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Acton Burnell Castle

In the civil parish of Acton Burnell.
In the historic county of Shropshire.
Modern Authority of Shropshire.
1974 county of Shropshire.
Medieval County of Shropshire.

OS Map Grid Reference: SJ53390191
Latitude 52.61286° Longitude -2.68969°

Acton Burnell Castle has been described as a certain Palace, and also as a certain Fortified Manor House.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Fortified manor house, remains of. 1284-5 for Robert Burnell (died 1292) with some late C18 alterations. Roughly squared and coursed red and grey sandstone with ashlar dressings; C18 stone slate hipped roofs over west block and south-west tower. 4-bay central block formerly with first-floor 3-bay hall and one-bay chamber over ground- floor buttery and service chambers; small projecting garderobe block to west; projecting square corner towers: formerly containing garderobe to north-west, stairs to upper chambers to south-west; possible chapel and stairs to hall to north-east, and stairs to undercroft to south-east. 2 and 3 storeys with 4-storey towers. Battlemented parapets; towers with moulded plinth and chamfered offsets. Large 2-light windows with cusped geometrical tracery, ground floor lancets to north; rectangular openings to towers. Disturbed masonry to central block is evidence of former buttresses; there was formerly a 2-span roof, springing from corbels and a now-demolished central hall arcade. Robert Burnell was Chancellor of England and Bishop of Bath and Wells; he also built a large palace at Wells with which the design of Acton Burnell has some affinities. The ruins were used as a barn in the C18 when the large depressed archways were created in the north and south walls. To the east of the house stand the gable ends of a large C13 stone barn and the Church of St Mary lies immediately to the north-west. (Listed Building Report)

Acton Burnell Castle moated complex survives well and is a good example of a large moated site of high status, one of the most substantial of its kind in the county. The moat itself is unusually large and designed both to protect the domestic complex and underline the status of its owner. Elements of the substantial buildings contained within the moat remain in fine condition. The chamber block, though a ruined shell, stands to its full height and remains an impressive building. The gable walls of the substantial tithe barn are equally impressive, and both structures retain many of their original architectural details. The site is well documented, being used as both residence and meeting place for the most powerful men of the medieval kingdom. Archaeological evidence will survive in the vicinity of the chamber block and tithe barn, relating to the construction of these buildings and their use and occupation. The buried remains of other buildings, and archaeological material relating to the occupation of the site, will survive stratified throughout the interior of the moated enclosure. Environmental evidence relating to the landscape in which the monument was constructed will survive sealed beneath the floors of the buildings and in the fills of the moat. The site is in the care of the Secretary of State and is open to the public throughout the year.
The monument includes the remains of Acton Burnell Castle, a 13th century residential complex situated on level ground south of Acton Burnell Hall, with easy access to the Roman road from Wroxeter to South Wales. The site includes the ruins and buried remains of a substantial chamber block and tithe barn, and the earthwork and buried remains of a perimeter moat. The manor of Acton is first mentioned in Domesday, and a century later it was held by William Burnell, whose descendant Robert was responsible for the construction of many of the standing features. Robert Burnell served as secretary to Edward I, as Chancellor of England and Bishop of Bath and Wells, and was one of the most influential and powerful men of his time. He was granted a licence by the king to crenellate and fortify a property at Acton Burnell in 1284, and work began on the site around this date, replacing the earlier house in which Robert was born. Work continued on the manor throughout Burnell's lifetime, and it seems likely that it was still in progress at his death in 1292. The property stayed in the family, but the descent of the lordship suggests it had ceased to be used as a residence by 1420, which would explain the absence of later medieval modifications. It subsequently passed by marriage to the Lovells of Titchmarsh, and was confiscated by Henry VII in 1485 and given to the Earl of Surrey in return for his services at the battle of Flodden in 1513. In the 16th century it became part of the estates of the Duke of Norfolk and by the 17th century had passed to the Smythe family. By this time most of the original buildings had been demolished. In the 18th century Acton Burnell Hall was built to the north of the castle, and the estate was remodelled to create the parkland seen today, Burnell's chamber block being incorporated into the park as an ornamental barn. St Mary's Church, Burnell's chamber block, and the tithe barn, all lie on a roughly rectangular platform which is orientated WSW to ENE along the slope. Overall the platform measures c.250m long by over 138m wide. A perimeter moat can be traced for most of its circuit along the east, north and west sides, but the southern arm is no longer visible as a surface feature. Along the east side, the inner slope of the moat is visible as a well defined scarp slope averaging 1.5m high and running roughly NNW-SSE through parkland. The outer slope of the moat here has been spread and modified by later landscaping. At its southern end this arm of the moat passes into arable farmland and its extent and orientation are uncertain. The western side of the enclosure is visible as a clear ditch 8m wide and 1.5m deep, running along property boundaries west of the site for up to 100m. At its southern end it becomes infilled and its relationship with the southern arm is obscured by the plantation through which it runs. To the north the ditch ends in line with the modern approach road, which lies at a lower level than the ground to its immediate south, along a distinct scarp up to 0.8m high. It seems probable that this lies on the original line of the northern ditch, its southern edge being defined by the scarp edge of the platform. This northern arm continues east as a buried feature, lying partly under the later buildings of Acton Burnell Hall, and partly under landscaped lawns. The layout of the buildings within the platform is only partly evident. Centrally placed towards the western end sits the parochial Church of St Mary. This church was completely rebuilt in the time of Bishop Burnell and must have been an important element in his reconstruction of the site. That there was a church in this position before, however, is suggested by the alignment of the two surviving medieval churchyard walls to the south and east, which are set at a different angle from the other known buildings in the enclosure, and are included in the scheduling. The grandest building known from Burnell's rebuilding campaign, however, is the surviving chamber block containing the bishop's private apartments. The ruins of this building stand south of the centre of the moated enclosure and south east of the parish church, and are Listed Grade I. The block constitutes a self-contained suite of rooms, similar in concept to a Norman keep, though designed primarily for convenience and display rather than defence. It is a two-storeyed building of coursed sandstone ashlar on a rectangular plan, with dimensions of 30m east-west by 16m north-south. In the centre of the west side is a large projecting garderobe tower with a pyramidal roof. At each corner of the building are projecting towers of a rectangular plan with moulded plinths and chamfered offsets, which rise to a third storey. Three of these retain their original battlements, whilst the south west tower has a pyramidal roof added in the 18th century to convert it into a dovecote. These towers are supplied with small rectangular windows. The main chambers on the first floor were equipped with large windows filled with simple geometrical tracery. The ground floor chambers also had traceried windows in the south side, but to the north were lit by simple lancets. The main block was roofed in two spans rising behind ornamental battlements. The ground floor was originally entered through one of three doors in the eastern part, at least two of which communicated with service buildings, probably of timber and connected to the east wall of the chamber block. Evidence for this two-storeyed structure can be seen on the outer face of the wall, and its foundations will survive below ground. The ground floor was divided into four chambers, two large halls and two smaller rooms, with small chambers in the western towers and porch-like chambers in the eastern ones. The main chambers were on the first floor and were dominated by a large, nearly square, hall at the eastern end. This hall was divided east-west by an open arcade, and appears to have been entered directly from the outside by a staircase leading to a porch or waiting room in the now badly ruined north east tower. To the west was a single private chamber equipped with garderobes and a private stair leading up to a second chamber. The surviving remains of the chamber block show it was designed as the main dwelling for the Chancellor and his household. However, an establishment of this status would have provided housing for manorial officials, guests and attendants, as well as domestic provisions such as stables, barns and a brew house. Of these, the only remains standing above ground are the ruins of a large tithe barn, which stand some 100m north east of the manor. The two gable ends of the barn survive to their full height, and evidence for the side elevations will survive below ground. The gables would have formed the north and south ends of a substantial aisled building, 50m long by 13m wide. This barn is, by tradition, the place where in 1283 Parliament sat for the first time. Although no longer visible as surface features, the remains of the other medieval buildings will survive as buried features within the enclosure, probably mostly located to the north and east of the chamber block. Although an original part of the medieval building complex, St Mary's Church, a Grade I Listed Building, is totally excluded from the scheduling as it remains in ecclesiastical use. Its graveyard is also in contemporary use and therefore excluded. However, the medieval churchyard walls to the east and south of the church are included, being regarded as important elements of the medieval building complex. (Scheduling Report)

A Royal licence to crenellate was granted in 1284 Jan 28 (Click on the date for details of this licence.).

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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:29

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