History really does loom large amid the ruins of Astley Castle in deepest Warwickshire but there’s currently a new chapter being written for a Landmark Trust building that dates back over 800 years.
Once home to Lady Jane Grey, the nine day Queen who was executed by Queen Mary I in 1554, Astley Castle is currently undergoing an extensive £1.3 million refurbishment phase under the auspices of architects Witherford Watson Mann together with York and Manchester based building and restoration contractors William Anelay Ltd. This is phase two of the project which initially saw the structure consolidated and stabilised.
Work started on the current phase of works in September 2010. Completion is set for September 2011 with the building available for holidays from early 2012.
Leased by the Landmark Trust from the Arbury Estate, Astley Castle is on the UK’s Buildings at Risk Register but will soon start a new lease of life as a holiday home with the Landmark Trust.
The moated castle, with many of its remains dating back to the 12th Century and signs of occupation dating back to Saxon times, is known as being ‘owned by three Queens of England’.
In the mid 15th Century it was home to Elizabeth Woodville who went on to marry Edward IV and bore him the ill-fated young Princes who ended their lives controversially in the Tower of London. Her daughter, also called Elizabeth (of York), went on to become the wife of Henry VII and mother of Henry VIII.
Restoration projects are rarely as demanding as this one with inch, indeed millimetre perfection, very much the name of the game and a combination of new build skills and conservation expertise contributing to the creation of what is expected to be a truly stunning holiday venue. The house will accommodate up to eight people and will comply with all DDA regulations including a lift, another first for such a Landmark Trust property.
From the 1930s until the late seventies the castle served as a hotel as well as a home for convalescing servicemen during World War Two. A fire in 1978 gutted the building and it has remained forlorn and out of use ever since.
William Anelay Project Manager David Marsh is well aware of the history and the complexity of giving this intriguing place a new lease of life: “I’ve worked on many historic and incredible projects with William Anelay but this really is the most challenging and interesting one yet.
“There are so many different facets to this project that make it unique. The whole of the new build will be enclosed within the existing ruins. In order for the new walls to meet the ruins at the correct roof level, all of the setting out has been established from the top rather than from ground level.
“There’s also the brickwork bond or pattern devised by the Architect specifically for this project which has never been used before and involves 30,000 40mm bricks imported from Denmark,” added David.
One of those closely involved with the construction of the new walls is Paul Smith who has been laying the new style brickwork since week two.
He commented: “This is a very demanding project and every piece of brickwork has to be worked out to the exact measurements. You’ve got to have your wits about you as this is a real one-off job.
“The new bond style will really add character to the building as well as help to blend in with the current remains,” added Paul
David went on “Everything is so exact with this job and being just a millimetre out could affect everything. The architect’s plans are extremely detailed to the extent that every single brick is shown on the drawings.
“At every point where new ground was broken we had to call in the archaeologists. This is because the below ground site and the curtain walls are registered as a scheduled ancient monument.
“There are so many layers of history here. From the 12th Century onwards, additional aspects have been added at regular intervals and it’s revealed a lot of fascinating construction methods from days gone by as well as some rather shoddy Victorian workmanship!” added David.
From a structural point of view over 270 Cintec anchors are being inserted into the existing remains to make safe the aspects and help to stabilise the building.
Alastair Dick-Cleland of the Landmark Trust commented:
“This project really stands out even when compared to the many other complex restorations that the Landmark Trust has undertaken over the last 45 years. Whereas we would normally do a traditional restoration, here we are inserting modern accommodation within the ruined walls. This is a first for the Landmark Trust and is a practical solution to saving what was a very ruinous structure. Without this intervention, Astley Castle would surely have been lost forever.
“The completed building will provide a truly amazing experience for any visitor and one that we are very excited about,” he added.
The haunting image of Lady Jane Grey, rumoured to peer out of one of the castle’s Tudor style windows, could well feature a smile as she sees her former residence develop, once again, into a home fit for a Queen!