We visited Morton Corbet Castle, just out of the village of Shawbury on a bright January day with perfect clear blue skies having driven through 25 miles of gloomy, unrelenting fog travelling from Stoke on Trent.
The sun shone down on this mystical looking monument that has withstood all manner of tests of time and is testament to over 500 years of building. The peace and tranquillity within which the extensive remains sit is exquisite.
The castle is a two for one, with the oldest part of the remains date to the 12th Century standing alongside the proud and imposing Elizabethan ruins casting the most incredible silhouettes over the immediate landscape.
A castle was first established around the year 1100 by the Torets, a family of Saxon descent. It passed by marriage after 1239 into the hands of the Corbets, who gave their name to the village. The first castle buildings were probably built entirely of timber. From about 1200, however, these were gradually replaced in stone. This stone castle was in the tradition of other fortified residences of the Welsh Marches.
In the 16th century the castle was extensively remodelled in two phases. First, Sir Andrew Corbet erected a two-storey range between the medieval great tower and gatehouse. It housed a kitchen with a massive brick chimneystack, a larder on the ground floor and accommodation on the first floor. Sir Andrew also built a new east range, a section of which was dismantled later when his eldest son, Robert, inherited the castle. Looking up before entering the medieval gatehouse you will see the initials SAC and the date 1579. There is also the Corbet family emblem of an elephant and castle. Sir Andrew Corbett remodeled the castle, but the date chiselled over the gate is a bit unexpected, because he died in 1578.
Robert immediately began to transform his ancestral home, influenced by his extensive travelling abroad. He had been ambassador to Antwerp, and his grand new south range was clearly inspired by Flemish buildings of the period.
Robert died of the plague in 1583 and his brothers Richard and Vincent, who inherited the castle in turn, completed the south range. During this time England was politically unsettled and Puritans were being persecuted for their perceived threat to the Church of England. While Sir Vincent was not himself a Puritan, he gave sanctuary to a neighbour who was: a man named Paul Holmyard. Unfortunately, as Holmyard’s views grew more radical, Sir Vincent felt he could no longer offer protection to the man and cast him out. Holmyard wandered in the woods for a while, surviving, it’s said, by eating whatever he could find. But when it all became too desperate he made his way back to Moreton Corbet where he confronted Sir Vincent, cursed the family and declared that none of them, or their descendants, would ever inhabit the house.
Walking around both the medieval parts and Elizabethan additions I could really feel the sense of history, how these very rooms would have once bustled with life, imagining the sounds and smells together with the daily activities of the inhabitants. As I peered through one of the windows overlooking the stunning surrounding landscape it was fascinating to contemplate who else had stood on this spot and gazed over this view, wondering what they were thinking or how their day was going.
As stunning as Moreton Corbet Castle would have been to Elizabethan eyes, the splendour did not last. During the Civil War of 1642-1651, Sir Vincent sided with the king and Moreton Corbet Castle became the site of a number of sieges. The house protected a Royalist garrison and naturally it was attacked by the musket and canon fire of the Parliamentarians. There are signs of this in the curtain wall of the castle.
The damage done during the Civil War years was extensive. The Corbets repaired the house and continued to lived here, but fortunes changed and – strange to imagine for us today – the house was abandoned and left to decay in the 18th century.
It is also worth visiting St Bartholomew’s church next to the castle which people have been worshipping at for over 700 years. It contains many of the tombs of the Corbet family. We opened the heavy doors and stepped into the gloomy, cold 12th Century nave which was quite a contrast to the warm sunshine outside.
Moreton Corbet is one of my favourite places I have visited over the previous few years and I certainly hope to be back. It would make the most perfect spot for a summer afternoon spent relaxing with a picnic.
Date of visit – 19th January 2020