Hopton Castle, Shropshire
West of Craven Arms
Near SY7 0QF
Hopton Castle was an 11th century earthwork motte and bailey fortress, founded by Robert "Picot" de Say. In the 13th century Walter de Hopton founded the stone castle and added an impressive rectangular two storey keep, with a projecting stair turret to the low motte. The inner bailey, is lined with the foundations of ranges of buildings, encased by a curtain wall and flanking towers.
This low lying castle was defended by a large 14th century outer bailey platform, marshy ground and wet ditches.
This formidable ruined keep in the extreme south-west of Shropshire is old enough in foundation, strong enough, and certainly looks grim enough to have played a desperate and perilous part in the history of Norman relations with Wales at least from the time of Henry II. Close neighbour to the Welsh of Powys, it must have seen sporadic raiding in its time, yet recorded history has passed it by until the Civil War, when it was garrisoned for Parliament, besieged by the Royalist forces for three weeks, and after accepting an offer of honourable quarter in return for surrender, every man of the garrison was killed and the castle slighted and abandoned.
This is one castle visit worth reading the history in advance, as it will make your experience feel quite different when you wander round the castle walls.
There is a dedicated car park just outside the castle grounds, so this is a castle where access is very easy to get to. As it also consists of just a tower with earthworks, it won't take long or require a great deal of effort to stroll round its grounds.
~ History ~
1140's - The original timber castle at Hopton is built during the civil war between King Stephen and Queen Matilda by Osbert de Hopton.
1231 - King Henry III stays for a short period at Hopton.
1260's - During the Wars of the Roses the swashbuckling Justice Walter Hopton rises to significant fame and influence.
1267 - A complaint is finally made that in November 1264 Walter de Hopton seized £20 worth of cattle and took them to his castle.
1305 - The last de Hopton, Sir Walter, dies.
1643 - The parliamentarian owners of Hopton Castle, in an area of strong Royalist influence, garrison the castle with 31 men under the command of Colonel Samuel Moore.
1644 - A 500 strong Royalist army arrives to besiege the castle under the command of Sir Michael Woodhouse. For three weeks the garrison bravely hold on, while the castle withstands attempts to undermine it by tunnelling, as well as canon. Eventually the defenders strike a deal with the Royalists: They would surrender the castle if their lives were spared. The defenders march out of the castle only to discover that the Royalists had no intention of keeping their end of the bargain. Colonel Moore is dragged away and taken to the prison at Ludlow Castle. His men are tied up back to back and, ignoring their pleas for mercy, the Royalists cut their throats. The bodies of the defenders are then unceremoniously thrown into the moat. They then turn on the two maids who had been working in the castle. One is killed while the other, still wounded, is sent to the garrison at Brampton Bryan Castle to tell them what had happened to deliver the sinister message "You're next"'. Miraculously there were two survivors from this butchery. Major Phillips who was second in command, was beaten up and thrown into the moat alive before his men had their throats cut. A second man hid in a crack in the walls of the keep and, although wounded, manages to escape to Brampton Bryan. The castle is sacked and burnt, its walls breached.
The castle of Brampton Bryan also falls to Sir Michael Woodhouse following a three week siege but this time the defenders are spared and taken to Shrewsbury as prisoners of war.
News of the massacre at Hopton travels fast, and the incident later becomes known as the "Hopton Quarter".
The castle is never re-inhabited and is left to decay.
~ Ghosts ~
Hopton is also said to be haunted by the ghosts of the murdered garrison, as well as four of the Royalist soldiers who died during the siege.
And the widow of one of the dead, a young woman named Elizabeth Mayrick, is said to haunt the ruins, crying out for her lost love. The massacre also made Hopton Castle itself infamous, as a superstitious local population believed it to be a building dogged by bad luck.