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Bridstow: Wilton Castle

HER no. 918, OS grid ref: SO 5900 2430

Wilton means "the estate amongst the willows" (Bruce Coplestone-Crow, Herefordshire Place-Names,  British Archaeological Reports British Series 214, 1989, p. 44) or "the estate of Willa". Bridstow castle appears to have been more of a castellated mansion than a military castle. It stands less than 100 yards from the River Wye, guarding an important river crossing.

Description of the site today

Here stands a castle in ruins; the remaining walls are of local red sandstone with a few portions of tufa, which have probably been re-used. It has been suggested that this was once the site of a motte and bailey castle but all traces have now been removed. The castle was an irregular quadrilateral court with a curtain wall. It held a tower at each angle and one in the middle of the east wall. Within the courtyard, buildings would have stood against the curtain wall.

In the 16th century a house was built in the southern part of the castle, incorporating the south-west tower. This house was destroyed during the Civil War by Sir Henry Lingen and Lord Scudamore, and was rebuilt in the 19th century. 

The remains still visible consist of the west, north and part of the east walls, the south-west and north-west towers and the middle tower on the east wall. The site was formerly surrounded by a moat, which created a rectangular island. On the south side this moat has since been filled in, and on the east side the defences consisted of a scarp only.  

History and foundation of the site

1150: Henry I granted the manor of Wilton to Hugo de Longchamp to hold by service of two men at arms in the Wars of Wales. It is most probable that it was Hugo who erected the castle at Wilton.

1200: Hugo's descendant Henry de Longchamp paid scutage (a tax in lieu of service) for one knight's fee in Wilton. Henry's daughter Hawisia took the castle in her marriage settlement to William, Lord Fithurgh, whose heiress then took it as dowry to Reginald de Grey, Lord of the Honour of Monmouth and a Baron of Parliament.

1377-1394: Henry de Grey, a descendant of Reginald, was summoned to Parliament as Henry Grey of Wilton and was the ancestor of the noble family who enjoyed that title until the 17th century. One member of this family was Sir William Grey, 13th Baron and distinguished soldier. After defending the Castle of Guisnes against the French he was forced to surrender and was taken prisoner with a ransom of 20,000 crowns. To raise the money his family was forced to sell much of their property, and in 1576 Gilbert Talbot of Goodrich offered them £6000 for Wilton. The sale was never completed and the castle stayed in the de Grey family until the reign of Elizabeth I, when it passed to the Honourable Charles Brydges, cup bearer to King Philip.

The Hon. Charles Brydges was Deputy Lieutenant of the Tower of London when the warrant for the execution of the then Princess Elizabeth was issued. His delay in obeying this order was the act which saved the life of the young princess.

17th century: During the Civil War Wilton Castle was home to Sir John Brydges, who undertook military service in Ireland to escape the conflict at home. Sir John was married to Mary, eldest daughter of Lord Scudamore of Holme Lacy and sister of Sir Barnabas Scudamore, Royalist Governor of Hereford. When Brydges returned to England to gather more troops for Ireland he refused to let his house be used as a garrison for the Royalists. Scudamore and Henry Lingen, annoyed by his arrogance, took action and arranged for soldiers to burn the house to the ground whilst the family was at church.

This castle is one where building and reconstruction make dating more complex. The gateway was originally in the south wall where a 16th century house was built. In the 14th century reconstruction changed the earlier castle into a fortified dwelling, and by the 16th century all pretensions of defence had been lost.