Old Wardour Castle: a tower keep castle, 17th century stables and later garden features


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1013398

Date first listed: 17-Dec-1929

Date of most recent amendment: 11-Apr-1996


Ordnance survey map of Old Wardour Castle: a tower keep castle, 17th century stables and later garden features
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Donhead St. Andrew

District: Wiltshire (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Tisbury

National Grid Reference: ST 93883 26341


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A tower keep castle is a strongly fortified residence in which the keep is the principal defensive feature. The keep may be free-standing or surrounded by a defensive enclosure; they are normally square in shape, although other shapes are known. Internally they have several floors providing accommodation of various types. If the keep has an attached enclosure this will normally be defined by a defensive wall, frequently with an external ditch. Access into the enclosure was provided by a bridge across the ditch, allowing entry via a gatehouse. Additional buildings, including stabling for animals and workshops, may be found within the enclosure. Tower keep castles were built throughout the medieval period, from immediately after the Norman Conquest to the mid- 15th century, with a peak in the middle of the 12th century. A few were constructed on the sites of earlier earthwork castle types but most were new creations. They provided strongly fortified residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban or rural situations. Tower keep castles are widely dispersed throughout England with a major concentration on the Welsh border. They are rare nationally with only 104 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns. Castles generally provide an emotive and evocative link to the past and can provide a valuable educational resource, both with respect to medieval warfare and defence, and to wider aspects of medieval society. All examples retaining significant remains of medieval date are considered to be nationally important.

Old Wardour Castle is a fine example of a tower keep castle, constructed in the 14th century less for defence than for luxury and ostentation. Its form, unique in England, clearly takes inspiration from France. It is argued by some to have been designed by William Wynford, one of England's finest architects. Despite the damage sustained during the Civil War, sufficient of the structure of the keep survives for the internal arrangements to be fully understood. The survival of a substantial enclosure wall defining the extensive bailey, ensures that the integrity of the overall castle layout can clearly be established. The bailey was subsequently landscaped in the picturesque manner, the ruined keep forming the focus of a scheme which includes a grotto and other ornamental features. The enclosure wall also forms the focus for stable buildings of 17th century date and a Gothick pavilion and privy of the 18th century. Sample excavations have shown the present curtain wall, which dates to the 16th century, to lie on the line of the original. Excavations within the bailey have provided evidence for the raising of soil levels in the 16th and later 17th centuries, providing effective protection for underlying medieval deposits.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument, which lies 4.8km from the village of Tisbury, includes a 14th century castle keep, altered in the 16th century and ruined in the Civil War, an associated bailey, later buildings, which abut the bailey on its southern side, and 18th century garden features to the north. The hexagonal shape of the keep is broadly reflected by that of the bailey within which it stands. The buildings, constructed after the Civil War, include late 17th century stables, Listed Grade II, now ruined, built against the curtain wall to the south of the bailey and an 18th century Gothick style pavilion and `necessary house' on its south west wall. To the north east of the keep, on a low terrace, lie a grotto, a stone circle and other structures which form part of the late 18th century landscaping of the bailey. The keep, or tower house, is a hexagonal structure, approximately 40m in overall diameter. The symmetry of the overall plan is broken by the two towers, surviving almost to full height, which flank the entrance on the north east side. Within the keep is a central hexagonal courtyard, which is little more than a light well for the rooms which surround it. Despite the extensive damage caused to the south west side of the keep during the Civil War, the layout of rooms at both ground and first floor level can be appreciated, including focal elements such as the hall and possibly the chapel. Originally built by John, fifth Lord Lovel, who obtained license to build a castle in 1393, the keep was altered after 1570 by Sir Mathew Arundell. The refurbishment, which provided classically inspired fronts to the main entrance and also involved the replacement of many of the windows, may be attributed to Robert Smythson. After the Civil War damage, in 1643 and 1644, no attempts were made to put the castle back into a fit state for occupation and the ruined keep has consequently remained as a focus for a series of landscape schemes. The bailey, or outer courtyard, is very large, a maximum of 152m by 175m. The shape, in which the symmetry of the hexagon is broken by walls extending in a north east direction, reflects that of the keep and its towers. The thin enclosing curtain wall survives for most of the circuit, and retains the ground levels which have built up within the bailey. Soil levels within the bailey are known from part excavation to have been raised in the 16th and 17th centuries, thereby effectively sealing earlier medieval deposits beneath them. The wall belongs to the 16th century alterations but is known from partial excavation to be on the line of the original curtain wall. Two vaulted cellars, with a fine rusticated entrance and openings looking towards the castle, were also built in the 16th century within the curtain wall, on the south side of the bailey. The present entrance into the bailey is through an 18th century gateway, the ragged piers of which are probably the work of Josiah Lane, the builder of the grotto. South of the bailey, outside the curtain wall, lies the ruined shell of the stables built in 1686. The building has two gable walls, each standing to first floor ceiling height, linked on the southern side by a wall which incorporates a series of wide arched openings. The northern side of the building is formed by the curtain wall. On the west side of the bailey lies a late 18th century Gothick pavilion, rectangular in plan with canted ends. The pavilion may have been built on the remains of a gatehouse. On the south east angle of the curtain wall, close to the pavilion and sharing detail with it, is a privy, or `necessary house'. In the early 18th century the castle ruins were surrounded by formal gardens. After the construction of New Wardour Castle between 1769 and 1776, the bailey was laid out in the `picturesque' manner and the grounds about it were landscaped and planted. The most prominent feature of the landscaping within the bailey is a series of terraces, facing the entrance to the keep and running the full width of the bailey. The centrepiece of the lower terrace is an elaborate stone, brick and plaster grotto built in 1792 by Josiah Lane of Tisbury. To the north of the grotto, close to the most northerly point of the curtain wall, is a miniature `Avebury' stone circle incorporating two rustic alcoves which reuse decorative details from the castle. Additional stone settings lie along the rear of the terrace. Excluded from the scheduling are the reinforced concrete floors inserted into the keep. Also excluded are all fences, paths, signboards, litter bins and works or custodial buildings. The ground beneath these features is, however, included. Old Wardour Castle, the Gothick Pavilion and the Grotto are all Listed Grade I. The monument is in the care of the Secretary of State.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features, considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.


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

Legacy System number: 26706

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Saunders, A D, Pugh, R B, Old Wardour Castle, (1993)
Keen, L, 'Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine' in Excavations at Old Wardour Castle, Wiltshire, , Vol. 62, (1967), 67-78
Smith, G, 'Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine' in Excavation at Old Wardour Castle, 1983, , Vol. 80, (1986), 223-224

End of official listing