View of Allington Castle
|Owner||Sir Robert Worcester|
|Condition||Restored from ruins|
|Built by||Stephen de Pencester|
Allington Castle is a stone-built moated castle in Allington, Kent, just north of Maidstone. The first castle on the site was an unauthorised fortification, built during The Anarchy of the early 12th century and torn down later in the century when royal control was reasserted. It was replaced by a manor house, which was fortified with royal permission in the 13th century. Various alterations and expansions were made by successive owners over the following two centuries. The property was developed into a fortified compound with six towers at irregular intervals along the curtain wall and domestic buildings in the interior, including one of the first long galleries built in England. In 1554 it was seized by the Crown in the course of dispossessing its owner, Sir Thomas Wyatt the younger, after the failure of his rebellion against Queen Mary.
The castle subsequently fell into a state of decay that was accelerated by damaging fires, neglect and vandalism, until it was largely ruined by the start of the 20th century. It was saved and restored by the efforts of Sir Martin Conway and his wife during the first half of the century. After nearly fifty years of occupation by a community of Carmelite friars and nuns, it returned to being a private residence in 1999 and is currently the home of Sir Robert Worcester, the founder of the MORI polling company. It is a grade I listed building and is used as a wedding venue, though there is no public access otherwise.
12th to 15th century
The first castle was built by William de Warenne, 2nd Earl of Surrey during the reign of King Stephen in the first half of the 12th century. It took the form of a moated mound (possibly a motte and bailey) built on a site adjoining a bend in the River Medway about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of Maidstone. The fortification was subsequently expanded but as it was an unauthorised adulterine castle, its demolition was ordered in 1174 during the reign of Henry II. It was replaced with a small unfortified manor house.
The present castle was built between 1279-99 by Stephen de Pencester, the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, who was granted a licence to crenellate the existing manor house by Edward I. It was inherited by Penchester's daughter and passed via marriage to the Cobham family, who owned it until 1492. The building's development was continued in the early 13th century by Sir Henry de Cobham, incorporating the remains of the old manor house into the new castle. Although it was fortified, it was more of a residence than a fortress, as indicated by its extensive – and early – use of brick, which may have reflected Stephen's interests in a brickyard in Essex. It seems to have been neglected subsequently; it is described by documentary sources as being in a very bad condition by 1398-99.
Tenure of the Wyatts
Allington Castle was acquired in 1492 by Sir Henry Wyatt, a prominent supporter of Henry Tudor, who was later to become King Henry VII. He undertook major alterations, dividing the courtyard into two unequal parts by constructing a two-storeyed building which contained what may have been one of the first long galleries in England. He also added a half-timbered block adjoining the curtain wall, which was used as the castle's kitchens and stables. Henry VII visited it during Wyatt's tenure. Henry VIII also visited in 1527, 1530 and 1536, as did Cardinal Wolsey in 1527 and Catherine Parr in 1544. Henry was said to have been so concerned for his personal safety while staying in the castle's north-east tower that he had the single entry, a spiral staircase, blocked off by a dry stone wall each night that he was there.
His son, the poet Thomas Wyatt, was born there in 1503, but in 1554 Thomas Wyatt the younger forfeited the castle after his unsuccessful rebellion against Queen Mary. The plotters had held their first meeting at the castle before marching to London; after the rebellion had been crushed, many of the failed rebels were imprisoned in the castle. The Wyatts were deprived of the rest of their extensive estate, Sir Thomas was executed and the surviving members of the family emigrated to America.
Decay and restoration
Two farm houses were subsequently built in the grounds of Allington Castle while the rest of the castle gradually fell into ruin. Most of the Great Hall and the north-east wing were destroyed in a disastrous fire in the second half of the 16th century. An early 17th century lessee named John Best pulled down the battlements and added a half-timbered gabled second storey to the east and west wings as a replacement for the fire-damaged areas of the castle. It was bought in 1720 by Sir Robert Marsham, the 2nd Baron Romney, but he did not live there and let it deteriorate. Its decaying appearance was recorded by JMW Turner in sketches and watercolours made in 1798. The top of the Long Gallery was destroyed in another fire and the rest of the castle was nearly demolished in the 19th century by Charles Marsham, 5th Earl of Romney. He was dissuaded by opposition from local residents, but by this time the castle was totally ruined.
In 1895, a retired London barrister named Dudley C. Falke rented the castle from Lord Romney and began the lengthy task of restoration. However, this proved too expensive for his resources. In 1905 he approached the distinguished mountaineer and cartographer Sir William Martin Conway, who he had heard was looking to buy an old castle or manor house. Conway and his American wife decided to purchase the castle's freehold from Lord Romney at a cost of £4,800 and spent the next 30 years restoring it with the assistance of the architects W. D. Caroe and Philip Tilden. He and his daughter Agnes, an archaeologist, also undertook extensive research into the history of the castle. He died in 1937, whereupon Agnes inherited Allington Castle.
On her death in 1950, it was sold to the Order of Carmelites from the nearby Aylesford Priory. It subsequently became the home of a community of Carmelite Friars. There was a certain amount of historical irony in this, as the Wyatts of Allington Castle had obtained Aylesford Friary during Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries; now the tables were turned.
The friars vacated Allington Castle in 1999. It is now the home of Sir Robert Worcester, the founder of the MORI polling company. The castle is not open to the public but is used as a wedding venue. It has been a Grade I listed building since 1951.
Allington Castle takes the form of an irregular parallelogram with a curtain wall incorporating six round towers of various sizes. A gatehouse, incorporating the remains of the original manor house from which the castle developed, stands on the north-west side. The largest and most significant of the towers, the four-storyed Solomon's Tower, projects from the south-west side of the curtain wall. Just to its north, adjoining the west curtain wall, is the Penchester Lodgings, one of two surviving ranges of early buildings, which may incorporate remains of the earlier manor house. The banqueting hall and main apartments stood against the east curtain wall. It has largely been reconstructed, though the 15th century porch is original.
The interior of the castle was once a single large open space but is divided into a large outer and a smaller inner courtyard. The latter was once occupied by buildings against the south curtain wall and appears to have been the site of the first castle on the site, judging by the remains of foundations discovered during Conway's restoration work. The range dividing the two courtyards contains the Long Gallery on the upper floor, with offices below. The buildings in the south-east corner were occupied by kitchens and a buttery with rooms above. The moat surrounding the castle was once flooded and was crossed by a drawbridge with a portcullis closing the entrance to the castle. The ruins of a barbican can be seen on the far side of the moat. A short distance to the south-west of the castle is a low mound, which is all that survives of the 12th century motte.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Allington Castle.|
- "Pastscape - Allington Castle". English Heritage. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Ingleton, Roy D. (2012). Fortress Kent. Casemate Publishers. p. 91. ISBN 978-1-84884-888-7.
- Pettifer, Adrian (2002). English Castles: A Guide by Counties. Boydell & Brewer. pp. 110–1. ISBN 978-0-85115-782-5.
- Ingleton, p. 92
- Ingleton, p. 29
- Saunders, Andrew; Smith, Victor (2001). "KD 75 - Allington Castle". Kent's Defence Heritage – Gazetteer Part One. Kent County Council.
- Ingleton, p. 93
- "Allington Castle sketches". Tate Gallery. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
- Ingleton, p. 94
- "Allington Castle". Historic Houses Association. Retrieved 20 July 2015.
- Historic England. "Allington Castle (1239149)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
- History of Allington Castle, by Sir W. Martin Conway, M.A., F.S.A. Archaeologia Cantiana. Vol. 28, 1909, pages 337-362