Thornhaven Castle, Herefordshire

Situated near the Black Mountains of Wales, some 15 miles SW of the cathedral city of Hereford, this 'mock' castle is in the sparsely populated agricultural area around Clodock and Longtown. There was an old March manorial estate here, in fief to the de Lacy family and later the Nevilles, but never a castle until Herbert Thornbury, the squire, made a fortune as a patron of Virginia planters and as an importer of tobacco in the middle days of King Charles I. He was inspired by what his second cousin Sir Charles Cavendish had done with his castle in Bolsover, Derbyshire, and determined to build his own. The basic castle was completed for the most part by 1647, but was not inhabited until after the Restoration of 1660, as Herbert had to lay low for several years under the Cromwellian regime. The family prospered after Herbert was made a baron by Charles II, and many additions and improvements were made to the building. In later years, after the First World War, the Thornhavens fell into bad times and the castle began to fall into decay -- and also died out except for one Isabel Pillaugh (nee Thornhaven), who formed a preservation trust in the late 1960s, a decade before her death. A wilful lady, she could not brook the idea of handing the castle over to the National Trust, so managed her own publicity and administration, enduring many hardships. With the rise in tourism, and the proliferation of middle-class Londoners buying 'summer cottages' in the area, the trust is now doing fairly well and is a place known to be worth visiting by aficionados of obscure and eccentric places. Her grandson, Edmund, now holds title to the property, and can be reached at Thornhaven.Com for inquiries about visiting hours and room rentals (by arrangement only, although casual visitors are welcome at any time for a minimal admission charge).

Ground Floor: The castle is located on a sandstone rise on the River Arfon (a small tributary of the Monnow), which was levelled and scarped at the time of construction (also providing most of the stone building material), moats being dug on the east and west sides. To the north are the formal grounds of the estate. It consists of two courtyards, or wards, the eastern containing domestic quarters, the western the private quarters, and it is an oblong approximately 145 by 75 feet in dimension (rather small for a castle). The outer court consists of the gatehouse, kitchen wing and stable, with a square tower -- the Mid Tower -- at its northwest side. Entry is via a drawbridge across the moat, which on this side was filled by damming up a small brook leading to the river. This water is rather fresh, but the moat on the west side, originally a swampy area, has silted up and stagnated. The inner court was considerably modified over the years, especially in the 1880s -- note the library, billiard room, and smoking parlor --, but the Great Hall is original as is the basic structure (apart from the welcome addition of fairly modern lavatory arrangements). There are six towers and two turrets: the octagonal Horse Tower at the northeast, followed clockwise by the Gatehouse, Larder Tower (octagonal to match the Horse Tower and unify the east facade), the Keep, the Round Tower, and the aforementioned Mid Tower. Because of the lay of the land, only the northwestern wing contains cellarage.

First Floor: The outer court buildings house the servants, of whom there were formerly quite a few, although in later days reduced to butler, housekeeper, groom, gardener, and a handful of maids and farm hands, and needless to say the labels shown on the plan no longer represent current usage. In Victorian times, the area adjacent to the Mid Tower was remodelled as the children's wing; this area is now used basically for storage, all of the junk accumulated over 300 years of family occupancy! Most of the bedrooms, for guests, older children, etc. are in the northwest wing, including the Round Tower. There are two separate spiral staircases serving the bedroom and the nursery areas, also a 'secret' staircase from the library up to the estate office. The Great Hall is two stories tall and has a minstrels' gallery and a 'pulpit' for speechifying and solo musicians and singers -- the family was always musically oriented, viz. the large music room in the Keep.

Second Floor: In spite of the labels, this castle was never designed to be a defensible garrison; the rooms in the east wing were basically additional servants' quarters, although the Armory and the guard rooms to the north of it contains the collections of the various Lord Thornhavens who had military careers, including Major Etheridge Thornhaven of Crimean War fame, quartermaster to the Light Brigade among others under Lord Lucan. The Captain's room houses the current caretaker of the castle. The incongruous wooden passageway connecting the top rooms of the gatehouse replaces an arched parapet, which collapsed in 1924. There are more bedrooms, and an art gallery, in the north-central wing -- presumably the rooms by the Mid Tower were for guests and older children. At this level, the Keep contains the Lady of the Manor's private suite, often historically used by the 'dowager' when the current lady actually lived in the same room as her husband. The art gallery is a mixed collection, most of the good stuff having been sold to pay inheritance taxes since the 1920s. However, there are some nice Victorian paintings that had little worth half a century ago but are now valuable. The study was the haven of the sixth Lord Thornhaven (1863-1935), who was a famous polymath; this now houses his collection of memorabilia.

Miscellaneous: Cellars are under the northwest wing, including a wine cellar underneath the card room in the Round Tower (there was a locally famous murder there in 1938: see "Death and the Vanishing Goblin"). Top floor of the Mid Tower housed the sixth Lord Thornhaven's conservatory of exotic plants under a sky-lighted roof, but it is now derelict. The top story of the gatehouse is now part of the armaments museum, which, eccentric as it is, ranks highly among the limited number of aficionados of military mess equipment. The private suite in the Round Tower is the residence of the current owner of the estate. Milord's suite on the top two floors of the keep was very sumptuous at one time, but has become decrepit and inaccessible owing to the partial collapse of the roof (the floor has been tarmac-ed to protect the lower stories from rain leaks).

View from the River

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