For over 900 years there has been a castle or ruin of in some form here in Stafford. Stafford Castle dominates the area for many miles around on the part natural, part man made hill, the county off Stafford is quite flat but here that 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 further north was given to Norman Lords and there were castles built to enable better control of the land, people and tax collection.
Stafford belonged at that time to Lord Robert de Toeny (also known as Robert de Stafford) and between 1070 to 1100. He took this little elevated land which was a glacial deposit and then used man made means to build the mound up into the flat topped, better formed hill that you see today.
His wooden castle on top was built of timber and earth.
In 1347 it was Ralph de Stafford, the 1st Earl of Stafford that created the stone castle. A fine example of a motte and bailey castle. 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.
In the mid 15th century the castle was in its heyday during the time of Humphrey Stafford, the 1st Duke of Buckingham.
Slowly over the next 300 years or so the condition of it began to deteriorate. Firstly it came under the ward of the Yorkists and Richard III so when HenryVII defeated the King the land tensions grew there.
It was Henry VIII that took the Stafford’s land as well as executing the 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Edward Stafford in 1521. That Yorkist blood made him a direct competitor to the throne. Stafford Castle and area was taken for the Crown.
The castle was given back to the Staffords later in the century but the damage was done. They had little money from before plus the building was heading into disrepair.
In the 17th century came the Civil war and the castle was then occupied by Lady Isabel Stafford. She was a staunch Royalist and put up a good fight to defend her castle. However in 1643 after a small siege the castle was taken over by the Parliamentarians.
The Parliamentarians thus then ordered the castle to be completely demolished.
It fell to just its foundations by the end of the 18th Century but in 1813 it was built upon again by the Jerningham family. They started to build a new castle in the Gothic Revival style. The keep was rebuilt. But the money ran out and was not completed, although the new keep was lived in for well over the next 100 years or so. It had been returned to its 4 storey glory.
It wasn’t until the 1950s before the last dwelling caretakers left and vacated the building.
High winds had started to make the masonry fall and the Army was called in to demolish and make safe. So it is these ruins that you see today.
In Local Authority Hands
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 1980s 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.
Walk Around The Castle Hill
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.
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! Just like many other little parts of the City.
Visiting Stafford Castle and walking the grounds is absolutely free.
Parking: The postcode for parking is ST16 1DJ and there is no charge but you are welcome to make a donation in the box provided.
Stafford Castle is open from 11am until 4pm daily.
It is dog friendly.