The Castle was crenellated and moated in 1266. By 1420 the manor had passed through marriage to the Grey family and became entangled with the succession to the throne of England, thus earning its association with three queens of England: Elizabeth Woodville, Elizabeth of York and Lady Jane Grey. In the 1950s the castle become a hotel but was gutted by a mysterious fire in 1978. Vandalism, unauthorised stripping out and collapse made its plight still worse. For many years, no solution could be found to give it a future and Astley Castle became a ruin. By 2007 English Heritage had listed it as one of the sixteen most endangered sites in Britain and a solution was urgently needed. In the late 1990s, the Landmark Trust had tried to provide the site with a viable future through its usual solution of conventional restoration and conversion for holidays, but the site is so complex that such an approach proved impractical, both technically (there were no internal finishes or fixtures left to restore) and financially. In 2005, Landmark proposed a more radical solution: to reinstate occupancy of Astley Castle in a manner appropriate for the 21st century. An architectural competition was held, the brief accepting that some parts of the Castle were now beyond restoration, but which sought to create good modern accommodation within the ancient ruins. The winning scheme, by architects Witherford Watson Mann, maintains the sense of life and living within the Castle, while making the most of the views both into and out of the site. After careful recording, those parts of the building beyond pragmatic repair were taken down. The new-build consolidates and ties together what could be saved of the original fabric as unobtrusively as possible, leaving the Castle’s form in the landscape largely unchanged. Carefully chosen bricks were used to ‘stitch’ new walls into the ancient masonry, allowing new work to be clearly identified from ancient structure, as well as providing a sound junction. Rather than rebuild or re-roof some of the fallen walls and roofs, the gaps have been glazed or left open instead, to give a sense of living within the ruins. What was once a first floor hall where lord and retainers lived, has become a new space for living, cooking and eating, with views across to the church beyond and into ruined courts behind the 17th-century east elevation, left open to the sky. Bedrooms and bathrooms are on the ground floor and tucked within the curtain wall, with a lift for disabled access inserted into what was left of the collapsed vice shaft. A new staircase was inserted from today’s entrance hall to the large first floor room. Wherever possible, the historic window openings have been used, so that those staying in the castle can look out at similar views to those enjoyed centuries ago, even if much of what they look out on has changed. Meanwhile, the bulk and profile of the castle within the landscape has changed relatively little. The intention is that its renewed occupation for holidays should provide an intriguing, rather than obtrusive, presence on the moated island. There was further work on the wider setting, including repairs to the curtain walls and moat, and the 18th-century Gothick stable block. The historic parkland surrounding the moated site, much of which is a Scheduled Monument, has been opened up with public trails. An Heritage Lottery Fund Access & Involvement Programme enabled many people to learn about and help with the project. The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers was active in site clearance and landscaping. Numerous schools visited and Astley Art Club was established with an artists in residence programme. Another competition was held to create a new knot garden, replacing a feature that had existed on the site in some form since the late 17th century. The new one echoes Astley’s ‘Three Queens.’ Astley Castle can finally face its future with confidence again, thanks too to all who will stay in it and so contribute towards its future maintenance. Astley Castle is now available for holidays for up to 8 people throughout the year and is also available to visit on day visits. See the Landmark Trust website for further details

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