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Ludlow Castle, the standing structural remains

A Grade I Listed Building in Ludlow, Shropshire

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Latitude: 52.3672 / 52°22'1"N

Longitude: -2.723 / 2°43'22"W

OS Eastings: 350865

OS Northings: 274597

OS Grid: SO508745

Mapcode National: GBR BK.RY15

Mapcode Global: VH843.RR9N

Plus Code: 9C4V978G+VQ

Entry Name: Ludlow Castle, the standing structural remains

Listing Date: 15 April 1954

Last Amended: 29 September 2014

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1291698

English Heritage Legacy ID: 389694

ID on this website: 101291698

Location: Ludlow, Shropshire, SY8

County: Shropshire

Civil Parish: Ludlow

Built-Up Area: Ludlow

Traditional County: Shropshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Shropshire

Church of England Parish: Ludlow St Laurence

Church of England Diocese: Hereford

Tagged with: Architectural structure

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The standing structural remains of Ludlow Castle, an enclosure castle, begun in the late C11, and converted into a tower keep castle in the early C12.


The standing structural remains of Ludlow Castle, an enclosure castle, begun in the late C11, and converted into a tower keep castle in the early C12.

MATERIALS: the castle is constructed of a variety of local stones; it appears that the greenish-grey flaggy calcerous siltstones that underlies the castle was used in its initial phase, with local sandstones being used thereafter.

PLAN: the castle consists of an elliptical INNER BAILEY, in the north-west corner of the site, representing the earliest area of development, with the OUTER BAILEY, created in the second half of the C12, to the south and east.


The curtain wall of the inner bailey incorporates four mural towers and the former gatehouse, all thought to have been constructed by 1115. Three of the four towers are open at the back and would originally have contained wooden scaffolding supporting look-out and fighting platforms. The fourth tower, known as the POSTERN TOWER, on the western side of the enclosure, has small ground-floor postern doorways on its north and east sides. The former gatehouse, situated at the south-eastern part of the enclosure, is rectangular in plan and was originally three storeys in height. Remaining in the ground-floor of the building is part of a wall arcade, thought to be late-C11, with ornamented capitals. In the early C12 a fourth storey was added to provide more domestic accommodation, thus converting the gatehouse into a tower keep, known as the GREAT TOWER. In the later C12 the original gatehouse entrance passage was blocked (the location of the former arch remains visible on the south elevation) and an archway was cut through the adjacent part of the curtain wall to the north-east, reached by a stone bridge. This archway was partially infilled and a smaller arch constructed in the C14. Access to the upper floors of the tower is by a spiral stair to the east, reached by an ornamented doorcase, the Tudor arch having a trefoiled lintel flanked by cusped panelling and trefoiled lintel, which also gives access to rooms in the Judges’ Lodgings (see below). On the first floor is the hall, with a chamber and garderobe to the west. In the second half of the C15 the north wall of the Great Tower was rebuilt and internal floors added to create new rooms lit by enlarged windows. Adjoining the Great Tower, in the south-west section of the inner bailey, is the INMOST BAILEY, a walled enclosure constructed in the C12 and C13 to provide greater security and privacy to those living in the Great Tower. There is a well within this enclosure surrounded by a low stone wall.

Located in the north-eastern sector of the elliptical enclosure of the inner bailey are the remains of the CHAPEL OF ST MARY MAGDALENE. This was built in the first half of the C12, probably by Gilbert de Lacy, and was remodelled in the C16, probably in two phases. In the first phase, thought to have been undertaken circa 1502 for the installation of Arthur, Prince of Wales, a first floor was inserted in the circular nave, together with additional openings, including a first-floor doorway which gave access to a passage linking the chapel with the Great Chamber Block to the north. In the second phase, during the presidency of the Council in the Marches of Sir Henry Sidney (1560-86), the original presbytery and chancel were taken down and a new chancel, or chapel, built, stretching as far as the curtain wall. The crenellated circular nave, which measures 8.3m in diameter internally, survives to its full height as a roofless shell, and contains much original carving to the round-headed order arches of the door openings, with chevron and billet mouldings, and to the internal blind arcade with a variety of capitals and moulded arches.

Since the late C12, the castle site has been entered through the two-storeyed GATEHOUSE within the eastern part of the curtain wall of the outer bailey. The wall originally had two adjoining rectangular mural towers of which the one to the north of the gatehouse survives as a standing structure; this, together with the adjacent section of the curtain wall form part of the CASTLE HOUSE built in the C18 (listed separately at Grade I). Protruding from the curtain wall defining the western side of the outer bailey are the remains of a semi-circular tower known as MORTIMER'S TOWER, possibly built in the early C13; this originally consisted of a ground-floor entrance passage, with two floors above, and was used as the postern entrance to the outer bailey until the C15. In the south-west corner of the outer bailey are the remains of ST PETER’S CHAPEL, originally a free-standing rectangular structure, founded by Roger Mortimer to celebrate his escape from the Tower of London in 1324, following his rebellion against Edward II. The chapel served as the Court House and offices of the Council in the Marches, for which an adjacent building to the west was constructed. The south-east corner of the chapel is now attached to a wall which completes the enclosure of the outer bailey’s south-west corner. In the north wall of the chapel is a blocked two-light window, enlarged at the bottom when a floor was inserted for the court house; a second original window towards the eastern end now contains a first-floor blocked doorway.

At the end of the C13 or in the early C14 an extensive building programme was initiated, replacing existing structures within the inner bailey with a grand new range of domestic buildings, built along the inside of the north section of the Norman curtain wall. The construction of these new buildings indicates the changing role of Ludlow Castle from military stronghold to a more comfortable residence and a seat of political power, reflecting the more peaceful conditions in the region following the conquest of Wales by Edward I. The first buildings to be completed were the GREAT HALL and the adjoining SOLAR BLOCK (private apartments). The Great Hall, which was used for ceremonial and public occasions, consisted of a first floor over a large undercroft, reached through a moulded pointed arch in the south elevation. The Hall was lit on both south and north sides by three pointed-arched windows with sunk chamfers and ‘Y’ tracery formed of paired cusped trefoil-headed lights, under hoodmoulds; these originally had seats, now partially surviving. The central south window was converted to a fireplace, replacing the louver which formerly covered the open fire towards the east of the Hall, its position indicated by elaborate corbels. At the west end, a series of openings lead into the Solar Block, only one of these (that to the north) being of the primary phase. Within the Hall, at the western end, is a timber viewing platform, which is not of special interest.* The Solar Block is thought to have been begun as a two-storey building, and raised to three storeys shortly afterwards, at which time the adjacent NORTH-WEST TOWER was raised, with the new CLOSET TOWER being built in the angle between the two. Each of the three floors of the Solar Block extended into the North-West Tower, with each being linked to a room in the Closet Tower. All three floors of the Solar were heated, the ground floor having a fireplace which originally had a stone hood; the first-floor room has hooded fireplace, on nearly triangular-sectioned jambs; the room above has a plainer hooded fireplace. The windows include original openings with ‘Y’ tracery and trefoil-headed lights, similar to those in the Hall, and a ground-floor mullioned window probably dating from the late C16.

In the early C14 two additional buildings containing more private apartments were constructed by Richard Mortimer. The three-storeyed GREAT CHAMBER BLOCK was built in about 1320 next to the Great Hall to balance the Solar Block to the west of the Hall. The connecting four-storeyed GARDEROBE TOWER, which projects from the curtain wall of the inner bailey, was also probably built about the same time. As in the Hall and Solar blocks, the floors are now lost but features in the walls remain to indicate layout and function. The main entrance to this block is through a recessed doorway in the south-west corner, with a pointed two-light window above. The undercroft was heated, and is lit by two two-light windows with stone side seats in the south wall. The tracery of the eastern of these windows has been lost. The first-floor main room, or ‘Great Chamber’, contains a grand hooded fireplace carried on a fourfold series of corbels; to either side of the fireplace are large head corbels with leafwork. The Tudor transomed and mullioned window probably replaced an earlier window. The upper room also has a large hooded fireplace, and was lit principally by a large trefoil-headed window with head-stopped hoodmould in the southern wall.

Following the establishment of the headquarters for the Council in the Marches at Ludlow, new buildings were constructed and many existing buildings changed their use. Within the inner bailey the main room in the Great Chamber Block became the council chamber, with additional chambers above. A new adjoining residential block, now called the TUDOR LODGINGS, was built to the east, replacing earlier structures. The block consisted of two sets of lodgings both being of three storeys with attic rooms above. The south wall of this block cuts across openings in the east wall of the Great Chamber Block. Between the lodgings, projecting from the south wall, is a circular stair tower, entered through an ogee-headed arch. The windows in the south elevation are mullioned; several have been blocked. In the north wall of the western lodging, at ground-floor level, is an opening with double trefoil head, having a divided light above. Otherwise, the features of this range are plain, with pointed door openings, and straight lintels to fireplaces.

As the power of the Council grew, further domestic accommodation was needed. To the east of the entrance within the inner bailey, a three-storeyed range, known as the JUDGES LODGINGS, was completed in 1581. On the south side, this building extends the curtain wall upwards, with two gables, and piercing for fenestration, the earlier arched entrance to the inner bailey becoming visually part of the newer building, with rooms above; stone arms set immediately over the archway dated 1581 commemorate the Presidency of the Council of Sir Henry Sidney. Rooms set above the arch leave a gate-passage leading through a second archway to the inner bailey, and giving access to both the Great Keep and the Judges’ Lodgings. The rooms above the gate-passage appear to have been accessed by the embellished Tudor-arched doorway in the Keep at the north end of the passage. The north side of the Judges’ Lodgings, within the inner bailey, has a polygonal stair turret (which originally had a pyramidal roof), with mullioned and transomed eight-light windows set regularly to either side. Within, some indication is given of the arrangement and appearance of the rooms by the survival of numerous fireplaces of red sandstone backed by brick set in herringbone pattern. The adjoining building to the east, originally two-storeyed, is thought to date from the C17.

Other developments during the C16 included changes to the south-west corner tower, enclosed within the inmost bailey, with the installation of a large oven at ground-floor level, with residential rooms above; the tower became known as the OVEN TOWER. In 1522 the PORTER'S LODGE was built in the outer bailey to the south of the gatehouse. The shell of this building now contains the castle shop; the modern structure and fittings of the shop are not of special interest.* Also dating from 1522 is the PRISON, adjoining to the south, which retains square-headed windows with moulded frames and hoodmoulds, and the stable block, completed in 1597, with mullioned windows. Like the porter's lodge, these buildings remain as incomplete shells.

*Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 ('the Act'), it is declared that these aforementioned features are not of special architectural or historic interest.


An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and mural towers bounding the site. Enclosure castles, found in urban and in rural areas, were the strongly defended residence of the king or lord, sited for offensive or defensive operations, and often forming an administrative centre. Although such sites first appeared following the Norman Conquest, they really developed in the C12, incorporating defensive experience of the period, including that gained during the Crusades. Many enclosure castles were built in the C13, with a few dating from the C14, and Ludlow Castle is not alone in having begun as an enclosure castle and developed into a tower keep castle. At Ludlow, the large existing gate tower was converted into a tower keep in the early C12, providing more domestic accommodation, as well as defence.

Ludlow Castle occupies a commanding position at the steep-sided western end of a flat-topped ridge overlooking the valleys of the River Teme and the River Corve. The adjacent town of Ludlow, which was established by the mid-C12, lies to the south and east of the castle. The defences surrounding the medieval town are designated separately. The castle was probably founded by Walter de Lacy in about 1075 and served as the ‘caput' (the principal residence, military base and administrative centre) of the de Lacy estates in south Shropshire until the mid-C13. During the Anarchy of King Stephen's reign the castle was for Matilda until 1139, when it was besieged and captured by Stephen. The de Lacy family recovered the castle in the C12 and retained it, apart from occasional confiscations, until the death of Walter de Lacy in 1241. Ludlow Castle features in an ‘ancestral romance’ called ‘The Romance of Fulk FitzWarren', written in the late C13 about the adventures of a C13 knight. Other documentary sources indicate that when the castle was in royal control it was used for important meetings, such as that held in 1224 when Henry III made a treaty with the Welsh prince, Llewellyn. Following the death of Walter de Lacy in 1241 the castle came into the possession of the de Genevilles, and in the early C14, the castle passed through marriage to Roger Mortimer. Between 1327 and 1330 Roger Mortimer ruled England as Regent, with Edward II's widowed queen, Isabella. Mortimer had himself made Earl of March in 1328. In 1425 the Mortimer inheritance passed to Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, who made Ludlow a favoured residence. His eldest son, who assumed the title of Earl of March, claimed the crown as Edward IV in 1461. Edward IV's son Edward was created Prince of Wales in 1471, and in 1473 was sent to Ludlow, where the administration of the principality known as the Council in the Marches was established. Both Edward and the Council remained at Ludlow until Edward IV's death in 1483. Ludlow Castle continued as an important royal residence and in 1493 the Council was re-established at Ludlow with Henry VII's son and heir, Prince Arthur as Prince of Wales. In 1501 Arthur was installed at Ludlow with his bride, Katherine of Aragon, and it was at Ludlow that Arthur died in 1502. In 1534 the Council in the Marches received statutory powers both to hear suits and to supervise and intervene in judicial proceedings in Wales and the Marches, and from that time until 1641, and again from 1660 to 1689, Ludlow's principal role was as the headquarters for the Council and, as such, the administrative capital of Wales and the border region. Milton’s mask, ‘Comus’, was first performed here in 1634 before John Egerton, 1st Earl of Bridgewater, in celebration of the earl’s new appointment as Lord President of Wales. On the dissolution of the Council the castle was abandoned and left to decay. Lead, window glass and panelling were soon removed for reuse in the town. In 1771, when the castle was leased to the Earl of Powis, many of the buildings were in ruins.

Since the late C18, the buildings have undergone repair and restoration at various times, as well as some further deterioration, with some rebuilding and replacement of stonework. Extensive archaeological excavations were undertaken by William St John Hope between 1903 and 1907. The castle is now open to the public.

Reasons for Listing

The standing structural remains of Ludlow Castle are listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

Historical: as one of England's finest castle sites, clearly showing its development from an enclosure castle into a tower keep castle in the C12; the castle played an important historical role particularly as seat of the President of the Council of the Marches;
Architectural: the castle remains illustrate significant phases of development between the C11 and the C16;
Survival: the buildings are in a ruinous condition, but nonetheless represent a remarkably complete multi-phase complex.

External Links

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