Chirk Castle

Star Travel Rating

5/5

Review type

Things to do

Location

Chirk Castle

Date of travel

March, 2016

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Product country

Product city

Travelled with

Family including children under 16

Reasons for trip

I have written an “overview”:http://www.silvertraveladvisor.com/review/attraction/166730-review-chirk-castle of my visit to Chirk Castle. This gives a lot more detail about the inside of the castle and the rooms.

WEST RANGE AND ADAM’S TOWER
This is the only part of the C13th castle to survive relatively unaltered. It offers an insight into how a medieval fortress would have functioned. The towers were the living quarters for the garrison. The sides were splayed out at the bottom making then difficult to be attacked by siege engines and the 5m thick walls would resist battering rams. The narrow passageways in the curtain wall connected the towers. Arrow slits gave overlapping fields of fire making the outside of the castle a killing zone for would be attackers.

The ground floor of the Adam Tower was the guard room and weapon store. The garrison soldiers ate and slept here. On one wall is a small oven. It now has examples of weapons and armour including chain mail and helmets to try on.

A steep spiral staircase leads down to the dungeon hollowed out of rock. The upper dungeon with its tiny slit window would have housed the more important prisoners. Less fortunate ones were kept in a room below this which had no natural light or ventilation.

Above the guard room and reached by a stone staircase is the Muniment room which was where more senior officers lived. Above on the second floor was the room used by the castle governor. This was the room used by Sir Thomas Myddleton before the alterations to the north wing. The large mullion windows were added later, possibly during the time of Robert Dudley.

The narrow room in the corridor in the curtain wall is called the Magistrates room. The original function is unclear and the name comes from the figure of a blind and barefoot magistrate holding a set of scales and sword of justice on the early c17th plaster frieze.

THE CROMWELL HALL AND THE NEO-CLASSICAL ROOMS IN THE NORTH RANGE

A stone staircase leads up into the North range, built along the C13th curtain wall, by Thomas Myddelton around 1600. Nothing remains of his original rooms.

On the right of the entrance hall is the Cromwell Hall. This would originally have been the servants dining room but was turned into a grand entrance hall in the C18th. In the mid C19th, Pugin turned this into a Victorian interpretation of what a medieval great hall might have looked like. This his only room to survive and is furnished very much as designed by Pugin.

There is dark wood panelling around the walls with the heraldic shields of the Myddelton family. There are more shields in the stained glass windows. The muskets, swords and pieces of armour were collected by Thomas Myddelton II.

A beautiful cantilever staircase constructed in 1777/8 in the middle tower of the north wall leads up to the Neo-classical rooms on the first floor. This gives access to the state dining room and saloon. These rooms along with the adjacent drawing room were redesigned in the mid C18th but were Gothicised by Pugin. They were returned to their neo-classical elegance in the 1950s.

The state dining room is now a very elegant room with white panelling round the bottom of the walls and pale green paint above with decorative plaster insets picked out on gold. The C18th fireplace was placed here by Howard de Walden. The table is set with C18th Bohemian glass and a mid C19th faience dinner service decorated with green to match the walls.

Next to the dining room is the saloon, which was originally the great parlour. It was a fashionable space to entertain guests and display collections of furniture, tapestries and paintings. The ceiling is the original neo-classical ceiling from the 1770s and features scenes from Greek mythology. These are painted on canvas mounted on oak stretchers and fixed to the painted panels between the thicker wooden beams. The deep blue background and gilded decoration were added by Pugin. On the walls are Mortlake tapestries telling the story of Cadmus, King of Thebes. These were bought by Thomas Myddelton II in 1670. The pier glass mirrors now set between the windows were originally facing each other at opposite ends of the room. At night they would reflect the light from the candles on the pier tables below. Made in 1782, using the largest plate glass available at the time, the mirrors and the pier tables were valued at a quarter of he contents of the whole castle.

Beyond the saloon is the drawing room, formed when the east range was rebuilt after the Civil war. The blue ceiling panels, cast iron fire grate, fire back and irons are Pugin’s work. His red flock wall paper has since been replaced by gold. Family portraits hang from the walls. Again the room was used to display fine furniture and ceramics.

THE LONG GALLERY AND KING’S BEDROOM

The East range was rebuilt by Thomas Myddelton IV after the destruction of the Civil War. Long galleries were out of fashion by then but it was a practical and cheap way to fill the first floor space and housed a billiard table. It is a long low panelled room with a fireplace at either end. The ribbed ceiling is the work of Pugin.

It was used for parties and dances and the Victorians filled it with furniture and curiosities. Howard de Walden lined it with suits of armour. These have now gone but it still contains some fine bits of furniture, including a 1600s Japanese shark skin trunk with copper clasps. The lacquer panels are inlaid with mother of pearl making rural scenes of animals, trees flowers and houses. The Chirk or Charles II Cabinet is a 17th-century Dutch cabinet given to Sir Thomas Myddelton by Charles II for his loyalty to the Royalist cause. It is made of ebony inlaid with tortoiseshell and ivory, and decorated with filigree-like silver. The paintings showing scenes from the life of Christ are painted on copper panels are from the studio of from the studio of Frans Francken the younger. A beautiful late C17th ivory and ebony Italian cabinet was a gift to Lady Margaret Myddelton.

Off the long Gallery in the Old Maid’s tower is the King’s bedroom and dressing room. Charles I spent two nights at Chirk Castle during the Civil War but it wouldn’t have been in this room, which is part of the post civil war reconstruction. The ceiling, red flock wallpaper and fireplace are the work of Pugin. Although the bed carries a silver footplate proclaiming Charles I slept in it, this is an impossibility as the bed wasn’t made until 1700… This is likely to be an C19th addition. Off it is a small dressing room with a hip bath, again C19th.

PUGIN AND THE GROUND FLOOR OF THE EAST RANGE

Pugin was responsible for the reconstruction of the rooms on the ground floor of the east range. He turned the arcaded gallery facing the courtyard into a corridor and added a library, lower dining room, anteroom and lower butler’s pantry. These were the private apartments of the Myddelton-Biddulphs until they moved out in 2004. The National Trust have restored the rooms back to what they might have been like when Howard de Walden rented the castle.

Pugin’s corridor has an elegant plaster vaulted ceiling with hanging lights. The tops of the windows have stained glass with arms of the Myddelton families. At the far end is the library, converted from a bedroom by Pugin with his characteristic panelled ceiling. Old bookcases, carefully altered to fit the space line the walls. The fireplace surround was made from pieces of a finely carved C17th bed.

The original collection of books were sold when the Myddelton’s moved out but the National Trust has succeeded in buying back over 80% which explains the gaps in the bookshelves. This is one of the last surviving early private library in a Welsh home and nearly a quarter of the books were printed before 1701, many still having their original bindings.

Next to the library is the lower dining room, which was the schoolroom for many years. It is now a ‘family room’ with chairs for visitors to sit in and games to play. Much of the Myddleton-Biddulph furniture had been sold off, so the National Trust has acquired suitable furniture for the room. The fireplace overmantle is another carved Tudor bed head. Above the Tudor sideboard is a picture of Howard de Waldon’s children playing chess.

On the table is a copy of the Myddelton pedigree. The original is displayed on the wall. It was commissioned around 1660 to mark the baronetcy granted by Charles Ii and traces the Myddelton family tree from 1670 back to the Welsh Princes and ancient English kings. The scroll is 10m long and a different 2m section is displayed each year. On the wall beside it are old Myddelton deeds from the C13th to C15th.

Beyond is the ante room, an extension of the Pugin corridor, which has display cabinets with china and a set of four George III mahogany chairs.

Off this, in the base of the Old Maid’s tower, is the Bow Drawing room. This has been furnished as it might have been in the time of Howard de Walden, with plenty of comfortable chairs and a piano. This is where the rich and famous were entertained. Visitors are encouraged to sit and enjoy this room. There is a framed picture of Howard de Walden on the piano as well as a bronze bust by Auguste Rodin. On the wall are pictures of him and his wife painted by Augustus John. The fan vaulted ceiling is part of the 1820 pre Pugin restoration. The fireplace is Pugin Gothic at its best.

Beyond in the lower butler’s pantry are cine films from the 1930s showing family life of the Howard de Waldens.

THE CHAPEL
The chapel is tucked away in the south east corner of the castle and dates from the C14/15th. It fell into disrepair during the C18th, eventually being restored in the C19th when the large east window was added.
Howard de Walden added the oak floor, panelling fireplace, with its carved overmantle (another recycled bed head) and the wooden stair to the Long Gallery in 1912. It is no longer used apart from weddings.

There are lots more pictures “here.”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/stately_homes_castles/wales/chirk/index.html

ESW

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