Standing on a rocky outcrop above the confluence of the Dee and Ceiriog rivers, Chirk Castle was built to impress. It was one of the last of the great Edwardian castles built in the late C13th to subdue the Welsh and bring Wales firmly under the control of Edward I and the English throne. It controlled the Marcher land along the Welsh and English border, controlling movement and trade as well as acting as the main administrative centre for the area. Originally limewashed, its stark silhouette could be seen for miles – a constant reminder of English dominance.
Unlike the better known, but now ruined Edwardian Castles of Caernarfon,”Conwy”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/castles/wales/conwy/index.html and “Beaumaris”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/castles/wales/beaumaris/index.html,
Chirk Castle has been lived in for over 700 years. It shows how castles evolved from fortresses to comfortable family homes. Most of its history has been shaped by the Myddeton and later Myddelton-Biddulph families who lived in the castle for 400 years before giving it to the National Trust.
Chirk Castle was a state of the art castle designed to be defended by a small garrison of 20-30 men. It was built with four corner towers joined by a curtain wall with half towers in the middle of each side. This were well supplied with narrow slit windows for archers and the overlapping fields of fire created a killing zone. The narrow passageways in the curtain wall allowed easy communication between the towers.
After his defeat of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd ap Madog in 1282, Edward I established the new marcher Lordship of Chirklands under the control of Roger Mortimer, a member of the powerful Marcher family. Work on the castle began in 1295 and was completed by 1310. In 1308, Edward II appointed Roger Mortimer as Justicar of Wales and for the following 14 years he acted as surrogate Prince of Wales. He was ambitious and supported the Queen and barons in their struggles with Edward II and his favourite Hugh Despenser. Roger was thrown into the Tower of London where he died in 1326.
The castle passed through a series of important families including the Earls of Arundel and Sir William Stanley (who was executed for treason) and Robert Dudley, favourite of Elizabeth I. After his death, the estate was sold by the crown to Thomas Myddelton, the younger son of the governor of Denbigh Castle. He was a successful London merchant who made his money investing in the East India Company and from funding the exploits of Sir Frances Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh, so securing a share of the their wealth from plundering Spanish ships. He was responsible for rebuilding the north range turning Chirk Castle into a fashionable Tudor home.
Chirk Castle was taken by the Royalists during the Civil War. Sir Thomas II supported the Parliamentarians but refused to use artillery against his castle. During the Protectorship of Oliver Cromwell, Sir Thomas became increasingly disillusioned and corresponded with the exile Charles II, supporting him in the ill fated Cheshire rising led by George Booth in 1659. Most of the eastern side of the castle was destroyed and it was left a ruin as a punishment.
The eastern range was rebuilt and the curtain walls and towers reconstructed after the restoration of Charles II. In the late C18th, the northern range was refurbished in the latest neo-classical fashion and the park was landscaped. In the mid C19th Pugin was commissioned to remodel the castle and rebuild part of the east wing. Rooms were altered and decorated in the high Victorian Gothic style.
By 1911, rising running costs, along with cost of Pugin’s work resulted in much of the estate, buildings and castle contents being auctioned off. The castle was put up for rent and a 35 year lease taken by Thomas Scott-Ellis, 8th Lord Howard de Walden. He was a patron of C20th art, Welsh culture and all things medieval. He held lavish house parties, staged jousts and lined the long gallery with suits of armour.
After his death, the Myddleton-Biddulph family returned to the castle. They ripped out many of Pugin’s medieval features (only the Cromwell Hall remains) and restored the neoclassical state rooms. They were also taken over by spiralling running costs and the house and estate were handed over to the National Trust in 1978.
The visitor centre and ticket office are in the Home Farm next to the car park. There is a short walk up through the trees to the castle. The Myddelton coat of arms is above the main entrance, one of the Pugin additions.
This leads into a large courtyard. The stark C13th architecture of the west range contrasts strongly with that of the Thomas Myddelton’s north range with its large square windows.
The west range is the only part of the C13th castle to survive relatively unaltered. The south range is later, dating from around 1400, part of the Arundal era and contains the chapel. It partially collapsed and had to be rebuilt in 1529, using much of the original masonry. The opportunity was taken to convert it into a more comfortable alternative to the military quarters in the towers. Mullioned windows were inserted.
Thomas Myddelton continued this work when he built the north range onto the C13th curtain wall, completing the work of turning the fortress into a comfortable family home. The hall, buttery and kitchen were on the ground floor with the main living quarters above. The south range was taken over by the servants.
The east range was completely rebuilt in the late C17th after the Restoration of the Monarchy, with a drawing room and long gallery with an arcaded gallery running along the courtyard.
The north range was refurbished in the neoclassical style in the late C18th, transforming Chirk castle into a fashionable country house, with a beautiful staircase, saloon and state dining room.
“Disabled access statement”:https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/documents/access-guide/1431730017253-chirk-castle.pdf
“Pictures and more information”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/stately_homes_castles/wales/chirk/index.html
A separate review provides a more detailed description of the inside of the castle.