals make this small building one of the true highlights of early Norman architecture in the country. If you look around closely you can spot the gargoyle heads and possibly a grave marker, these fine details are worth looking for as they are fascinating to see up close.
The north range is a set of buildings that had been started in the late 13 century, it’s been known as one of the better sets of examples of beautiful architecture from this period. I think when stepping back and really looking at the size of this site you can really understand how grand and large this castle is. As with many castles, the great hall was the most important room of the place, it was used for ceremonial and public occasions, the hall is over 60 feet long and 30 feet wide, with an under croft below. Where we stand it would have been the original floor level of the great hall. The floor was lit by the large tall windows that would have contained seats, so that when people were enjoying their feasts and listening to the music they would have a view to match. This room would have been elaborately decorated with rich tapestries and paintings that would impress the guests.
The great chamber block would have contained the apartments of the lord and the lady of the castle, the first floor had one room which was the original great chamber. On the east of this building you can still see the fireplaces carved into the walls, it would have been very lavish back in its day
Inside the kitchen you can still see some of the outlines of the ovens and fireplaces, these would make pastries and bread as well as being the main operation for the feasts that they had here. The great towers court was a service area that was enclosed by the great tower. Inside this area is two towers, the southwest flanking tower and the Postern tower, this features a tradition that the doorway to this lower tower was used by princess Mary Tudor, for private access made for her outside the curtain wall and today is known locally as Queens walk.
Overall, visiting Ludlow you will not be disappointed, it’s a stunning castle built in with such a rich and grand history. The sheer size along here is remarkable and to be in such great condition considering it’s age is brilliant. Our advice is to spend the whole day here, you would not be bored and head into the beautiful village and market town of Ludlow, they often have market stalls and plenty of pit stops to take in the beauty and enjoy some hot and cold food.