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Wigmore Castle Restored

Article copyright 1999 by English Heritage
Photographs copyright 1999 by Andrew Selkirk

Below: The re-dedication ceremony at Wigmore Castle, October 1999

English Heritage Spends 1 Million and Saves a Castle in Ruin

English Heritage today (October 12, 1999) opened the last great medieval castle in England which, until English Heritage acquired in in 1996, had never been repaired or conserved. After three years of work costing almost 1 million, Wigmore Castle in Herefordshire, looks like it has done for the last 200 years.

Sir Jocelyn Stevens, Chairman of English Heritage, speaking at the opening, said: "Three years ago Wigmore Castle was about to collapse. It was one of the most vulnerable historic monuments in England.

Having visited the castle with my commissioners we decided to save it and adopt an entirely new approach to its conservation and preservation. We would consolidate the ruins so that the castle would remain a romantic ruin forever. Once again we have fulfilled our promise, coming in ahead of time and under budget. As a result Wigmore Castle's spectacular ruins will continue to dominate their wild and windswept hilltop for many generations to come.

"The fragile ecology of the site, with species of plants and animals little changed since the early 1700s, has been left intact. Likewise, much of the castle's past lies buried, eight metres deep beneath the surface - a time-capsule and one of the most important archaeological sites in England, undisturbed.

"Everyone from schoolchildren to academics, will have access to the fully digitised three dimensional record that we have made of the Castle, which is probably the most complete computerised record of any site in Britain.

"Had we adopted the traditional approach, one which we and our colleagues in CADW and Historical Scotland have used in the past, we would have excavated the entire site to reveal buried buildings. We would have laid out the site as something it never was, a ruin with neat grass lawns. The fallen debris would have been removed, formal paths laid and concrete steps, metal railings, litter bins, a custodian's hut, a car park, lavatories, a shop, perhaps even a 'heritage center' imposed. There would have been bossy notices everywhere with worn patches and puddles where people had stood to read about what they were looking at. There would be warnings about dangerous ancient monuments are.

"Instead, we have kept the promise I made three years ago that the Castle would remain untouched and the spirit of the place intact. I want every visitor to feel they are discovering for themselves Wigmore, the magical, evocative and mysterious ruin which invites exploration, vivid with wild flowers and sustaining a remarkably rich and flourishing wildlife."

At Wigmore English Heritage has developed an 'organic' method of making ruins safe. Instead of imposing on the ruins an inappropriate 'textbook' programme of restoration and presentation, experts felt their way forward, using experimental techniques, learning as they went from what the castle had to teach.

English Heritage also took the unusual step for us of employing an ecologist on the team. His expertise, combined with that of English Heritage's own landscape specialists and our health and safety advisor, is responsible for the successful use of nature itself - the planting of dense and hostile native species of thorn, bramble and nettle - to deter visitors from dangerous zones.

At Wigmore, the walls and wildlife are mutually dependent. Tufts of grass and wildflowers temporarily removed from the wall tops during the works were kept alive in special tubs. Now back in place they will help protect the walls from frost and cracking. Even ivy, reinstated, will shield rather than invade the walls.

A visit to Wigmore Castle is free but not for everyone. There are no visitor facilities. It is a hard walk to the top of the hill. Children must not go alone. We have worked with the local authority and the people of the village to ensure that visitors neither disturb the peace and character of Wigmore nor, through their numbers, destroy the very experience they have come to enjoy.

Rob Williams, English Nature's Three Counties Team Manager, said, "We give a warm welcome to this outstanding example of work which combines the conservation of flora and fauna with the preservation of the site.

"Here at Wigmore Castle, there is a real biodiversity gain for Herefordshire, with the conservation of scarce plants like the Southern Polypody Fern and a rare animal, the Lesser Horseshoe Bat, for which English Heritage has made special provision."

Below: View of the countryside & the steep climb to the castle

 

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