Chirk Castle isn’t your ordinary Welsh castle.
In the late 13th Century Edward I started building many castles in North Wales to consolidate his conquest. Today most of them are empty shells, where you have to use your imagination to conjure up the furniture and people that once filled the walls.
But not Chirk. Chirk Castle is the only one of Edward I’s Marcher fortresses still inhabited today. And guess what? It’s open to the public! It’s full of treasures and well worthy of a visit.
Chirk Castle – History
The castle was first built in 1295 by Roger Mortimer (1256-1326), who was at that time captain of the English army. He was also uncle to THAT Roger Mortimer – rumoured lover of Queen Isabella, wife of Edward II.
It was part of an important chain of fortresses on the English-Welsh border. It was so important that Edward I himself paid a visit during its construction.
Chirk passed to the crown after Mortimer’s eventual execution and saw a succession of occupants. One of them was Sir William Stanley, step-uncle to Henry VII, and another was Elizabeth I’s favourite Robert Dudley.
Chirk Castle – People
The main family associated with Chirk Castle is the Myddleton family.
The castle was bought by Sir Thomas Myddleton in 1593. A younger son done good, Myddleton was one of the founding members of the East India Company and became Lord Mayor of London in 1613. Basically, he was rolling in it! (Fun fact – Londoners also have Thomas’s brother, Hugh, to thank for their water supply!)
It was Thomas that started the transformation of Chirk Castle from a military fortress to a comfortable mansion, remodelling it extensively in the late 16th century.
Thomas’s son – who was naturally also called Thomas – fortified Chirk for Parliament in the Civil War. However, the castle was seized by local Royalists. This meant Thomas Jr. was forced to lay seige to his own house!
Thomas Jr. then changed sides later on in the war. This meant Chirk Castle ended up being beseiged by Parliamentarians for a second time, and Thomas was left with a bit of rebuilding to do after the war.
Chirk Castle – Features
While not particularly historical significant the Saloon is a simply stunning room.
Like elsewhere in the castle the style is a curious mix of neoclassic and neo-Gothic. The deep blue and gilded ceiling was added by A.W. Pugin (yes, he of Westminster Palace fame) and is simply breathtaking.
Also of note is the oak and walnut harpsichord. It is the earliest signed and dated harpsichord in existence which is mind-blowing!
The Long Gallery
The Long Gallery is 30 metres long and fills the whole length of the East Range. It was rebuilt in the 1670s when long galleries were no longer in fashion, simply because there was nothing else to be done in that part of the castle!
One of the key items in the room is the 17th Century Dutch ebony cabinet which was a gift from Charles II to Sir Thomas Myddleton III.
Chirk Castle – Top Tips
- Make sure you leave enough time to visit the gardens and grounds. Yes, most historic houses have them – but Chirk’s are particularly lovely.
- Don’t forget to have a look at what may seem like ‘minor’ rooms around the edge of the courtyard – you won’t find the usual washing room or brewery, but you will find some deep, dark dungeons!
All in all, I think Chirk Castle is a pretty underrated Welsh castle. It has just a long a history as Caernarfon or Raglan Castle, but its full of treasure and you could easily spend a whole day exploring the castle and its grounds.
Be honest now – have you ever heard of Chirk Castle before? And has my post tempted you to visit it?