As you enter the quaint town of Berkeley in Gloucestershire, the impressive castle on the outskirts is hard to miss. With my Grandparents living in the town I had visited the castle before, my brother and I were even Christened in the Church alongside it. However I have not visited the Castle, probably in over a decade, and this has been for one reason. The last time I visited, I was petrified by tales of burning oils being poured over unwelcome intruders. This was too much for me and I had not returned since.
St Mary’s Church is quite unusual in that it’s tower is separate from the main building. The core of the present building is from the 1200’s but the tower was not built until 1753 on the site of an old tower.
Here is a brilliant example behind the tomb-stone of Edward Jenner. Dr Jenner, ‘the father of immunology’, created the vaccine for smallpox which was also the first vaccination. Jenner was born in, lived in, and died in Berkeley – I am ashamed to say though that I have never been to his museum in the town, which shall be on my list for my next visit!
When out in the graveyard, Dad showed me a personal favourite of his; the tomb of the last jester in England.
I’m not sure whether this is a skull decorating another tomb, or a face, either way I found it quite sweet.
The guide book describes the Castle as
Savage, Old and Unique
and I can understand why. The Castle is rugged and harsh, yet undeniably beautiful. The Castle started its life, as many English Castles did, as a Norman motte and bailey. Robert Fitzharding was granted the Castle and the Estates as a reward for supporting the future Henry II. Robert then built the Castle that stands today, finishing it around 1170. Enormous additions, including the Great Hall, were made in the 1340’s by the third Earl of Berkeley. The next considerable period of development was the eighth Earl who inherited the Castle in 1916. He made the Castle suitable for modern living as well as making changes so effective that one would have no idea that they were not part of the original building.
I was so surprised to know that this Clock Tower was a twentieth century addition!
To enter the keep you climb the ‘trip steps’, built unevenly to catch enemies unaware. Above this staircase was the dreaded ‘murder’ hole where the oil was poured. I am proud to say that I fearlessly strided on up.
One of the reasons the Castle is most infamous is the murder of King Edward II. As if it was real life Game of Thrones, Queen Isabella, the ‘she-wolf of France’ left England and rallied forces for her son the future Edward III. They returned to England and deposed the King. Edward II was imprisoned at the Castle and gruesome tradition says that Isabella killed her husband by sticking a hot poker up his bottom. As a child I found this hilarious and as an adult I find it an ingenious way to cover up any signs of mistreatment. However there is no evidence to support this scandalous rumour.
This was where Edward II was supposedly murdered.
This is a ten metre pit, believed to once have been a dungeon.
The portraits along the wall in the Billiard Room display the unique yellow livery, which is only worn by the masters of the Berkeley Hunt unlike the Red jacket that is worn for usual hunting.
The Kitchen had a fantastic Tudor ceiling that looks like a spiders web! You can see where there was previously three huge fireplaces which I can imagine made the room unbearably hot. Laid out were the implements used to spit roast meat.
The Great Hall was magnificent.
In the outer defences there is a huge gap. The Lord of Berkeley was forced to make this breach after the English Civil War so that it could never serve as a defensive fortress. To this day, it is against the law to repair this gap!
Berkeley Castle is fantastic. Do go if you’re in that part of the country.