Ashby Castle and associated formal garden


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

North West Leicestershire (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SK 36109 16644

Reasons for Designation

Fortified houses were residences belonging to some of the richest and most powerful members of society. Their design reflects a combination of domestic and military elements. In some instances, the fortifications may be cosmetic additions to an otherwise conventional high status dwelling, giving a military aspect while remaining practically indefensible. They are associated with individuals or families of high status and their ostentatious architecture often reflects a high level of expenditure. The nature of the fortification varies, but can include moats, curtain walls, a gatehouse and other towers, gunports and crenellated parapets. Their buildings normally included a hall used as communal space for domestic and administrative purposes, kitchens, service and storage areas. In later houses the owners had separate private living apartments, these often receiving particular architectural emphasis. In common with castles, some fortified houses had outer courts beyond the main defences in which stables, brew houses, granaries and barns were located. Fortified houses were constructed in the medieval period, primarily between the 15th and 16th centuries, although evidence from earlier periods, such as the increase in the number of licences to crenellate in the reigns of Edward I and Edward II, indicates that the origins of the class can be traced further back. They are found primarily in several areas of lowland England: in upland areas they are outnumbered by structures such as bastles and tower houses which fulfilled many of the same functions. As a rare monument type, with fewer than 200 identified examples, all examples exhibiting significant surviving archaeological remains are considered of national importance.

Ashby Castle is a well preserved example of a fortified dwelling house which evolved over many centuries from its origins as a high status manor site into a spectacular late medieval residence. Structural and artefactual evidence for the original timber structures at the site and those buildings originally situated in the north and south courtyards will survive beneath the ground surface providing valuable information on the early occupation of the site. The latter phases in the site's development, in particular, retain outstanding examples of individual features which are typical of late medieval high status residences, for example, the tower house, the kitchen building and the gardens. The construction of the Hastings Tower and the grandiose chapel during the 15th century clearly reflect, both in their size and in their elaborate internal decoration, the ostentatious pride of their builder, Lord Hastings.

The 16th century garden earthworks not only provide information for the setting and layout of Ashby Castle, but they also reflect the trends in garden design during this period, illustrating in particular, the emphasis on formal ornamental gardens.

The site as a whole provides a valuable illustration of the display of wealth and status during the late medieval period. The importance of the site is further enhanced by the survival of medieval documentary records relating to the occupation of the site, and antiquarian drawings of the castle ruins. As a site in the care of the Secretary of State, and partly open to the public, it is a valuable educational resource.


The monument is situated on the eastern outskirts of Ashby-de-la-Zouch and includes the standing, earthwork and buried remains of Ashby Castle, a fortified dwelling house, and the earthwork remains of an associated formal garden known as The Wilderness. The core of Ashby Castle, that is the standing ruins (which are Listed Grade I) and the garden remains, are in the care of the Secretary of State.

The manor of Ashby was granted by William I to Hugh de Grantmesnil and subsequently passed by marriage to the Zouch family towards the end of the 12th century. The site is primarily a 12th century house which was redesigned and rebuilt over a period of several centuries. Following the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century, Edward IV granted Ashby to his Lord Chamberlain, Lord Hastings who, between 1464 and 1483, undertook an extensive building programme at Ashby, whilst retaining many of the site's existing structures. Although Lord Hastings was beheaded in 1483, Ashby Castle remained in the ownership of the Hastings family until the mid 17th century. During the Civil War it was besieged and surrendered to the Parliamentarians in 1646. Several principal buildings were slighted, rendering them untenable, and the family abandoned Ashby as a residence in favour of their seat at Donnington Park. Illustrations of the site, however, indicate that several buildings remained habitable throughout the 18th century but these are thought to have been superseded in 1724 by the construction of Ashby Place in the northern part of the site.

The buildings of the early Norman house are thought originally to have been timber structures which were replaced after 1150 by ones built of stone. The standing remains of the 12th century hall and the solar are situated in the central part of the site and clearly formed the focal point of the original house. In its earliest arrangement, the hall is thought to have been of two storeys although the building has undergone several periods of rebuilding since its construction. Blocked openings in the west wall of the hall provided access into the original solar situated to the west. In c.1350 the hall was redesigned as a single storey building and stone arcades were constructed to support the roof. At the same time the arrangement of hall and solar was reversed; a new solar was erected at the eastern end of the hall while the existing solar to the west was adapted to serve as buttery and pantry. To the west of the hall are the standing remains of a kitchen building. Documentary evidence indicates that there was a kitchen here in 1347 but the standing remains suggest that the present structure was erected between 1350 and 1400. The kitchen is connected to the buttery and pantry by means of a passage.

The plan and extent of the early site is now unclear mostly due to the extensive building programme which occurred at the site during the 15th century and also due to the construction of buildings in more recent times, particularly in the northern part of the site. However, sections of medieval masonry and brickwork within the southern wall of St Helen's churchyard indicate that this wall formed the northern boundary to the site and this wall is, therefore, included in the scheduling. In the north western part of the site a break in slope which is now overlaid by a modern wall is thought to define the western boundary to the site. Approximately 42m to the north east of this wall are the remains of a further length of walling which projects northwards from the northern end of the kitchen building and, together with the northern and eastern boundary walls, formed a courtyard area immediately to the north of the hall and its adjacent buildings. The courtyard is now partly occupied by the buildings of Manor House Preparatory School, the main building of which is Listed Grade II and is excluded from the scheduling. There is no surface evidence of the various buildings, namely domestic quarters, stabling and storage buildings, which were originally situated here but their foundations will survive beneath the ground surface. Access into the site is thought to have been from the north and the remains of the gateway will survive as a buried feature in the northern part of the courtyard. A further courtyard occupied the area to the south of the hall. It was bounded to the west by a wall which projects southwards from the southern wall of the kitchen building and is thought to date from the late 14th century. There is no surface evidence for the southern and eastern boundaries to this courtyard but these will survive as buried features.

During the late 15th century the dwelling house at Ashby was granted to Lord Hastings. His ambitions evidently included a desire to build on a scale worthy of his position and in 1474 he obtained a licence to erect a fortified house at Ashby. Several new buildings were constructed at the site during this period, including a large tower house, known as the Hastings Tower, a chapel and a small courtyard of domestic buildings. The chapel is thought to be the earliest of the extensive additions which took place at the site between 1464 and 1483. It is situated to the south east of the solar building abutting its south eastern corner. An engraving of 1730 shows that the chapel had a low-pitched roof with large battlements. The entrance into the chapel, through the west wall, has similar architectural details to those visible in the Hastings Tower. Various holes within the fabric of the internal walls suggest original wooden panelling and seating and the joist holes for a first floor gallery are visible within the west wall.

Immediately to the south east of the chapel are the standing remains of a range of two storey buildings, traditionally known as the Priest's Rooms, although they are thought to have served as guest rooms. Each suite of rooms has a fireplace and a garderobe, and a staircase contructed within the north wall originally provided access to the upper floor. The scar of a roof-line is visible at the western end of the chapel's southern wall indicating that a further building range projected southwards from here; the remains of which will survive as buried features. This former building range and that to the east originally formed a small courtyard in this part of the site. In the southern part of the courtyard are the foundations of further buildings which were demolished during Hastings' building programme. These buildings are partly overlain by a wall which forms the southern boundary to the courtyard and connects the eastern range of guest rooms with the Hastings Tower to the west. Joist holes and corbels for roof timbers indicate that this wall formed the outside wall of a two-storeyed range whose foundations will survive beneath the ground surface.

The Hastings Tower was the last major addition to Ashby Castle and is thought to have been completed shortly after Lord Hastings obtained a licence to crenellate in April 1474. The tower is elaborately detailed and was evidently intended not only to make a contribution to accommodation on the site but also to reflect the importance and prestige of its builder, Lord Hastings.

The stone tower is now approximately 24m high and is thought to have originally stood some 27m high. It was crowned by a parapet with machicolation, parts of which remain visible, and there are three angle turrets within the north wall which originally rose above parapet level. The tower was originally roughly square in plan with a rectangular projection on its eastern side. The southern part of the tower, including its southern wall, was demolished by order of Parliament after the Civil War. The uneven and slightly raised ground surface to the south of the tower indicates that some of the rubble from the demolished section of the tower remains where it fell. The entrance to the tower was via a narrow doorway with a pointed arch and portcullis grooves in the northern wall. The main part of the tower was of four storeys which have been interpreted as storage room (on the ground floor), kitchen, private hall and solar or withdrawing room respectively. The first two floors of the seven storey eastern projection are also thought to have served as store rooms whilst the upper floors were probably bedrooms. The remains of a wall are visible projecting westwards from the western wall of the tower. This wall is thought to have connected with the wall which originally extended south from the kitchen building and hence formed the south and west sides of a further courtyard, known as the south courtyard. The buildings which formed the western range of this courtyard will survive as buried features.

To the south of the Hastings Tower are the remains of garden earthworks and brick-built towers which were part of a formal garden associated with Ashby Castle. The earthworks occupy an area of approximately 0.8ha and are known as The Wilderness. The gardens were laid out in the 16th century and can be divided into two parts. The western area is square in plan and is lower than the surrounding ground surface. It is thought to have been laid out with flower beds and walkways and was a sunken ornamental parterre. Illustrations of the site indicate that during the 18th century this part of the garden was used as a bowling green. The water garden to the east is roughly I-shaped in plan and is now dry. The narrow, central part of the water garden is likely to have originally been crossed by a small bridge, parts of which, although not visible on the ground surface, will survive as buried features. Both principal garden features are bounded by levelled walkways from which the gardens could be viewed.

The Wilderness was originally bounded to the west and east by brick walls which also defined part of the boundary to the castle site at this time. The best preserved length of walling, 70m long, is situated in the south eastern part of the site and is included in the scheduling. To the north, forming the eastern and south eastern property boundary of Manor House School further sections of the wall remain visible above ground, although this north western part of the site boundary has many modern additions. In this area, therefore, only the foundations of the 16th century wall are included in the scheduling. In the south western part of the site, there is no surface evidence of the boundary wall itself but its position is marked by a break of slope and it will survive as a buried feature. At the south western and south eastern corners of the garden are the standing remains of small towers or garden houses. The south western tower is three storeys and has a quatrefoil plan while the south eastern tower has two storeys and is octagonal. Both towers, which are Listed Grade I, have large square-headed stone windows and are included in the scheduling.

The gardens associated with Ashby Castle are thought to have originally extended further south, beyond the southern walkway. In the area between this walkway and the northern property boundary of Manor Close there is evidence for two slightly raised earthworks which are parallel to the walkway and are symmetrical with each other. There is a slight break between these features which is thought to be the entranceway into a less formal garden area beyond. The raised earthworks are an important aspect of the garden layout and are included in the scheduling.

The area to the south of the raised earthworks has been incorporated within the gardens of Manor Close and the original extent of this area of the castle gardens is not known; this area is not included in the scheduling. In the north western part of the site the original boundary is marked by a continuation of the scarp further to the south (approximately 1.5m high at this point). The flat terrace created to the east of this scarp (and now occupied by a football pitch) may have been the original kitchen garden, sited, as it is, to the west of the kitchen block and of any buildings flanking the west side of the northern courtyard.

The buildings and greenhouses of Manor House Preparatory School, the ticket building in the western part of the site and the timber sheds to the east are excluded from the scheduling; the surfaces of all paths and driveways and that of the tennis court, all fence posts, all walling, (with the exception of the southern churchyard wall and the length of 16th century walling in the south eastern part of the site), are excluded from the scheduling; the ground beneath all these features is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Jones, T L, Ashby de la Zouch Castle, (1984), 21
Jones, T L, Ashby de la Zouch Castle, (1984), 3
Jones, T L, Ashby de la Zouch Castle, (1984), 1
Pevsner, N, Williamson, E, The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland, (1984), 80-3


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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