Moreton Corbet Castle
- 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.
- Shropshire (Unitary Authority)
- Moreton Corbet and Lee Brockhurst
- National Grid Reference:
- SJ 55883 23099, SJ 56110 22992, SJ 56135 23165
Reasons for Designation
Country houses of the late Tudor and early Jacobean period comprise a
distinctive group of buildings which differ in form, function, design and
architectural style from country houses of both earlier and later date. Built
after the dissolution of the monasteries they are the product of a particular
historical period in which a newly-emerged Protestant elite of lawyers,
courtiers, diplomats and other officials, mostly with close contacts at court,
competed with each other to demonstrate wealth, taste and loyalty to the
sovereign, often overstretching themselves financially. Their houses are a
development of the medieval hall with flanking wings and a gatehouse, often
looking inwards onto a courtyard; later examples tend to be built outwards,
typically on a U- or H-plan. The hall was transformed from a reception area to
an entrance vestibule and the long gallery and loggia were introduced. Many
houses were provided with state apartments and extensive lodgings for the
accommodation of royal visitors and their retinues.
Country houses of this period were normally constructed under the supervision
of one master-mason or a succession of masons, often combining a number of
designs drawn up by the master-mason, surveyor or by the employer himself.
Many designs and stylistic details were copied from Continental pattern-books,
particularly those published in the 1560s on French, Italian and Flemish
models; further architectural ideas were later spread by the use of foreign
craftsmen. Symmetry in both plan and elevation was an overriding principle,
often carried to extremes in the Elizabethan architectural `devices' in which
geometric forms were employed to express religious and philosophical ideas.
Elements of Classical architecture were drawn on individually rather than
applied strictly in unified orders. This complex network of influences
resulted in liberal and idiosyncratic combinations of architectural styles
which contrasted with the adoption of the architecture of the Italian
Renaissance, and with it the role of the architect, later in the 17th century.
About 5000 country houses are known to have been standing in 1675; of these
about 1000 are thought to survive, although most have been extensively altered
or rebuilt in subsequent centuries to meet new demands and tastes. Houses
which are uninhabited, and have thus been altered to a lesser degree, are much
rarer. Surviving country houses of the late Tudor and early Jacobean period
stand as an irreplaceable record of an architectural development which was
unique both to England and to a particular period in English history
characterised by a flourishing of artistic invention; they provide an insight
into politics, patronage and economics in the early post-medieval period. All
examples with significant surviving archaeological remains are considered to
be of national importance.
Moreton Corbet is a fine example of a post-medieval country house which Pevsner has described as being `amongst the most impressive and consistent designs in the country'. The standing remains are a rare survival of a bold and imposing design, and will retain evidence for the method of construction and ornamentation of the mansion. Evidence for the original layout and extent of the south range, and for the slightly earlier east range it incorporated, will survive below ground. The earthwork and buried remains of the formal gardens further demonstrate the high status of the site, and illustrate the importance of symmetry as an architectural device in landscape planning of this period. Formal gardens, combining massive earthworks with exotic and intricate planting, were in vogue between the mid-16th and early 18th centuries, and their extent and design reflect not only artistic aims and changing fashions but also the social aspirations and status of their owners. At Moreton Corbet evidence for the method of construction will survive in the earthwork remains of the walkways and prospect mounds, and evidence for the original symmetrical arrangement of features such as flower beds and paths will survive as buried features. The monument is of additional interest because of its development from an earlier medieval castle, and evidence for the various phases of its construction and modification will be preserved in both the standing remains and as buried features. Enclosure castles were the defended residences of leading medieval families, built mainly of stone, and protected principally by surrounding walls and towers. Although some form of keep often stood within the enclosure, this served mainly to provide accommodation rather than defence. Outside the walls, a water-filled or dry ditch was often created, with access via one or more bridges. The first enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest, and they continued to be built into the 14th century, often acting as major administrative centres and providing a focus for developing settlement patterns. They occur in both urban and rural settings, and exhibit considerable diversity of form. The standing remains of the medieval castle at Moreton Corbet will retain details of their method of construction, and evidence for the original access to the castle will be preserved in the causeway across the ditch. Where no longer visible on the surface, the ditch will survive as a buried feature, and its accumulated fills will preserve environmental evidence for the activities which took place at the castle. The foundation of Moreton Corbet castle, and its post-medieval development into a grand residence for an eminent Shropshire family, are well documented in contemporary and later sources, and there are a number of depictions of the original features of the south range. These complement the standing and buried remains to illustrate the development of a high status residence over several centuries, and as such the monument can increase our understanding of the political and social organisation of the county from the medieval period. Moreton Corbet is a prominent local landmark, is in the care of the Secretary of State and is open to the public.
The monument includes the earthwork, ruined and buried remains of the medieval
enclosure castle at Moreton Corbet, the ruined and buried remains of the
country house to which it was converted in the 16th century, and the earthwork
and buried remains of its formal gardens protected within three separate
Moreton Corbet is situated on low-lying ground on the west side of the Roden
Valley, 12km north east of Shrewsbury. The medieval castle was established by
the Toret family, probably in the 12th century, and was then known as Moreton
Toret. It consisted of a small keep on the west side of a moated platform, and
was probably surrounded by a timber stockade. The property passed by marriage
to the Corbets of Wattlesborough, who provided the castle with a stone curtain
wall with a gatehouse in its north east angle. A medieval settlement is known
to have grown up around the castle and was still inhabited in 1503, but
appears to have been deserted when the castle was rebuilt soon after this
date. Its remains will have been modified by the construction of post-medieval
buildings and roads, and the aerodrome to the south, and they are not included
in the scheduling.
The 16th century remodelling of the castle took place in two phases. The first
has not been precisely dated, however the style of the remains suggests it was
underway during the 1560s, under the ownership of Sir Andrew Corbet, who was
several times Sheriff of Salop. During this phase the gatehouse was
extensively refaced and part of the curtain wall between it and the keep was
rebuilt. A new east range was constructed, along a different alignment from
the curtain wall, with a great hall at its southern end which encroached on
the earlier moat. The second phase of remodelling involved the construction of
an L-shaped south range, arranged around a courtyard and incorporating the
recently rebuilt east range. The south range is dated 1579 and, although begun
in Sir Andrew's lifetime, it was almost certainly inspired if not designed by
his eldest son Robert. Robert Corbet was a courtier and diplomat who travelled
extensively in Europe and, according to Camden, `carried away with the
affectionate delight of Architecture, began to build in a barraine place a
most gorgeous and stately house, after the Italian model ...'. The south
range, which housed a suite of large chambers, obliterated the medieval
defences and was built over a section of the infilled moat. Its southern
facade still shows the ostentatious nature of its classical theme, which
incorporates Doric and Ionic columns in a symmetrical design. South of the new
house extensive formal gardens were created to complement its grandeur and
symmetry. A contemporary document refers to `a garden with an orchard
adjoining it .... divers solars (solaria) cut into one rock, and .... divers
covered walks and arbours'.
Robert Corbet died in 1583 leaving his house unfinished, and during the Civil
War it was damaged and subsequently set on fire by the Parliamentarian forces.
Later sold by Sir Vincent Corbet to pay off his Civil War debts, the house was
redeemed by Andrew Corbet in 1743; however plans for its repair were never
carried out, and the Corbets' preferred residence in the 18th century was
Shawbury Park. By 1776 the south range was roofless, and early 19th century
drawings by Buckler show the buildings in almost the ruinous state in which
they stand today. Moreton Corbet castle remains in the ownership of the Corbet
family, and in the care of the Secretary of State and is Listed Grade I. St
Bartholomew's Church, which is not included in the scheduling, to the north of
the castle contains several monuments to the Corbet family.
The remains of the medieval castle are constructed of coursed dressed
sandstone blocks. The north wall and parts of the east and west walls of the
keep stand to the height of the wall-walk, with parts of the parapet wall
remaining. Originally rectangular in plan, the keep measured 12m x 10m
externally, and has pilaster buttresses at its angles. It is divided
internally into three stages, the second floor chamber probably being a later
insertion, and the north wall retains a fireplace at first floor level, with
the remains of a stone hood and polygonal shafts with foliate carved capitals.
The 14th century curtain wall extends north eastwards from the north west
angle of the keep and appears to have enclosed a roughly triangular area. Its
southern extent has been obscured by later developments, however evidence for
the original layout of the curtain wall will survive below ground. Two
medieval sections stand between the keep and two-storey gatehouse, which
retains some medieval fabric despite extensive 16th century remodelling.
The gatehouse, now approached by a modern wooden staircase, has a chamfered
plinth and central chamfered archway with the remains of a 16th century window
above it. Rectangular windows light the first floor at either side. A carved
elephant and castle decorate the datestone above the entrance which is
inscribed `SAC 1579', recording Sir Andrew Corbet's 16th century modifications
to the medieval structure of the castle. The outer wall of his east range
survives as standing ruin; an old drawing shows that the upper end of the
great hall, the south end of the range, was formerly lit by a large mullioned
and transomed bay window.
The south range is also dated 1579, on a shield on the south west corner, and
in the form `ER21' at the south east corner. It is constructed of brick on a
plinth of coursed sandstone blocks, and is faced in ashlar. Originally
L-shaped in plan, the west face, parts of the north and east faces, and much
of the south face stand to their full height. The five-bay design housed two
main storeys and an attic, and had a moulded pediment and cornice. The
grandeur and symmetry of the original design can still be appreciated from the
remains of the south face, whose two intermediate bays are lit by three-light
mullioned and transomed windows. The central and end bays project slightly and
house massive five-light windows, with ogee-shaped gables above incorporating
three-light windows with triangular pediments. Attached Doric columns ornament
the ground floor, and fluted Ionic columns the slightly taller first floor, in
addition to carved pedestals and carved beasts at the corners of the building.
Two small doorways in the intermediate bays have small caryatids with Ionic
capitals. Internally, several divisions remain, as well as a number of
fireplaces, one retaining its moulded surround and cornice. The rear wing,
which incorporated the earlier east range, is now largely demolished. Old
illustrations show that the north wall had a central seven-light window
flanked by two four-light windows with ogee-shaped gables. The west wall of
the range has no columns, instead having pilasters on the first floor; the
windows are of three and four lights. This slightly irregular scheme contrasts
with the carefully executed south face and may have been carried out after
Robert Corbet's death.
The medieval castle was surrounded by a moat which survives as a broad shallow
depression up to 15m wide around the north west, north, and east sides of the
castle. There is a low causeway across the moat in front of the gatehouse,
under the modern stairway. The south end of the eastern arm of the moat has
been obscured by part of the 16th century east wing, and the southern arm was
infilled by the construction of the south range, however evidence for the
original extent of the moat will survive below ground in these areas.
The remains of the formal gardens associated with the 16th century house
extend southwards from the house in the form of a large platform, c.130m
square, which has been modified in places by agriculture and by the
construction of the road which dog-legs inside its western and southern edges.
The platform is defined by a scarp slope which is up to 1.2m high along the
western half of the south side. The western side of the platform has been
partly removed by small-scale quarrying, and the eastern side is indicated by
a very spread scarp which now merges with the natural slope of the land. A
survey of the remains in the 1980s located low mounds at the remaining three
corners of the platform, the north western one having been modified by the
construction of Castle Farm. These will have housed gazebos from which the
gardens could be viewed, and the mound at the south west corner of the garden
is clearly visible. Only the surviving south western mound and an adjoining
section of platform are included in the scheduling. West of Castle Farm the
earthwork remains of a causeway are believed to represent the original access
to the house from the road to the west, with further earthworks to either side
representing further garden features designed to ornament the approach.
The sets of modern wooden steps are excluded from the scheduling, although the
ground beneath them 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
Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Shropshire, (1958), 204-5
Weaver, O J, 'Archaeological Journal' in Moreton Corbet Castle, , Vol. 138, (1981), 44-6
Wilson-North, W R, 'British Archaeological Reports' in Formal Garden Earthworks at Moreton Corbet Castle, Shropshire, (1989), 225-8
Wilson-North, W R, 'British Archaeological Reports' in Formal Garden Earthworks at Moreton Corbet Castle, Shropshire, (1989), 225-8
held on SMR MB 0478, 0479, SJ52, (1992)
SRO 322/Box 2, Document in Shropshire Record Office, (1588)
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