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Eastnor Bronsil Castle

HER no. 934, OS grid ref: SO 7495 3720

Bronsil Castle lies two miles east of Ledbury and one mile to the east of the parish church at Eastnor. It was built around the mid-15th century and is Grade II listed. It was built to incorporate the ruins of an earlier building, possibly a manor house of the Beauchamp family.

Description of the site today

Today only the foundations and fragments remain. The site is surrounded by a moat 20m wide and still wet. A modern bridge crosses the moat on the west side, opposite the gatehouse. Another bank and the remains of what was probably an outer ditch surround the moat itself.

The gatehouse ruin is c. 17m high and perhaps 3m in width. A rectangular window and a stringcourse are still visible. Ruins remain of the curtain wall and angle towers, which stand 0.3m-0.6m high in places.

The castle lay on an almost square island with sides of around 36m in length. It was originally enclosed on all four sides by a curtain wall, with angle towers at each corner. On the north, south and east sides there were intermediate towers, whilst on the west side there was an entrance passage with octagonal gatehouse towers on both sides and a possible drawbridge. A large part of the gatehouse tower ruin survived until 1991, when a major collapse occurred prior to consolidation work being undertaken. 

Until this point the ruin had survived to a height of 10m, and three moulded stringcourses could be distinguished. The lowest stage was featureless apart from a circular hole at the bottom, which may have been for drainage. This stage contained two almost complete chamfered arrowslit-shaped openings at different levels - one to the right and the other high in the left-hand face. Not a great deal of the third stage survived, but in drawings from 1731 by the Buck brothers another arrow slit can be seen.

Undergrowth and a lack of surviving buildings makes it hard to interpret the arrangement of internal buildings, but it is most likely that there was a series of buildings arranged against the curtain wall.

History of the castle

c.1240: The first record of Bronsil Castle is at this time, when it was linked to St Katherine's Hospital in Ledbury; no description of the structure is given.

1449: Richard Beauchamp, Treasurer to Henry VI, was given a licence to crenellate a mansion and enclose 300 acres of land in Eastnor as a park.

1460: The license to crenellate and enclose was repeated.

1496: Possession passed through a Beauchamp heiress to the Reed family.

1600s: The inhabitants of Bronsil Castle were "driven out" by a restless spirit, some of Lord Beauchamp's bones were brought back to the house from his grave in Italy and the spirit became calm. Mr. Reed moved to another of his seats, New Court at Lugwardine.

1644: Roundheads took the castle under the younger son of Richard Hopton, after some firing and a brief show of resistance by Thomas Cocks. Days later, Royalists from Hereford besieged the castle for 24 hours before Hopton surrendered and the castle was burnt.

1731: From illustrations by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, it is clear that some of the outside walls and towers were still standing at this date. The castle was by now unoccupied and partly ruined.

1774: The Reed family sold Bronsil to Thomas Somers-Cocks, also of Eastnor parish.

1779: Kennion visited, to find only one tower remaining.

1840: The moat was partly cleaned out; it yielded weapons, buckles, irregularly-shaped spoons, and cannonballs.

1931: Most of the north tower was still standing, but the double ditches had become degraded.

1932: Consolidation work was carried out by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England, and two distinct build periods of the wall were identified. The inner side of the wall is bonded with yellowy-white mortar of 13th century date, while the outer octagonal face of the wall is bonded with pink mortar, probably from the 15th century when the existing castle was founded.

1967: The Ordnance Survey provided a plan of the earthworks and measurements; less than half of the tower survived at this time.

1990: The tower was now in a precarious condition.

1991: A large crack in the south-western tower caused concern and consolidation work began, however, before the scaffolding was completely erected a large part of the tower ruin collapsed into the moat.

It is not clear whether Bronsil Castle was designed to be a substantial fortress or little more than a fortified manor. The double moat and the size and scale suggest extravagance and pride, whilst history tells us of no great part played by the castle or its various owners. Richard Beauchamp was a member of the privileged coterie associated with the Yorkist ascendancy of Edward IV, which was fond of the romanticism of chivalric culture. Richard's status would have warranted - and indeed demanded - a flamboyant structure and this is certainly what appears to have existed at this site.