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List Entry Summary

This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.


List entry Number: 1321132



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


District: South Gloucestershire

District Type: Unitary Authority

Parish: Thornbury

National Park: Not applicable to this List entry.

Grade: I

Date first listed: 21-Sep-1952

Date of most recent amendment: 10-Jul-2013

Legacy System Information

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

Legacy System: LBS

UID: 34923

Asset Groupings

This list entry does not comprise part of an Asset Grouping. Asset Groupings are not part of the official record but are added later for information.

List entry Description

Summary of Building

Ruinous north and west ranges of the outer court of Thornbury Castle, believed to have been intended principally as lodgings, and the walls of the kitchen court, constructed between circa 1511-1521 for Edward Stafford, Duke of Buckingham.

Reasons for Designation

The outer court and walls of the kitchen court, Thornbury Castle, are listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: Thornbury Castle, including the outer court and the walls to the kitchen court, is recognised as being one of the finest examples of Tudor domestic architecture in the country; * Historic interest: the unfinished outer court is a physical reminder of the ambition, and ultimate downfall, of Edward Stafford Duke of Buckingham, a prominent figure in the court of Henry VIII; * Rarity: due to its limited reuse, the outer court is rare as a largely unaltered element of a well preserved Tudor estate; * Group value: the outer court and walls of the kitchen court have strong group value as part of the Thornbury Castle site which includes the other upstanding Grade I listed buildings, the two Grade II listed lodges, the Grade II Registered Park and Garden and the scheduled remains.


In 1066 it is recorded that the manor of Thornbury was held by Beorhtric, son of Aelfgar, although by Domesday it is in the hands of King William. The manor has changed hands many times during its history, being held by the Crown at intervals. In the C12 and C13, it was part of the earldom of Gloucester; the de Clare family was responsible for the foundation of the borough of Thornbury in 1243, to the south of the church and manor house. A major fire in 1236 destroyed the manor house, following which Henry III ordered that the Constable of St Briavels supply 20 oak trees from the Forest of Dean for its rebuilding. The house came to Hugh Audley following on his marriage to Margaret de Clare in 1317, passing to Audley’s son-in-law, Ralph Stafford, in 1347. Following a brief forfeiture at the execution for treason (after the Rebellion of 1483) of Henry Stafford, the 2nd Duke of Buckingham, the manor house was restored to the family and inherited by his son Edward in 1498 who made it his principal seat. The 3rd Duke of Buckingham, Edward Stafford, received a licence from Henry VIII to fortify, crenellate and embattle his manor house in 1510, but it is clear from the accounts of the estate that he had already began extensive repairs by at least 1507. With the hall and chapel of the existing manor house forming the east range of an inner courtyard, Buckingham set about building an elaborate palace-castle, which demonstrated the involvement of masons of the highest quality, and was apparently modelled on Richmond Palace, at that time England’s most splendid royal residence. The construction work at Thornbury Castle ceased in 1521 when the Duke of Buckingham was arrested for treason. The estate was confiscated by the crown. Although works were not recommenced, the buildings were maintained and periodically used. Thornbury Castle was restored to the Staffords in 1554 when it was granted to Buckingham’s son, Lord Henry Stafford, by Queen Mary. The upkeep of the castle proved too expensive, however, and it fell into ruin, eventually coming into the ownership of a branch of the Howard family in 1637 and remaining in their hands until the 1960s. Although used as lodgings and a farmhouse in the C18, it was not until the C19 that real efforts were made to bring the castle back into use. In 1849 Henry Howard commissioned Anthony Salvin to restore the house for his private use. The castle is now (2013) a hotel and restaurant.

The halt to the building programme in 1521 left the outer court unfinished. There is little indication in contemporary documentary evidence of the precise intended use of the outer court ranges. An inventory of 1521 states that the outer court was planned as lodgings; it is not clear if any of the outer court was in use when Henry VIII visited in 1535. The ranges appear to have remained in ruins since the C16. In the C19 there was some masonry consolidation and alterations to the building fabric, including blocking up doors and window openings, and inserting internal partitions. The north end of the west range was roofed, the walls plastered and a new floor added. Most of the towers were roofed and converted to various uses as outhouses; one was made into an icehouse. Further work included the addition of iron gates in the arch of the outer gate and the insertion of a new outbuilding (1871) within the eastern tower.


MATERIALS: rubble stone, including pennant, lias and limestone, with ashlar dressing, set in pink lime mortar.

PLAN: two long, two-storey and one-storey unroofed ranges, one orientated south to north, the other running east to west, joined at a right angle by a bastion at the north-west junction of the two ranges.

EXTERIOR: the outer walls of both ranges are built in a defensive style with crossed arrow loop holes instead of windows on the first floor, and square lights to the basement level on the north range and the north end of the west range. The courtyard elevations contain windows which follow a standard design; the paired lights have arched heads and hood moulds, all without mullions.

The north range contains the main outer gate at its centre; it has a chamfered four-centred arch on the inner face and a double arch with a groove for a portcullis on the outer face, both with stopped hood-moulds above. On the east side of the gate are square mid-wall towers. These towers contain crossed arrow loop holes and basements lights. In between the towers the walls are featureless except for occasional cellar lights. There is an in-filled arch on the west side of the gateway. There are also round blocked window openings on the elevations either side of the gateway. At the west and east ends of this range are large towers. The outer wall of the north range extends to the east for circa 87m as the rubble-stone wall of the former kitchen court; it has been cut through in the middle to create an access point for the car park on the north side. The south side of the range facing into the courtyard has six unequal sized bays. The range is divided centrally by the main gateway with its polygonal towers, with a square tower to the left and two further towers to the right. The towers were intended to house staircases which would have provided access to the planned upper storeys; each originally had a four-centred arched doorway with hood mould. The west tower retains the doorway; however, the entrances to the two eastern towers, which would have likely been accessed via an external stair, have been partially blocked. The bays contain varying arrangements of openings, with arched windows at the intended first-floor level and cellar window openings below. There are also some arched door openings. The opening on the most easterly bay has been blocked, probably with the insertion of a lean-to outbuilding in the C19. The bay to the west of the gateway contains three windows and a four-centred arched door which corresponds roughly with the blocked arch on the outer wall of the range. The courtyard face of the north range extends to the south for circa 13m to connect with the west range of the Inner Court building (which serves as the east range to the outer court.

The external faces of the tower joining the north and west range contains large slit openings.

The west range is a single-storey range, although, the north range, it was probably intended to have upper floors. Looking from the south, the outer (west) elevation of this range contains two square towers, a tripartite tower, a large central arch entrance and a corner tower. The inner elevation has four bays which are separated by two square towers to the south containing paired doorways and a porch to north. The first bay to the south is blind, the second bay contains two windows, the third bay has four further windows and the fourth is also blind.

INTERIOR: the unfinished remains of the north and west ranges are a shell, without internal floors, and with a semi-basement in the north range and at the north end of the west range. In the north range the remains of stone partition walls define the cross passage of the central gateway. The east end appears to have been intended primarily for lodgings, containing five fireplaces with four-centred dressed stone arches and relieving arches on the first floor; some still retain their hearth slabs. The use for the west end is less obvious as it does not contain fireplaces or evidence for intended wall partitions, although surviving floor joists sockets indicate that there would have been a first floor. The towers in the east half of the range show evidence of garderobe shafts. There is a modern lean-to shed attached to the south wall at the east end of this range and a C19 door in east wall which leads through to the adjoining tower. The east end tower contains a square central room with a four-centred arched fireplace, lit by arrow slits, above a basement area lit by two small cellar windows. Garderobe shafts have been built into one of the walls. There is a lean-to store with an attached low wall, built into the east side of the tower, with an 1871 date stone.

The corner tower contains an angled recess for a newel stair in the north-west corner. There are no visible original joist sockets; however, the evidence of the stair suggests this part of the court was also intended to have an intermediate floor. The space has been divided in the C19. There are some blocked doors in this part of the building which would have connected with the north and west ranges.

The west range is divided centrally from east to west by a C19 internal partition wall and the two ends are linked by a doorway and small set of steps. The south end of the west range has remained largely unchanged since the C16. There are a number of fireplaces, some with relieving arches. There is also evidence of grooves for panelling battens and putlog holes for the original scaffolding. These features indicate that this end was intended to be divided into a number of habitable rooms, most of which would have been accessed via the courtyard. The side to the north of the partition, which includes the porch, was roofed in the C19, at which point the walls were plastered and a solid concrete floor inserted, leading to many of the original features being obscured. These features include two blocked door openings, one an arched entrance within the porch and the other a door in the northern corner. There are also arched windows and basement lights which have been in-filled. There is evidence for blocked floor joist sockets in the north wall and a fireplace in the upper part of the west wall. There have been various interpretations concerning the use for this room, which appears to have been a large single room. It has been suggested that it was an example of an early indoor real tennis court with a viewing gallery. As a room which must have been built before 1525 this would have been one of the earliest examples of the game which became popular in the C16, due in part to the enthusiasm of Henry VIII for the sport (a real tennis court was built at Hampton Court in 1532-3). However, it has also been suggested that this room was intended to be used as a large heated room with a cellar below, similar to the north range.

Selected Sources

Books and journals
Airs, M, The Tudor and Jacobean County House, (1995)
Brooks, A, Verey, D, The Buildings of England: Gloucestershire II - The Vale and the Forest of Dean, (2003)
La Trobe-Bateman, E, Avon Extensive Urban Survey Archaeological Assessment Report: Thornbury , (1996)
Mowl, T, Historic Gardens of Gloucestershire, (2002)
Rodwell, K, Thornbury Castle banqueting hall, (1995)
Rodwell, K, Thornbury Castle banqueting hall, (1995)
Thurley, S, Thornbury Castle Base Court Reconstructed, (1897)
'Country Life' in 16 September, (1907)
Hawkyard, A D K, 'Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society' in Thornbury Castle, (1977), 51-58
Buck, engraving of 1732 in Buck’s antiquities in England and Wales (1774),
Crown Commissioner’s Inventory, 1521 (E36/150, f.26), (PRO), , South Gloucestershire HER record accessed on 10 February 2012,
Phillpotts C, Park Farm, Thornbury, South Gloucestershire: Documentary Research Report, 2010,

National Grid Reference: ST6331490720


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