From The Neolithic To The Sea: A Journey From The Past To The Present

Stafford Castle

52° 47′ 50.28″ N, 2° 8′ 48.48″ W

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Stafford Castle is located two miles west of the town of Stafford, Staffordshire.

Shortly before the castle was built, the Saxon Eadric the Wild had led a failed rebellion which culminated in the defeat of the Saxons at the Battle of Stafford in 1069. A wooden castle was built in the 1070s by the Norman Robert de Stafford who was awarded the land by King William the Conqueror. He was able to control and extract taxes from the defeated Anglo-Saxon community. The castle was also used to prepare for the Norman invasion of Wales in 1081.The first castle was built in the usual form of a motte and bailey.

Ralph de Stafford, 1st Earl of Stafford, one of the King's leading commanders in the first phases of the Hundred Years' War, sealed a contract with a master mason in 1347, ordering a stone castle to be built on the castle mound. The rectangular stone keep originally had a tower in each corner, but was later adapted, with a fifth tower being added on in the middle of the north wall

The stone castle reached its heyday during the time of Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, who was killed at the Battle of Northampton in 1460. His grandson Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham had become a ward of the Yorkists and was initially a supporter of Richard III, but later rebelled in favour of the aborted invasion of Henry Tudor in 1483, and paid with his life. His son Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham escaped and was later restored to his lands by a grateful King Henry VII.

In 1511 the 3rd Duke built himself a further grand residence at Thornbury Castle in Gloucestershire, effectively a fortified manor house. His royal blood made him a threat to Henry VIII, who had him executed in 1521.

Stafford Castle, along with a small parcel of land, was restored to the later Staffords, but they never regained the wealth or status of earlier years. Through lack of maintenance the keep fell into disrepair and in 1603 Edward Stafford, 3rd Baron Stafford referred in a letter to 'My rotten castle of Stafford.'

During the early phases of the Civil War in 1643 it was held by Lady Isabel Stafford, a staunch Roman Catholic and Royalist, the widow of Edward Stafford, 4th Baron Stafford, who had been buried at the Castle Church, Stafford. The Parliamentarians had captured the town of Stafford on 15 May 1643, following a brief siege, but some of its garrison escaped and held Stafford Castle, in the hope of using it as a bridgehead to recapture the town.

When the castle eventually fell into Parliamentarian control and was demolished. On 22 December, not many months after its capture, the Parliamentarian Committee of Stafford ordered that the Castle shall be forthwith demolished.

By the 1790s only a single low wall remained to be seen above ground, and that was at risk of falling. Some workmen employed to underpin this wall discovered the buried castle basements and foundations, which ran off from the wall. Realising the likely extent of these basements, and the possibility of treasures within, they brought their discovery to the attention of Sir William Jerningham.. Jerningham immediately ordered all the foundations and basements to be uncovered, and the whole mound to be cleared of overgrowth.

The castle was partly rebuilt in the Gothic Revival Style from 1813. Yet this work was soon discontinued partly through the lack of funds, and also because the Jerningham family were elevated to the peerage. Dubbed by some as a 'folly', this was never the case, as the Keep was always intended to be lived in, and was occupied well into the 20th century.

In the immediate post-war years the mature woodland that surrounded the Keep was felled, which may have led to the structure being exposed to high winds. By 1949 large pieces of masonry had begun to fall from the towers, which were declared unsafe. Mr and Mrs Stokes, the last caretakers of the castle and its grounds, vacated the building that winter. The site became a target for vandals and in 1961 Lord Stafford gave the Keep to the local authority.

In 1978 professional excavations began to reveal the complex archaeology of the site, which had been for generations the seat of one of the most important families in the region. The excavations continued for many years, becoming one of the area's biggest employers of young people during the severe economic depression of the early 1980s. These excavations and establishment of a reconstructed medieval herb garden were documented over many years by the BBC.

On the site's official public opening in 1988, a heritage trail was established with signage and interpretation, and new fencing on improved trails. In 1992 a new purpose-built museum and gift/refreshments shop opened on-site below the castle mound.