Last Photographed: Friday 14th July 2006
Ludlow Castle is the greatest of the Norman fortresses built along the borders of the Marches to pacify the countryside and deter incursions by the Welsh. It dates back to the late 11th Century, when construction was started by Roger de Lacy following his family's inheritance of the manor of Stanton in the wake of the Norman conquest. Steep slopes on the north and west sides of a flat plateau provided an excellent defensive platform. The rivers Teme and Corve lie at its base, providing a further obstacle to invaders. The southern and eastern sides of the inner curtain wall were fortified with a deep defensive ditch, the quarrying of which provided much of the limestone used in the castle's construction.
In 1139, the castle saw action for the first time, being unsuccessfully besieged by King Stephen during the civil wars that plagued his reign.
The castle remained in the hands of the De Lacy family until the death of their last male of the line in 1240. The estate was then divided between his two daughters, eventually falling into the possession of Geoffrey de Geneville. Geoffrey's campaigns in Ireland resulted in him spending little time at Ludlow, and in 1283, he granted the castle and its lands to his son, Peter de Geneville.
When Peter's daughter married, the castle became the property of Roger Mortimer, one of England's most powerful nobles. During the early 14th Century, Mortimer oversaw the expansion of Ludlow Castle into a splendid medieval palace.
Roger Mortimer was a colourful character. Following a failed rebellion in 1321, he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He escaped to France, and was followed there by his lover, Queen Isabella - Edward II's wife.
He returned to England in 1326, and mounted this time his rebellion was successful. Edward II was overthrown and imprisoned. Parliament met the following year, and the king was forced to abdicate in favour of his son, Edward III. Shortly afterwards, the deposed king was conveniently murdered. This was presumably in the mind of Edward III, since when he came of age in 1330, he had Mortimer arrested and hanged as a traitor.
Ludlow Castle passed to the crown, but was returned to the Mortimer family after they regained royal favour. The last of the Mortimers died in 1425, and the castle passed to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York. This led to Ludlow playing a prominent part in the War of the Roses, which led to its sacking in 1459 by Lancastrian forces. In 1461, the castle became crown property when Edward, Duke of York, ascended to the throne.
In 1473, the king's son was sent to Ludlow to be raised away from London. The prince was accompanied by an entourage of friends, nobles and royal advisers. From this, the Prince's Council emerged, led by Bishop Alcock. This body evolved into the Council of the Marches - a virtual government for Wales - and Ludlow became the administrative centre for the entire Welsh region. The castle thrived in its new role until the eventual abolition of the council in 1641. In 1669, the castle was finally abandoned and left to fall into decay.
Today, Ludlow castle is one of Britain's finest romantic ruins. The Welsh Marches are still slightly wild territory, straddling the border between England and Wales almost forgotten by the outside world. The region is a little slice of a world that still feels a few decades behind our current times.
The towns and villages of the Marches retain much of their character, and Ludlow is the finest example of this. The medieval street plan survives, and the town is now a haven of fine eating establishments and Unique shops staffed with friendly people - people who still seem more interested in securing a conversation than a sale. At its borders, Ludlow ends abruptly rather than in a slow sprawl, surrounded by trees and rivers, approached over medieval bridges, and the castle towering above it all, looking out across its demesne as it has done for the last 900 years.
The castle has escaped the plundering that plagued many other medieval fortresses. Although stripped of its more expensive materials, the stone fabric of the buildings remained untouched, and no demolition work was ever undertaken. As a result, the essential structure of the castle is still intact. The entire outer curtain wall survives, and it's possible to walk around the entirety of its circumference. The inner bailey is dominated by the distinctive round tower of the old Norman chapel, and all the buildings that line it survive in good condition, including the gatehouse and defensive towers.
Ludlow Castle is an extensive ruin that the visitor could easily spend half a day exploring. Climbing to its highest reaches, it offers a spectacular view of the surrounding rivers, woodland and town. Well worth a visit in its own right, it sits amidst a region rich in history and heritage. Highly recommended.