For over 900 years there has been a castle or ruin of in some form here in Stafford. Dominating the area for many miles around on the part natural/part man made hill, the low ground of the county here is punctuated dramatically by this vantage point. On the M6 south for instance passing Stafford, take a look left, you cannot miss it. It is not just a small ruin on a mound that some imagine.. You can see the detailed earthworks of Norman times, it has a terrific and informative Heritage trail plus an extremely delightful woodland walk surrounding.
When the Normans took England in 1066 it didn’t mean they took all the land immediately. There were Saxon rebellions in many areas so land was given to Norman Lords and castles built to enable better control of the land, people and tax collection. Stafford belonged now to Lord Robert de Tosny and between 1070 to 1100 he took this little elevated land (a glacial deposit) and man made it up into the flat topped, better formed hill/mound that you see today. His castle on top was built of timber and earth.
The ruins you see today though, they are very young considering, and a whole lot of history goes before.
The site is a fine example of a Norman Motte and Bailey system. The keep would be on the top mound, and looking out you can see how the land undulated below to where the bailey used to be, the outer defences and more.
As you walk around the site properly you get to see remnants of the ditches that held the lines of defence to protect the Bailey before the Motte. There are signs everywhere with facts and illustrations explaining what it would have looked like way back in time.
In 1347, Ralph, the first Earl of Stafford, ordered the first stone castle to be built, and work started the next year. A grand keep with 5 towers stood proud. A descendant, Humphrey Stafford, became Duke of Buckingham in 1444 and now the castle was in its prime (The ruin you see today is not of this either). A great deer park was known to surround the grounds too.
In the 16th Century Henry VIII saw the Staffords as a threat so took the castle and land from them, executing Edward Stafford in the process. The land made its way back to the Stafford family but the downhill progression of wealth and mortar had begun. The civil war hasted the process in the 17th Century. Lady (Isabel) Stafford was a Royalist and defended all she could during the civil war, the outhouses burnt down in the sieges. The Parliamentarians eventually took Stafford Castle in 1643…. and then promptly demolished it!
Time passed and the Stafford line passed to the name Jeringham. In the 1790s Sir William Jeringham had some work done on a little bit of wall on this tardy overgrown mound. The workman found the basement and foundations of the greater prior castle and thus, in 1813, Sir William got all retro, and had built a four towered Gothic Revival castle based on the exact foundations as previously. Four storeys high!
It is of this 19th Century building you see the ruins today. Caretakers looked after the building all the way up until the late 1940s. Yes there are people around now that will remember the days it was lived in! They didn’t make castles in the 1800s as good as in the 1400s it seems and it was deteriorating already through the 20th Century. In 1950 the Army came to make it safe and demolished the heights down to one level, the ruins of which is plain to see.
In 1961 vandals had added to the demise of the site and Lord Stafford gave it to the local authority. Excavations were made enabling the rich layout of the land from Norman times to be studied, viewed and shown properly. The 80s brought the heritage trail which I do agree is something that you should do to appreciate this spot. The trees were planted then too. A great woodland walk, dog lovers paradise. But over time since, the woodland has taken away the massive view somewhat and hides the full prominence of the hill that made it perfect for the castle.
The bloom all around when I was there had attracted hundreds and hundreds of butterflies, of all colours, it was quite a sight.
At the entrance to the castle grounds there is a fantastic visitors centre, plus they have constructed a medieval herb garden based on documents connected to the castle from the 1600s.
If you have a couple of hours and you are in the area and want to see and learn some history, this is not just some stones on a little hill, explore and be surprised!