Archaeology (summary) & further reading

What follows in this section is based on information available before the Time Team dig in June 2009 and the current work. The text will be updated when relevant reports from those sources become available.

To support its bids for purchase and rescue, the Hopton Castle Preservation Trust raised funds for two initial surveys of the remnants of the Castle and English Heritage commissioned a survey of the earthworks. These have added considerably to the vital evidence and speculative analysis assembled by Curnow in 1989. With Samuel More's remarkable diary of the1644 Civil War siege, the five accounts1 provide a full record of what is known or suspected about the site. What follows is a brief summary of the main findings. Further information is available on application to the Trust (see Contact Form).

An Archaeological and Architectural Analysis1(d) (AAA)follows Curnow1(b) in assuming that the remains visible today are of a structure 'clearly not designed to be a keep' vulnerable as they still appear on the 'small, landscaped..hummock of earth'2 and not strong or well-placed enough to withstand a determined assault. Rather, the building was a residential tower house supplemented by separate service buildings, now lost.

What remains is probably mediaeval, with characteristics of the 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th centuries, but the dates of the main structure are disputed: a later design could have incorporated deliberate references to earlier styles as a grandiose gesture to a 'partly imagined and romanticised past'3. There are significant parallels at Clun and Acton Burnell. On the other hand the motte-and-bailey plan may reflect the footprint of a settlement pre-dating the tower.

The setting for the whole castle development was surveyed in A Survey of the Earthworks 1(e) (SoE) which concludes that the discernible works, mostly under grass now, are also of varied dates. The mound and a collection of buildings close by were protected in a bailey-like arrangement; there may have been an outer bailey or, if the structure was less clearly defensive than that suggests, a garden enclosure. Samuel More's 17th century siege diary1(a) refers to an 'out wall' and a 'new brick house' and a brick tower.

The AAA records the tower as being of 'sandwich' construction with inner and outer faces of local Silurian siltstone with rubble infill4. The friable stone, also used in local churches and houses* would have needed rendering and some, possibly later than the original fabric, is still visible. Dressed pinkish stone at openings and in bands, quoins and corbels is probably local Old Red Sandstone. The marks of a wooden entrance porch over the main (north) ground-level doorway are still clear. This would have required steps between the lower outside ground and the top of the mound. Under about two metres of fallen rubble, the extant ground floor is, according to the Report on an Archaeological Excavation1(c) (AE), 'in excellent condition.. (and) ..appears to be the only example of a surviving ground-level lime ash floor in the whole of Shropshire'5.

There is fascinating evidence cited in the various reports of the possible effects of the Civil Way siege on the local topology and on the fabric which is known, from More's account, to have been torched, undermined and breached. Some of the most intriguing possibilities, however, relate to the initial building phases.

In Curnow, there is a putative reconstruction of room arrangements based on remnants in the walls and debris and an assumed date of c13006. There are three floors above an undercroft. Each floor was more expensively appointed than that below. Of four 'turrets', two at opposite (NE and SE) corners are similar in shape giving some symmetry to the east face; the NW was a stair tower and the SW contained the highest status accommodation in a mezzanine. The main first and second floor floors were halls with small rooms or recesses off and fireplaces. There is speculation in AAA as to the placing of bedchambers, garderobes and wardrobes7. Windows vary in size, position and style; some had window seats, shutters or glazing. There are various signs of improvement or embellishment which date from later than 1300, one of the sources of uncertainty in dating the main building.

A further puzzle relates to how the Castle at Hopton 'worked'. There are no discernible service quarters in the tower and no room for any adjacent on the mound. The kitchen, for instance, is assumed to have been housed separately, a peculiar inconvenience. Possible storage areas - in the turrets or other recesses - seem too small for all the accoutrements and working areas required by a high status family of the time. The likelihood is that separate buildings in the enclosure held service and stabling apartments, possibly a chapel or ancillary accommodation.

Plan of Hopton Castle lower house (taken from the Sceduled Anceint Monument Gazetteer).
Reconstruction drawing of the tower as built, from the north-east produced by Terry Ball and published in Curnow, op.cit., 95
The interior of the tower, looking towards the entrance.
Main entrance door in northern wall

About the status of the early owners, archaeologists do agree. In addition to three floors, expensive materials and well-crafted details in what is described as a 'grand, lordly residence'8, SoE reports geophysical and other data as suggesting an ornamental water feature including a man-made gully, one or more ponds and, to the south, pavilions with a raised walk between them. This conjures a powerfully evocative picture of a noble family - and possibly serfs - taking their leisure in the open air enjoying views of the hill to the south-west and deer parks to the south and (probably) the north-east from an 'oasis of civilisation in a wilderness'9.

By the time of the Civil War, the owners - by then the Wallops - were not resident at Hopton, but the 17th century additions referred to by More underline the continuing significance of an important location in this Parliamentarian enclave.

Robert Wallop was handsomely compensated for his Civil War losses but the assumption in AAA is that, after the siege of March 1644, Hopton Castle was possibly gutted and abandoned10. The 1731 engraving by the Buck brothers shows an outline remarkably close to its present state (although further small losses have been noted), illustrating that subsequent owners did little to repair things beyond a bit of patching up until more serious late 19th century work by Sir Edward Ripley of the nearby (new) Bedstone Court. The Ministry of Works did what they could afford in the mid-20th century but, again, this was mainly patching and stabilising.

For the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to find the resources to enable the Trust to purchase and save this remarkable fragment of Shropshire's and England's history took vision. Along with generous grants from English Heritage and other agencies and enthusiastic fund-raising - which must still make its annual contribution to maintenance - HLF has redeemed a unique expression of mediaeval wealth and power. Future generations will be grateful.

*The N-S solar wing of Lower House opposite the Castle is an example. The date was confirmed as 15th century during the last listing exercise. The observation in SoE (p2) that 'none of the existing buildings in the village apparently predates the 17th century' is probably based on the characteristics of the later, more visible, south elevation.

Sources and Further Reading

1 These five, in date order, are:

(a) Journal of the Siege of Hopton Castle written by Samuel More Shropshire County Archive Doc. 445/384 Date of transcription uncertain but roughly contemporary with aftermath of the 1644 siege.

(b) Curnow, P E The Tower House at Hopton Catle and its Affinities in Harper-Bill, C (ed) Studies in Mediaeval History Presented to R Allen Brown 1989

(c ) Marches Archaeology Hopton Castle, Hopton Castle, Shropshire: Report on an Archaeological Evaluation Marches Archaeology 2005 (AE in the above text)

(d) Richard K Morriss Hopton Castle Shropshire: An Archaeological and Architectural Analysis of the Tower Mercian Heritage Series No 270 Richard Morriss Associates 2006 (AAA in the above text)

(e) Bowden, M et al Hopton Castle Shropshire: a survey of the earthworks English Heritage 2006 (SoE in the text)

2 AAA p23

3 SoE p3

4 AAA p23

5 AE Section 5 (no pagination)

6 Curnow, P E, op.cit. reproduced in AAA p40

7 AAA pp34-5

8 SoE p10

9 SoE p10

10 AAA p44

The various commentaries listed as i(b) to 1(e) above have their own refence lists from which the following are drawn:

On the CASTLE:

Remfry, P M Hopton Castle SCS Publishing 1994

On the (de) HOPTON and WALLOP families:

(severally) Capp, B, Curthoys, M C and Peachey, JT in Matthew H C G and Harrison, B (ed.s) The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, vol.s 28,57,92 2004

On local history:

Biggleston, P The Civil War in Leonard, j, Preshous, D, Roberts, R, Smyth, J & Train, C (ed.s) The Gale of Life: Two Thousand Years in South West Shropshire 2000

On interpreting the earthworks:

Everson, P L, var. inc. (with Williamson, T) Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Everson, P L and Williamson, T (ed.s) the Archaeology of Landscape:studies presented to Christopher Taylor Manchester UP 1999