Upper Nutsthorpe Castle, Staffordshire

"Nut Castle, Grievous Harm, Tetley's Folly"

Home of the World's Premier Pigeon Museum

The Norman Keep

Originally just a scarped hill alongside the River Ivan, with some Viking work incorporated on the right (the 'treasury chamber'). Hugo Montraptor built the stone walls, the upper and left towers, and the gatehouse. The interior buildings were made of wood. The town was several hundred yards to the south at that time. Later on, the castle was expanded to right and left, and the town market square, parish church, etc. located to the lower left. Also, the river was channelized for better navigation -- previously it was all swampland to the north but that area was drained and converted into meadows.

Scant remains of a grim castle built in the 1100's, in North Staffordshire, near Leek and the Roaches National Park.The village is Upper Nutsthorpe (originally "Knut's place," after a local Danish warlord in the 900's), which has a fine public house called the 'Darkish Dane' but little else to recommend it. Nether Nutsthorpe half a mile south has a fine but little-known prehistoric stone circle.The castle is sited on a small but prominent hill just outside the village and was originally fortified by the brigand Knut (hence Nut Castle) as a stockade after a 'Viking' raid. Nothing remains of this except for some of the earthwork embankments around the mound that he raised to make the site more defensible, and a small stone-vaulted treasury chamber dug into the hill (which still shows carved runic lettering on one wall saying "Knut Knutssen is an asshole" -- written by the slave who built the vault, presumably -- Knut was probably illiterate and nobody dared to tell him that it wasn't an inscription to his glory, and they likely enjoyed looking up at those words during privy conferences about squeezing more taxes out of the peasants).

This simple fortress fell into decay, although inhabited in squalor by Knut's heirs until the Norman Conquest. William of course put a quick end to these folk, saving only Lady Ingrid, Knut's youngest great-grand-daughter, for marriage to Hugo Montraptor, his vassal, who was given all the Nutsthorpe estates. Hugo built an outer bailey for the castle extending to the river Ivan and also an embankment and stone wall around the whole town -- mainly not to keep out enemies but to imprison the inhabitants. He was a very brutal man, and his wife was an evil bitch, and he was very lucky in keeping in favor during royal dynastic upheavals so that he could enrich himself, survive, and brutalize the area. The castle grew accordingly and soon had stone walls, three towers, and a gatehouse -- the keep itself was a stone shell on the original mound, but very strongly built and luxuriously appointed with bed chambers and garderobes (well, for its time).

His son and grandson were equally brutal. Under the reign of King Steven (or Empress Matilda, whomever you support in that chaotic period), Malachi Montraptor, the current Baron, became a monster, oppressing all the local inhabitants taxwise, raping new brides, hanging people for hunting rabbits, etc. This is when the castle became known as 'Grievous Harm'. He eventually came to his end, strangled by a woman he was attempting to rape, he in his feeble forties, she a strapping young Saxon wench. But the castle never lost its reputation, was denuded of its defenses for the most part, by royal order, and left to decay for several hundred years, although still inhabited by degenerate minor gentry. (The old stables and brewery/kitchen range were converted into a 'manor house', the gatehouse became the town jail, the great hall a tithe barn for the local parish, and the crumbling keep was taken over by a pious monk as a dove sanctuary -- which it still is by the way! Often called St. Syligoo's Tower. He is now the patron saint of bird lovers.)

The small bird museum in the keep is unique in the world in that it has stuffed representatives of every species of dove and pigeon in the world, including the extinct Passenger Pigeon from the US, but no other kind of bird; it's a well-known place, but only to certain types of people. The effect is amazing -- piles on piles of little aquarium-type cases containing stuffed birds packed one on top of another, floor to ceiling, in no particular order, all lit by a single skylight and with no windows in the single room. One could spend hours in here, or just walk out after a single horrified look -- that defines what sort of person you are. (Place has a horrid musty smell, too.)

Well, the castle continued to decay, the manor house became a grammar school, the tithe barn burnt down, the keep on the mound got overgrown with vegetation and bird dung, the town walls (where they weren't torn down) became garden walls, the outer ward is a parking lot; the gatehouse / jail -- half of it, the rest was destroyed in a road-widening scheme -- is now the tourist office ("We'll fix you up at a B&B"); one tower houses the fire hoses, stripped internally, just a silo for that purpose now; another was demolished in 1958 to build a hideous 10-storey block of flats (how idiotic people were back then!), which in turn is to be demolished as a broken-down eyesore and seed of corruption. That leaves only the great market square tower -- which brings us to Tetley's Folly.

A local tea merchant (not the one of current fame with the same name) had made a fortune by 1832 and had bought the medieval tower, a substantial building, as a shop and warehouse. He got into a quarrel with the local vicar at the parish church (next to the famous pub) just across Market Square, who was very low-church, almost a Methodist. Tetley hired Sir George Gilbert Scott (not "sir" then, but very young and untried) to build a steeple on top of the castle tower. This is now the most prominent landmark in the town, and is one of the best neo-Gothic structures in the country, absurd as it looks in its current environment. Once the tower flat has been demolished under the recent town-council plan, and replaced by low-rise town houses in castellated architecure to fill the outer ward, it should come into its own again. It is quite impressive with its prominent gargoyles of a demonic nature (who were also caricatures of the vicar and local councillors). [The whole plan of course depends on whether the Stoke/Nottingham motorway gets built via Nutsthorpe, as a big shopping mall is contemplated nearby if this happens, which will put this town on the map.]

Macdonald's Hamburgers have recently bought the ground-floor lease and are planning a 'tasteful' town house restaurant on the market square to serve their products, much to the disgust of the local fish-and-chips and butty emporia. The upper floors of this building, under Tetley's will and trust arrangement, will, however, be dedicated in perpetuity to The Tetley Tea (Not Associated) Museum of Tisane Institute -- TTT(NA)MOTI -- which is quite worth a visit, all sorts of tea-making appurtenances from history, but no teabags, please! There is currently a contest for a better acronym for this classic museum: Submit e-mail to tttnamoti.com and possibly win a trip to Assam.

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