Visiting Stokesay Castle and Church

We were lucky enough to visit Stokesay twice recently, once with an old friend who was visiting (when I played the game of trying to work out the building’s history before looking at the books), and once in the company of the Traherne Association with the benefit of local historian David Whitehead’s insights.

I suspect there was some sort of fortification here, perhaps where the unusually-shaped tower with the timber jetties now is, before the very wealthy merchant Lawrence of Ludlow acquired the site towards the end of the 13th century and built nearly all of what we can see, bar the later half-timbered gatehouse. He will have added the jetties – not real defensive work – making a very nice room with a view, and services beneath, and then worked away from it adding a very large hall (again those windows barely keep the birds out) running into another tower beyond it, with which a “solar block” was created with another fine more private room.

A large timbered kitchen ran out from the first tower into the courtyard, and to the other a gabled extension (not just a pentice – see the early engraving on site) which provided a comfortable connection between hall and solar had left its ghost on the stonework. Finally a larger tower) not show in the picturtes) was also added yet further along the range. It’s original entrance was high up and it was possibly defensible, or was it just for status and effect. (Or did Lawrence’s wife and family keep pressing him for ever more spacious accommodation… The final timber gatehouse represents the final victory of domestic bliss over warrior-like aspect.)

The Traherne Association was naturally particularly interested in the church. Its mediaeval predecessor was supposedly pulled down in the Civil War – although the house itself was not touched; but whatever the real story it provided the Puritan party with a rare opportunity to build an “auditory church”. (The chancel was added later along with its large family pew when more Catholic ways and hierarchy both returned.)

A little bit of family interest for us was that one branch of Jean’s ancestors – Leghs of Cheshire – were busy building a fortified manor house near Knutsford at much the same time which is now lost, so this stood in for ours. They weere a rough lot and the fortifications may actually have come in useful for them …