Stokesay takes it name from the old English vill of Stoke, which at Domesday belonged to Roger Lacy (d.1095+) a possible builder of Ludlow castle.  Then it was known as Stoches.  Walter Lacy (d.1085) would appear to have been holding it in 1085 when he founded St Peter's, Hereford, and granted a villager from Stokesay and 9 other of his vills to his new foundation.  At some point before 1094, Walter's son, Roger Lacy, enfeoffed Theodoric Say with the vills of North Stoke (which became Stoke upon Tern), South Stoke (which became Stokesay) and Wheathill, all in Shropshire.  The early Say family tree is fragmentary, but it seems likely that Theodoric was a son of Robert Picot Say (d.1093+), the Domesday lord of Clun
barony.  This honour spread from near Knighton in the west to Westhope in the east, while towards the south-east Stokesay lay near Picot's manors of Sibdon Carwood and Clungunford.  The barony of Clun passed to a different Say line than that of Theodoric who left a son, Helias (d.1177+), who had a possible cousin, Helias Say of Clun (d.bef.1165).  This is made doubly confusing by both apparently having sons called Hugh, although the Clun Hugh may be a son of the lord of Richards Castle.  This Hugh Say, who inherited Richards Castle in 1186, died in 1190, while Hugh of Stokesay died about 1194.  To make matters worse, both these Hughs had sons also called Hugh!  The Stokesay Hugh had granted the church of St John of Stokesay (Suthestokes) to Haughmond abbey in or slightly before 1177.

Before 1241 Walter Say (d.1250+), the grandson of Helias Say of Stokesay (d.bef.1177), calling himself lord of Stokesay, held 4 knights' fees of Walter Lacy (d.1241) of Ludlow.  Presumably these consisted of Stoke upon Tern, Moreton Say, Wheathill and Stokesay.  As W de la Sey his barony was recorded as 3 fees held by Walter himself in Stoke upon Tern (Northstok), Stokesay (Sotstok) and Wheathill (Wethul).  The rest of the barony consisted of Rushbury, Corfton, Great Sutton, Witchcot, Hopton in Hodnet, Bitterley, Henley, Wodeton, Euledon, land in Welshpool (Pole), Heyton and Lower Heyton.

The last Hugh Say of Stokesay (d.bef.1279), the nephew of Walter (d.1250+), exchanged his knight's fee in Stoke, which owed the service of 40 days at Shrawardine castle during war time, for land in Ireland with John Verdun in the period 1250 to 1255.  John was lord of Alton in Staffordshire and Castleroche in Louth in his own right and an heir to the Lacys of Ludlow and Longtown.  In 1255 Verdun was recorded as lord of Stokesay, Whettleton and Newton as the heir of Walter Lacy (d.1241) and that he held Stokesay for 2 knight's fees.  The same year it was recorded that Stokesay owed 1 knight to guard Montgomery castle in time of war for 40 days and that John Verdun had taken the manor out of the hundred and that it was now held by Reginald Grey (d.1308) of Wilton.  On 15 June 1258, the king granted John free warren in his demesne lands throughout England.  In Shropshire he held 3 manors, Northstoke, Morton and Southstoke, aka Stokesay.

In 1270 Prince Edward (d.1307) set out on Crusade.  To join him John Verdun had to raise money and so on 1 September 1270 he conveyed the tenancy of Stokesay to Philip Witchcot for 3 years in return for £24.  Stokesay was valued at the same time as worth 40m (£26 13s 4d) per annum.  When this 3 year term ended in 1273, Philip was to pay 40m (£26 13s 4d) per annum for Stokesay of which 24½m were to be paid to John at Weobley, the remaining 15½m were to go against John's annuities, John also received the wardships and escheats, but Philip kept the rents.  This agreement was to last for Philip's life only if he kept up payments at the allotted time, otherwise Verdun could retake seizin.

Theobald Verdun was killed in Ireland before 17 October 1274.  His lands, including the Say land of Stok, passed to his eldest surviving son, Theobald (d.1310).  On Theobald Verdun's death in 1310 this land was more formally reported as Stoke upon Tirne.  This was the lands the Says had called North Stoke.  When Theobald's son, another Theobald, died in 1317 his inquest discovered that he held Stoke upon Tern as well as Southstoke, which in turn was held by a knight's fee by the heir of William Ludlow (d.1317).  In short, Stokesay was now held by the Ludlows of the Verduns.  How this state of affairs came about is not recorded.

Tradition says that after Laurence Ludlow (d.1294), the father of William (d.1317), bought Stokesay from the Says, some time before 1284 and built the castle.  This is based upon a licence for Laurence to strengthen his house of Stokesay with a wall of stone and lime and to crenellate it.  This was issued by Edward I on 19 October 1291.  Quite obviously this was freedom to fortify an already existing building and a wall is hardly the great tower or tower block.  It has also been shown that these licences to crenellate were not a necessity for fortifying castles, otherwise most the castles in Britain would have been classified as criminal constructions.  Further, Laurence had entertained the bishop of Hereford and his retinue at Stokesay in 1290 for 10 days.  Again this would suggest that the castle was extant before any licence to crenellate was issued.

The question of who built Stokesay and when is partially answered by detailed study of the historical evidence and partially by the
dendrochronological dating of the woodwork in the upper levels of the north tower and the hall.  This returned dates of around 1262 although several pieces of wood within the hall were earlier, viz, 1118, 1151, 1192, 1218, 1230, 1241, 1242 and 1245.  As the woodwork was made to fit the north tower and shows no sign of reuse it seems reasonably secure that the masonry under the woodwork predates this.  In short, the woodwork suggests that something existed on the site from the twelfth century and that the north tower and hall block were standing by the mid thirteenth century when their current woodwork was fitted.  Further, the Ludlows had had an interest in Stokesay since before 1220 when Andrew Ludlow (d.bef.1222) and his son Nicholas (d.1270+) held Stokesay mill.

By July 1281 Nicholas' son, William Ludlow (d.1294), was lord of Stokesay, which, in 1284, he was recorded as holding for 1 fee of John Grey (of Wilton, d.1323), who in turn held it from Theobald Verdun (d.1310) who held in chief.  It would seem from this that Theobald had enfeoffed Grey of Stokesay when John married Matilda Verdun (d.bef.1280), Theobald's daughter, before 1270.  On 18 January 1281, John and Matilda Verdun acknowledged the right of Laurence Ludlow to hold Stokesay and pay the couple a rent of 8d and a sore sparrow hawk.  A few months later on 21 July 1281 Lawrence made an agreement
with Haughmond abbey over Newton near Stokesay, a property that some 30 years earlier had belonged to Hugh Say (d.1250+).  That Laurence was now lord of Stokesay was confirmed on 24 October 1281, when the king granted him and his heirs free warren of all his demesne in Stokesay, Newton and Wettleton, Shropshire.

Laurence Ludlow died in 1294, drowned as his ship sank when its woollen cargo had become sodden in a storm.  His son, William Ludlow, at his death in 1317, was recorded as holding 2 parts of the manor of Stokesay in free socage of John Grey by the service of 8d yearly.  On 8 June 1335, this was recorded a 1 fee at Stokesay held of the deceased Theobald Verdun for 1 fee by Laurence Ludlow (d.1353).  On Laurence's death on 14 October 1353 it was recorded that he held Stokesay jointly with Reginald Grey by the service of 8d yearly.  Seven years later on 20 November 1360, it was found that Laurence's son, John Ludlow (d.1381) ‘and others', held Stokesay for a knight's fee of Elizabeth Burgh, the recently deceased widow of Theobald Verdun (d.1317).  Part of the fee seems to have been alienated by 1346 when it was recorded that Roger Corbet of Hadley (d.1404) and his parceners were holding South Stoke for ½ fee of John Grey (d.1353) that was once held of Walter Lacy (d.1241).  Another Roger Corbet of Hadley was holding the manor with his parceners as late as 1428.

The castle was slighted after a short siege in June 1645 at the end of the Civil War, though the hall, towers and gatehouse survived this.

Stokesay castle stands next to it's lake and is still surrounded by a deep ditch that was once a moat.  This was about 25' wide and 6' deep.  Within is a raised polygonal enclosure about 150' north to south by 130' across.  This contains the main remnant of the castle surrounded by the curtain wall which was formerly standing some 35' high from the ditch bottom if the fully surviving section east of the keep is anything to go by.  Elsewhere the much repaired wall is reduced to some 20' high externally and plainly the top sections of this have been rebuilt, probably after they were slighted in the civil war. In several place a substantial plinth seems to have been added to add stability to the walls above the wet moat.

The hub of the castle is the peculiar 3 storey heart-shaped tower, sometimes called the south tower, whose woodwork was totally refurbished in 1641 and after a fire in 1830.  This is obviously the polygonal keep of the fortress and stands 66' high with a diameter of 40', although its walls varied between 5' and 5'6" thick.  It may be best described as an irregular octagon in which the southern 3 sides have been replaced with 2 barely projecting conjoined turrets to make the whole the shape of a rather fat heart.  Access is currently gained at ground floor level by an inserted east door which has a mural stairway leading up to the north.  This stairway originally led downwards from the main first floor entrance.  This doorway was originally reached by an external stair and bridge from the solar block to the north.  The entrance appears to have originally been defended by a drawbridge.  From this entranceway a further mural stair runs up through the wall to the upper or second floor.  From a north facing embrasure in this upper floor room a further mural stair ran up to the battlements.  All these stairs were in the internal walls of the tower, so given protection from artillery attack which the walls facing the exterior of the castle would have been vulnerable to.  The 3 floors consist of these unusual single heart shaped chambers, although there were internal wooden partitions before the fire of 1830.  The first floor also has 2 mural chambers to the south-east.  The battlements, like the chimneys, appear reminiscent of the Edwardian wall tops
at Caernarfon castle.  As the tower contained its own well it was obviously meant for more than mere show.

At the north-western end of the fortress stood the unusual north tower.  This ‘tower' consists of an irregular pentagonal block with a turret projecting from the central spur to the north.  Within this turret lies another well.  At ground floor the buttery still has original decoration on the plaster work.  Like the keep, the north ‘tower' is of 3 storeys although the top floor consists of a projecting wooden hoarding which may date back to the days of King John (1199-1216).  The upper floors of the tower were reached via external steps in the hall to the south.  To the east of the tower lay a massive kitchen, now reduced to buried foundations.  That the north tower predated the hall is suggested by its basement being some 4' lower than the hall floor.  This may suggest that the interior of the castle was raised between the north tower being built and the hall commenced.  Despite this, the walls of both structures are well joined and similar to one another.

Between both towers lay the hall block, 79' long.  The smaller southern end consisted of a solar, while the larger north end contained the hall which spanned all 3 floors, being 52' long, 31' wide and 34' high.  As at Harlech castle gatehouse the upper portions of the windows were glassed, but the lower sections were merely closed by wooden shutters.  Central in the hall was an octagonal stone hearth, but no chimney or louvres.  This may have been similar to the layout at Castell Carreg Cennen and Dryslwyn halls. 

The solar to the south of the hall contained 2 floors and an attic.  The west end of the south wall at ground floor level may be of a different build to the rest of the castle and is therefore possibly the oldest masonry on the site.  Beyond the doorway in this wall was a trapezoid chamber which may have been a strong room, lying between the keep and the solar.  Its upper floor is a Civil War addition.  The first floor of the solar was only reached via the external stair to the keep, which was originally covered by a pent roof.  The room currently contains seventeenth century panelling and has 2 squints allowing a view into the hall.

To the east is a wooden gatehouse with interesting carvings which was built in 1640-41 for a cost of some £533.  North of the castle is the early Stokesay church.

Why not join me at other Lost Welsh Castles next Spring?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.

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