A couple of weeks ago, I was travelling from Oxford to Bournemouth for a friend’s birthday, and I wanted to do a bit of sightseeing on the way. I looked on both the English Heritage and National Trust websites to find out what I could see on my journey down, and found Donnington Castle, which is in Newbury, Berkshire. It turned out to be a beautiful day, which is just as well because there is no shelter.
You might be surprised, as I was, to find out that this 14th century medieval castle wasn’t always a castle. In fact, it started out as a manor house until the owner, Sir Richard Abberbury, for whatever reason (delusions of grandeur, maybe), asked Richard II to change its status to a castle. It was granted, and that is how it became a castle.
In the 15th century, the castle was bought by Thomas Chaucer, son of Geoffrey Chaucer who wrote ‘The Canterbury Tales’, for his daughter whose husband was the Duke of Suffolk. Apparently, they fell out with the royal family, which wasn’t a good thing to do because ownership of the castle was passed to the Crown. How on earth that could happen, I have no idea. Things were different then, I suppose. During that time, in the 16th century, both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I visited the castle.
In the 17th century, Elizabeth I gave the castle and surrounding manor to Charles Howard, 1st Earl of Nottingham. Why? I have no idea. At some point, John Packer bought the castle, and then the English Civil War began. Following a battle at Newbury, the castle was held by Sir John Boys on behalf of Charles I, who had set up headquarters in Oxford. After an 18-month siege, and with royal approval, Boys surrendered the castle in April 1646, and was allowed to leave. After all that, the castle remained in the Packer family until the 18th century when it was passed to the Winchcombe’s.
Originally, there was a wall with four round corner towers, a gatehouse, and a courtyard. Today, it is a mere shadow of its former self. As you can see from the photo, only the gatehouse is left standing. That, in itself, looks impressive, but imagine how imposing the castle must have been in its day. That’s all we can do now, imagine.
For a castle that didn’t start out as a castle, a fair bit happened over time, didn’t it?
Donnington Castle is now under the care of English Heritage. It’s free to go and have a look around. Without a car, you can walk from the centre of Newbury. It’ll take you about 40 minutes. Alternatively, you can get a bus for part of the way, and then it’s only a 10 minute walk. Seeing where it is on a map always helps.
Have your say
Have you been to Donnington Castle?