Guest Blog - Hartlebury Castle
The team from Hartlebury Castle teach us about the castle’s long history
Home to the Bishop of Worcester for over 1000 years, Hartlebury Castle is brimming with history.
The land surrounding what is now called Hartlebury Castle was given to Aelhun, Bishop of Worcester in 850 by the King of Mercia. There was fear of a Welsh invasion, possibly via a ford across the Severn, so the gift of land was in return for the Bishop’s men at arms being called upon to defend the ford.
Since then, Hartlebury has been the home of the Bishops of Worcester for over 1000 years. The first written record of the castle was in 1268 when permission was given to crenelate the buildings and so a manor house became a castle.
Some remarkable men have held the position of Bishop of Worcester. Three of them became saints, two were burned at the stake for their faith, one refused to crown Elizabeth I, one was present at the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, one issued the licence which allowed William Shakespeare to marry Anne Hathaway, and one became Pope Clement VII who refused to grant Henry VIII his divorce from Catherine of Aragon and as a result the Church of England was formed. This quiet corner of Worcestershire has had a profound impact both nationally and internationally!
The Castle has also seen some royal visitors. Edward 1st visited on May 24th 1282 and Queen Elizabeth I stayed here on the night of August 12th 1575, practically bankrupting Bishop Bullingham in a single visit. He created a terrace for her to promenade upon, and this has recently been restored by volunteers. King George III and Queen Charlotte visited in 1788 and waved to the crowd from the Orchard Terrace, also now restored, and a part of the current moat walk, so visitors are literally walking in the footsteps of royalty!
During the Civil War, the Castle was held for the King and besieged for two days but was then surrendered and used as a prison for Royalists. After the war it was in desperate need of renovation, and, as there was no longer a need for a fortified castle, it was rebuilt by Bishop Fleetwood as a fine gentleman’s residence.
In 2007 there was a risk that the Castle and surrounding land would be sold for development, but it was saved when local people came together to form the Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust. With a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the Trust bought the site from the Church Commissioners and, in 2018, opened it as a visitor attraction.
Since opening the doors to the public, Hartlebury Castle has gained a reputation for having something to offer for all the family. The Bishop’s house has fascinating interactive displays and talking portraits which tell the story of the development of the Castle, Worcester’s bishops, the influence of Hartlebury Castle on our national history and more. The gardens and grounds have been rejuvenated by volunteers and a delightful walk encompassing formal gardens, a moat side and coppice walk has been created. Children’s activities are on offer during school holidays. Workshops are offered regularly, such as willow weaving, photography and Christmas wreath making.
However, because of the coronavirus lockdown, the Trust has lost income from admission fees, room hires, the shop and the café, and dozens of events have had to be cancelled.
Admissions only provide a small proportion of the finance needed to run the Castle; outdoor cinema and theatre, craft fairs, weddings, car club rallies and other such activities provide the main source of income needed to sustain the future of the site. During lockdown, all income has been lost and even when the Castle reopens it will not return to previous levels as the most profitable events are likely to be severely restricted by limits on visitor numbers. Meanwhile, the costs of running and maintaining a Grade 1 listed building continue to increase whether it is open or not.
The gardens and grounds are currently opened by volunteers on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11AM to 4PM. Entry is free, but donations are welcome.
The Castle building will open as soon as appropriate measures have been put in place, adhering to Government guidelines, to ensure the safety of everyone on site.
The devastating loss of income caused by the Coronavirus poses a real threat to the survival of the Castle. The Trustees have launched a Crowd Funding Campaign which only runs until July 8th.
The Trust is hugely grateful to the individuals and local businesses who have already pledged support.
Readers can help by donating and by spreading the word.
To donate to Hartlebury Castle
Visit their crowdfunder page
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