Hartlebury Castle, Historic Park and Garden

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Hartlebury was owned by the Bishops of Worcester for over 1,100 years. There are records of a land grant to the Bishop of Worcester by King Burghred of Mercia in the late 9th century, with records of the first building on the site in 1268, making Hartlebury the centre of civil and ecclesiastical power and influence in Worcestershire. A once fortified castle (licence to crenelate 1268) sited within an historic park and garden, the Castle has undergone several transformations, each reflecting the social conditions of the time.

Hartlebury Castle tells the story of the bishops of a major see, with their evolving role in English society, from political and military guardians of a frontier with Wales to active participants in political decision taking in modern times. They number a pope (Clement VII) who played a key role in precipitating the establishment of the Church of England; Bishops Latimer and Hooper, Protestant martyrs of the Reformation; and Bishop Hurd, friend to King George III and creator of the Hurd Library.

The early Castle was fortified and moated ready to house soldiers and quell unrest along the borders with Wales, by the 15th century times had become more settled and the Great Hall was built, transforming the Castle into a place of status and comfort. During the Civil War the Castle received major damage and was abandoned for over 40 years. In the late 1680’s Bishop Fleetwood started the transformation from medieval castle to gracious country mansion and grounds. Successive bishops throughout the 18th century beautified the Castle and surrounding estate to create the Castle in its current form, except for the remodelling in the 1960’s. This most recent chapter in the Castle’s history arose as the Castle was becoming too much of a burden for the Bishop, so the north wing was leased to Worcestershire County Council to house the Tickenhall Collection of rural life. The retirement of the Bishop of Worcester in 2007 saw the end of the Castle role as a Bishop’s Palace.

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The Castle

Hartlebury today is formed from a number of heritage elements. The Castle architecture includes:

  • Medieval structure: Much of the important medieval structure is hidden within the building works of the 17th and 18th centuries. The exceptions to this are the Chapel, dating from the 14th century, albeit with later alterations, and the early 15th century Great Hall, one of the largest non-royal great halls in the country and accommodates community events to this day.
  • Late 17th century. Bishop Morley created the symmetrical facade we know today by adding the North Wing and remodelling the South Wing. Two handsome timber staircases were created in each wing and the Long Gallery was added to the rear of the building, blocking the original windows of the Great Hall.
  • Early 18th century. The Bishop’s study was panelled and an impressive bolection moulded fireplace and overmantle was added to the Great Hall.
  • Mid-18th century. Extensive repairs and alterations were completed between 1745 and 1774. The Chapel was remodelled in early Gothic Revival style by Henry Keene, Surveyor of Westminster Abbey (1745). The alterations are recognised as one of the most significant early works of the Gothic Revival and are contemporary with Strawberry Hill.  In 1759 the Saloon was refurnished and a gothic cupola was added to the roof of the Great Hall. The Saloon features decorative papier mache to the walls and is one of the best surviving examples of such work.  Also at this period a geometrical staircase with cast iron handrail was added to the north end of the Great Hall.
  • A survivor from the Age of Enlightenment. Bishop Hurd’s Library built in 1782 was designed by the architect James Smith. The designs survive within the library. The room has a tripartitie plan, with delicate plaster work ceiling with central dome, Ionic marbled columns and grained bookshelves.  Remarkably the books remain in situ in this room built for them 232 years ago. The Hurd Library holds Bishop Hurd’s personal papers, which have not yet been fully researched. These may contain fascinating details of his career from boyhood, the creation of the library and his life at Hartlebury, where he lived for 27 years.
  • Early 19th century. A bedroom was created specifically for the Prince Regent, including a mahogany bed and window pelmets, decorated with the feathers of the Prince’s crest, and fragments of wallpaper.

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Historic Park and Garden

The Historic Park, Gardens and surrounding grounds (43.5 acres) are of prime importance with evidence of their history going back to pre-Saxon times.  The key elements are:

  • Archaeological evidence of pre-historic activity has been found on the site with a possible Bronze Age barrow and later Romano-British settlements on three sites within close proximity of the Park.
  • Hartlebury was a Saxon hunting box (lodge) for the early Bishops. The name Hartlebury is a corruption of the Saxon meaning “place of the deer” and a medieval deer park, for which there may be archaeological evidence if investigated, survived well into the Post-Medieval period. Remnants of the historic deer pale fencing exists and form a key part of the early history of the parkland. There is also ridge and furrow dating from the early medieval period.
  • The moat (known as Charlton Pool) and the network of linked ponds, originally used for keeping fish, are important features and probably date from the building of the original medieval castle in the mid-13th century. The moat was extended into a fishing lake in the 18th century and an island created at the northern end, reflecting the change from fortified house to country seat.  Only remnants of the ponds remains.
  • Civil War earthwork fortifications were constructed to help defend the Castle. These are visible as ditches to the south of the Castle
  • As part of the refurbishment and aggrandisement of Hartlebury Castle, a Lime Avenue was planted in the 1680’s (partly replanted in 1927) to line the main driveway to the Castle.
  • The 18th century gardens, include a sunken Chapel Garden with raised walks all round, a flagged terrace to the west side of the Castle with views across the moat to the park, shrubberies with sinuous paths on the slopes of the moat and a circular carriageway in the forecourt. Charlton Pool, a fishing lake, extends from the medieval moat, late 18th century walled kitchen gardens currently house subsidiary museum buildings. The park is planted with copses of mature specimen trees and coppiced areas, as well as an avenue of Chestnuts (survives in parts).
  • 19th century beech avenue and field enclosures, reflect the move from pleasure grounds to agricultural use which continues today.
  • Small but significant features of the parkland include the Icehouse, situated at the base of one of the sunken Chapel Garden bastions in an area of overgrown woodland, and the stone spring head grotto to the south of the gardens The Old Moat Coppice is now a nature reserve with footpath routes, formerly part of the moat garden.

Estate properties

In the late 17th century and early 18th century Coach House (now converted into two cottages), Stable Block (currently the Museum entrance and shop, but formerly a Clergy’s College), and crenelated gate houses were built. The placement of these properties to the front of the Castle, roughly symmetrical, is deliberately designed to enhance the status of the Castle and transform it into a country house. The Lodge Cottage, built in the early 19th century, located at the start of the drive was also designed to enhance the status of the Castle.

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Hartlebury Castle Preservation Trust
Company No: 6779241
Charity No: 1127871

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