The Most Beautiful Edwardian Castle in Wales ( and it was not even built by King Edward I)
If you haven’t decided yet whether you would like to visit a medieval castle or a stately home, then why don’t you visit them both at one location? Chirk Castle offers this, providing the best of both worlds…Read More
Since we started to “chase” castles, we have explored many types of places and you can usually class them as either a medieval fortress or a stately home. Sometimes you manage to visit somewhere like Chirk, a great mix of a 750-year-old fortress and an impressive stately home that has hosted plenty of royals in the last few centuries.
Located in Wales near the 9th century Offa Dyke, the castle got its name from Roger Mortimer de Chirk, the 1st Earl of March, who built it in 1295. A year before the Welsh revolted and King Edward I wanted to fortify the border, it seemed that he gave Mortimer some help with the planning of the castle because it really resembles one of the royal castles in North Wales, Beaumaris Castle. Much of the original castle was destroyed after the civil war, but you can still see Adam Tower which is part of the original castle, with its fifteen feet thick wall and the castle dungeon.
This dungeon was not the most comfortable of places in the world and during the “Hundred Years War”, French prisoners were locked in it, waiting for their families to pay the ransom for their release ( this was the best way to make money during this period). If you are able to visit at the weekend or in school holidays, you will also be able to meet local knowledgeable guides dressed as medieval soldiers who will show you various weapons and armoury from that period.
If the name Roger Mortimer sounds familiar, it is because this is the name of the man who helped Queen Isabella to get the perfect revenge against her husband, Edward II. However, this was the nephew of the Mortimer who built the castle and he probably grew up in the castle under the care of his almighty uncle. You can read all about this in my Chirk castle stories.
During the Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), the castle belonged to Sir William Stanley. Stanley’s brother was married to Henry VII’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, and he himself was the one who killed Richard III in the battle of Bosworth. Unfortunately for Stanley, he decided to support Perkin Warbeck, a man who presented himself as the lost son of King Edward IV and led a rebellion against Henry VII. The King crushed the revolt and Stanley lost his head. Chirk was transferred to the crown until Elizabeth gave it to her favourite, Robert Dudley, and in 1595 it was bought by Thomas Myddelton.
Thomas was a self-made man and one of the founders of the East India Company in the year 1600. Later on, he also became the Lord Mayor of London. During the English Civil War in the middle of the 17th century, he was a parliamentarian and Chirk was captured by royalist forces. It is also assumed that King Charles I spent a few nights at Chirk in 1642 and, indeed, you can still visit the “King’s bedroom” at Chirk today. However, the King’s bed is assumed to be dated from the 18th century and so the only way that Charles could have slept in it would be if he had a time travel machine as he was executed in 1649.
After the King’s execution, Myddelton switched sides and participate in the “Sealed Knot”, an aristocratic plot to bring back the monarchy. When the revolt began, the Republican army bombed Chirk causing some serious damage. When Charles II was crowned, he awarded the family with the Baronet title and enough money to restore Chirk to its former glory.
The Myddelton family continued to hold the castle until the 20th century. In the mid 19th century, they renovated the castle, employing Augustus Pugin for the job, the same architect who redesigned the palace of Westminster after the fire of 1834. However, it was not easy to maintain the upkeep of this massive old castle and the family had to sell some assets in order to keep up with the costs. At the beginning of the century, they even sold a whole village that they owned, showing just how far they were willing to go to retain Chirk. Finally, in 1910, they had to find another way to maintain it and they leased it for the duration of 35 years to the De Walden family, one of the richest families in England. Although the De Waldens only leased the castle, they still embarked on massive restoration works, bringing it up-to-date with the 20th century.
When the Myddleton family came back to Chirk, they were one of the noblest families in the country. Lady Margaret Myddelton was the stepdaughter of Lord Astor from Hever Castle and her godmother was Queen Mary, the wife of King George V and the grandmother of Queen Elizabeth II. The family arrived with a staff base of almost 50 servants. The members of the royal family used to visit the house often, and according to a local plumber, he remembers how they used to change the taps in the bathroom to gold ones before any of these visits and then remove them immediately afterwards. When Princess Margaret came to visit she thought that the living room was missing something and she told the Queen that they should loan the Myddletons one of their own carpets. It was during the 1970s and so, as you can only imagine, was quite vibrant! It is still in the castle today and you can see it on your visit.
In 1978, the family could no longer manage the maintenance of the castle and it was sold to the government and moved to the hands of the National Trust who spent more than £20M on its conservation. Although the National Trust started to manage the castle in 1981, the family still lived in it. However, in 2004 Guy Myddelton decided to leave Chirk Castle after more than four hundred years of his family inhabiting it.
The Castle is now open for visitors and it is managed by the National Trust, Click here for more information.Read Less
It is a Fortress; It is a Stately Home; It is Just Perfect
Chasing Castles Review
We visited Chirk Castle on a sunny Saturday during the May half term break. We had stopped off at Chirk on our way to North Wales to see the famous castles of Edward I; unlike most of his castles, this one was built during his own reign and probably using the plans of Beaumaris castle. It is managed by the National Trust.
The castle has a very long history, starting as the home of the first Earl of the March and it continued to be a home of great families until very recently. This makes it the holy trinity of historic houses, combining all the impressive features of a “fortress” with magnificent state rooms and an incredible formal garden. Finally, if you need an extra bonus, Chirk is located near the 8th century Offa Dyke so you can even add some Anglo Saxon history to your visit! The fun in Chirk starts immediately after you pass the visitor centre, where the kids can find a small adventure playground and grown-ups can find coffee.
Upon entrance to the castle itself, we met two guides dressed as medieval soldiers, who immediately engaged with our children. The soldiers were amazing guides, focused on the medieval history of the castle where they pointed us in the direction of a room full of weapons and armoury that the kids could try on. During the process, they managed to teach my two many details of the life of soldiers and prisoners of the era: it was almost a live performance of “Horrible Histories” for them and they loved it. To be honest, it was the best “Edwardian castle” we visited on this trip to the North Wales trio.
Whilst my children were fully occupied, I joined an early bird guided tour to the staterooms of the “modern” part of the castle. The tour was held by one of the volunteers of the trust who was extremely knowledgeable.
Finally, it was the time to explore the gardens which were in full bloom. The gardens are not overly large, meaning that you can cover them without feeling guilty that you might have missed something. On the edge of the gardens, my daughter demonstrated to me that she learned something from our previous visits to formal gardens and recognised the design as being in the “Ha Ha” style.
In summary, Chirk castle spoilt us and probably ruined the odds of all the CADW castles in North Wales. It is one of the best National Trust properties that we have ever visited and if they had an exhibition about the history of the house and family such as to be found at Plas Newydd or Sudeley castle, then Chirk would probably get to the top of the list so far. The combination of a great house to explore with the understanding of how to hosts visitors is definitely unique and unusual, unfortunately. If we compare the castle to a restaurant and take the concept of the Michelin guide to judge it, then it is easily a two-star castle making it one of the top ten castles that we have visited so far
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