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Chirk Castle

1m W of Chirk, Wrexham, northeast Wales

Map link for Chirk Castle

Photographs Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Official Guidebook

Chirk Castle, occupied virtually continuously as a castle and stately home for almost 700 years, sits on a hilltop with its best views over the Ceiriog valley to the south. The successor to two known mottes in the area, it was probably built by Roger Mortimer, of the powerful Marcher family, who was granted the area by Edward I after the Welsh defeat in 1282. He was almost certainly given royal assistance in its design and construction, and its similarities to Beaumaris suggest that work may have started as late as 1295, perhaps in response to the Welsh rising of 1294.

Below: view of the Distil Room Tower on the approach to the castle.

The castle may have originally been envisaged as a rectangular enclosure with towers at the corners and halfway along each side. If so, only the northern half of the design survives, stopping beyond the central towers on the east and west. The simple gate through the eastern part of the north wall is probably original. Additional outer defences were dismantled during later landscaping.

The spirit of the 14th century structure is preserved in the Adam's Tower (near the well on the south-west), which has a magnificent dungeon on two levels and a number of upper rooms clearly showing the 5m-thick walls. Two of them contain 'murder holes', through which material could be poured on to anyone trying to batter or burn down the doors below. This tower, like the others, was originally at least one storey higher, the upper parts probably being removed after the Civil War bombardment of 1659.

The south curtain was completed on the present line early in the 15th century, under Thomas, earl of Arundel, probably against Owain Glyndwr's forces, who had strong local support. The chapel in the present south-east corner, possibly begun in the later 14th century, and the adjoining hall are the earliest surviving stone rooms outside the towers. Timber structures probably stood against the other walls.

Below: view of the gatehouse entrance to the castle, with the Middle Tower in the foreground and the Bachelor's Tower to the left.

After the War of the Roses, the castle settled in royal hands on the execution of Sir William Stanley in 1495. The south range was partially rebuilt in 1529, reusing stone from earlier work. The old hall was subdivided and new living accommodation provided to its west. In 1563, the castle was granted to Elizabeth I's favorite, Robert Dudley, soon created earl of Leicester and Baron Denbigh, who held it as part of his extensive north Wales properties until his death in 1588. He may have reroofed it and added some of the square windows.

The castle was purchased in 1595 for about L5,000 by Sir Thomas Myddelton, a son of the governor of Denbigh Castle and successful London merchant. As a founder of the East India Company, an investor in the expeditions of Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins, he had the means to convert Chirk into a comfortable Tudor residence. His new stone north range contained a hall, buttery and kitchen, with upstairs drawing and dining rooms. This range, with alterations, became the main living quarters of the castle, while the old south range was gradually given over to servants.

Below: general view of the inner courtyard at Chirk Castle.

Sir Thomas' son, the second Sir Thomas, took up residence on his marriage in 1612 and as MP for Denbighshire from 1625, found himself on the Parliamentarian side in the Civil War. Royalist supporters seized the castle in 1643, and held it for three years. Sir Thomas' Parliamentary forces meanwhile enjoyed some successes, including the capture of Powis Castle, although he could not bring himself to attack Chirk.

The castle was eventually regained by bribery and Sir Thomas' son (Sir Thomas III) installed as governor. By 1651, however, the general had changed sides, and further payoffs were needed to dislodge the Parliamentarian garrison. Chirk was nevertheless besieged and taken by the Parliamentarians in 1659 as punishment for the Myddeltons' support of the Cheshire Rising. At the last moment it sustained the damage they had for so long sought to avoid. Most of the eastern side was demolished, and much of the rest burnt, leaving the family with a huge rebuilding task after the Restoration in 1660.

A new stone range was now added on the east, in conjunction with the reconstruction of the curtain wall and towers. The new towers, although externally similar to their predecessors, had much thinner walls, while the range included a drawing room and long gallery at first floor level, with an arcaded walkway facing the courtyard beneath it. The old state bedroom in the south-east tower was given a new entrance from the long gallery. Sir Thomas III predeceased his father, and his son Sir Thomas IV, who came of age in 1672, supervised the decoration of the newly built rooms, completed, possibly with the help of William Wynde, in 1678. Only the long gallery survives to show the original style of this work.

Below: view of the Bell Tower (Old Maid's Tower) from the gardens.

Within the east range, the main structure of the castle was complete, although minor alterations continued to be made. After an abortive episode in 1762-4, when a scheme for a Gothic interior was abandoned at an early stage, the north range was extensively refurbished in neo-classical style by Joseph Turner of Chester in the later 1760s and 1770s, the drawing room being completed by John Cooper of Beaumaris in about 1796. In the 1820s, however, gothic vaulting was added, and from 1845 the interior was almost totally reworked in the Gothic manner by A.W. Pugin, architect of the Houses of Parliament. Most of these alterations have been undone in recent years, with the exception of the Cromwell Hall, where a collection of Civil War arms is displayed. The castle remained in the hands of the Myddelton family, who still own and work much of the estate, until 1978. It is now in the care of the National Trust.

Offa's Dyke runs through the park. It can be seen from the air beneath the waters of the artificial lake, and is visible as a low bank as far as Home Farm, west of the castle. South of the castle it is better preserved, running to the west of the track, and out into the fields beyond, beside the footpath. The magnificent wrought iron gate-screen at the entrance to the park was made by Robert and John Davies of Bersham between 1712 and 1719. It originally stood a little way in front of the main castle gate, and was moved to its present position in 1770 during the landscaping of the park.

 

Additional photographs of Chirk Castle & Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Copyright 2009 by Jeffrey L. Thomas