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Weobley Castle

ER no. 1068, OS grid ref: SO 4033 5140

"From Hereford to Weobley 7 miles by west northwest. It is a market town in Herefordshire where there is a goodly castell but somewhat in decay. It was the chief lordship of the Devereux." John Leland, Itinerary, 1538

Weobley is a black and white village in the north of Herefordshire, approximately 10 miles from Leominster. To the south of the village, via a lane containing a red telephone box, lie the remains of the castle earthworks.

Description of the site today

The earthworks are quite extensive but much damaged, with the most complete section lying on the east of the site.

From the south end of the village you enter the site of the castle and walk into the roughly oval inner bailey via an earthen causeway over the wide ditch. The ditch that surrounds the earthworks is now dry but would have once been wet, perhaps filled by the nearby Newbridge Brook. 

The main work consists of a high semi-circular bank towards the east, defended towards the south by a deep double ditch with high intermediate bank. The two ditches unite towards the east side.

The bailey is roughly oval and retains a rampart approximately 2m high on the interior and approximately 4-5m above the bottom of the outer ditch. There is also a ditch on the eastern side of the bailey below the rampart, but only the ditch on the west remains. On the west side the earthwork has been reduced to little more than a series of scarps. 

To the south of the site are a series of small mounds which would have probably once held the castle keep. There are no masonry remains and the alleged motte is now nothing more than a grass-covered crescent with its centre quarried away.

The profiles of the bailey defences look too sharp for simple earthworks. The earthworks of the site are complex and confusing. They are much damaged, which may in part be due to the fact that a World War II bomb shelter (now gone) was built on the site. 

A plan by Silas Taylor in 1655 shows a rectangular keep with round corner towers and a gateway to the north.

A field investigation in the outer bailey in 1994 showed that the property boundary on the east is at the top of a steep bank c. 0.5m high. The outer bailey is a raised area, not very flat but generally above the gardens on all sides. The eastern part of the area is a public open space and the west is a private paddock. The same banking can be observed on the west side and both sides conjoin the main castle area in a regular fashion. The boundary is less obvious on the north side but there is a clear bank on the northwest corner.

The castle site covers quite a large area surrounded by relatively flat ground. Further to the south of the site are Garnstone, Ostey, Bache, Pole, Yazor, Darkhill and Nash Woods, which may have provided supplies for the castle. These woods are in an area which covers Burton Hill and Wormsley Hill, which would have also given the castle some defence from the south.

Foundation and history of the site

11th century: The castle was probably built by one of the de Lacys towards the end of this century.

c. 1135: The castle saw action during the civil wars between Stephen and Matilda, when it was garrisoned on behalf of Empress Matilda.

1138: Geoffrey Talbot occupied the castle after he escaped from Hereford following the siege of the city by King Stephen. It is from here that Talbot set out to burn Hereford south of the River Wye in retaliation for the help the townspeople gave to the king.

1140: Stephen successfully besieged and captured the castle from Geoffrey Talbot. Following the death of Hugh de Lacy the castle passed into the king's hands temporarily, and £47 was spent on the castles of Weobley, Ewyas Harold and Longtown.

1208: The castle is connected with the rebellion of William de Braose, whose daughter had married Walter de Lacy. De Braose, showing resistance to the king, retired to his son-in-law's castle and marched from here to "ravage and burn" the town of Leominster, seizing the lands of the royal priory. As a result of his association with the de Braoses Walter de Lacy's lands were confiscated by the Crown and only returned in 1213. It is likely that he then built an impressive stone castle on the site. In 1216 Walter de Lacy was granted the custody of Hereford Castle, and from 1216-1223 he was Sheriff of the county.

1241: On the death of Walter de Lacy the castle passed to the Verdon family through marriage by Margery de Braose. Upon the death of her son Theobald the castle passed to his son, also named Theobald. Upon his death the castle passed to his daughter Margery and her first husband William le Blount.

1338: Following William's death Margery granted the castle to John le Blount, but in 1356 Margery's third husband, Sir John Crophull, took back the castle. He died in 1383, leaving the castle to his daughter Agnes who later married Sir Walter Devereux.

1535: The antiquarian John Leland visited Weobley and described it as "A market towne in Herefordeshire, where is a goodly castell, but somewhat in decay".

1572: Another Walter Devereux was created Earl of Essex. This title became extinct in 1646.

1614: A lease of this date refers to "the site of Weobley castle", but no buildings apart from a mill are mentioned.

1674: Walter Devereux's daughter Frances, Duchess of Somerset, died without heir and bequeathed the castle to Thomas Thynne. Thomas Thynne was married to Frances' granddaughter by her daughter Mary and the second Earl of Winchelsea. Members of the Thynne family represented Weobley in Parliament.

For further information on Weobley Castle and its history, see An Anatomy of a Castle: The Weobley Castle Project, by George Nash and George Children, Logaston Press, 2003.