Farleigh Hungerford castle began life as a manor house belonging to the Montfort family during 1369-70. In 1370, it was sold to Thomas Hungerford who began work converting it into a castle. After his death Thomas' son Walter continued to expand and improve upon his father's project, turning the castle into a top-of-the-range medieval fortification.
Throughout their 200 year occupancy, the Hugerford's developed a reputation as a colourful and controversial family. This history began with the first foundation stone of the castle: Thomas undertook its construction without first obtaining the required 'license to crenelate' from the king - an oversight of foolish proportions. His subsequent pardon allowed his head to remain on his shoulders, but it doesn't seem to have served as an object lesson to future generations.
Robert Hungerford was the next family member of notable poor judgement. After seven years spent as a prisoner of France during the Hundred Year War, he promptly returned to England just in time to select the losing side in the War of the Roses. He was executed for treason, closely followed by his son.
The next bloody chapter in the family history came when Lady Agnes Hungerford was hanged after being found guilty of poisoning her husband and arranging for his body to be burned in the kitchen furnace. Other versions dispute this, saying her husband was strangled by her accomplices.
The third wife of Walter Hungerford was the next contributor to the sordid family archives, accusing her husband of attempting to poison and starve her. He also imprisoned her in a tower for three years due to suspicion of adultery. Her complaint was ignored, but Walter was subsequently executed on charges of treason and "unnatural vice".
Edward Hungerford continued the family theme when he accused his second wife of poisoning him. His case failed and he was jailed when he refused to meet the court costs.
Another Edward Hungerford contributed to the final chapter of the family's dubious history by gambling away the family fortunes. He lost 28 manors and vast amounts of capital and eventually died in poverty after being forced to sell the castle in 1686. By 1701, the castle was described as "ruinous" and it's glory days were over. The Hungerfords passed out of history and their home was left to rot.
Today, Farleigh Hungerford Castle is a pitiful but evocative site. Not much has survived apart from a smattering of walls, the gatehouse, two crumbling towers and the chapel - the latter containing some unusual medieval wall paintings.
Despite this, it's well worth a visit. The ruins nestle amongst some rolling wooded hills and the surrounding countryside gives the whole place a sleepy, timeless atmosphere. The striking landscape and the skeletal medieval remains are still sufficient to inspire that all important sense of other-worldliness.
Farleigh Hungerford castle is one of those well kept secrets that Britain seems to have in abundance. The secluded location means it's unlikely to be busy. I'd definitely recommend finding time for a visit.