It is uncertain when Hopton castle was built, but it is likely that the family of Hopton were responsible for this act during the Anarchy of King Stephen's reign.  By the reign of King Henry II the Hoptons, Peter (d.1155/60) and then Walter Hopton (d.1200+) were the major honourial baron of Clun lordship.  As such the Hoptons rose in the service of such families as the Says, Fitz Alans and Mortimers.  During the barons' wars of the 1260s Walter Hopton (d.1305) became sheriff of Shropshire and Staffordshire and later an important royal justice who was much complained of by English and Welsh litigants alike.  He also gave his name to the Hopton Commission, King Edward I's method of pacifying all the outstanding disputes of the Welsh Wars in 1278.  As such Walter became the king's chief justice and was personally responsible for the creation of the account of these legal proceedings that became known as the Hopton Roll.  It has been suggested that he used his new found importance and wealth to refurbish his ancestral castle as a powerful motte and bailey fortress.  He also made enemies, competing for precedence with men of a higher social status, such as Reginald Grey of Wilton and Ruthin and John Lestrange of Knockin and Middle.  Against that Walter always seems to have had the backing of the powerful Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (d.1282), even though he held most of his lands in and around Hopton by service to Fitz Alans of Clun, who had inherited Hopton itself with all the lands Picot Say was holding there as demesne in 1086.  Indeed Hopton owed knight service at both Clun and Wigmore castles for 40 days in time of war for various lands he held.  He also held lands of the Mortimers of Richards Castle.  Oddly as well as being the vassal of the Fitz Alans he was also their lord for the manor of Alcastor.  An unusual occurrence.  Walter also became sheriff of Shropshire and was ordered to give up the position on 28 May 1270.  Presumably he was misnamed Robert when appointed sheriff Hopton on 29 September 1267 as his name appears on the pipe roll for 1268 for that year and the last.

Walter seems to have had a powerful personality as his royal wages were always paid promptly and when they were not paid in full Hopton was forceful in demanding his arrears be paid.  His career began in 1255, 4 years after his father's death, with him taking our 3 writs before 1260.  Presumably he was suing for his rights.  This suggests he found the law amenable to his ambitions.  However, he failed to live up to his promises, being chased by litigants and involved in violent actions against the burgesses of Shrewsbury when they crossed his path.  He also cheated on his marriage contract.  In 1281 Walter had married Matilda Pantulf, one of the heiresses to Wem castle and had then systematically stripped the lordship of its wealth to the detriment of his step-son, William Butler (d.1283), and later after William's death he took £15 pa out of Wem lordship ‘for his services'.  Such services seem to have included suing the royal custodian of Wem for carrying out his legal duties and stealing 4 suits of steel armour, 4 steel gorgets, a suit of mail
from Wem castle and all the ornaments from the castle chapel.  On the complaint of the friends of William Butler's children, as well as Hopton's repeated defaults in not appearing in court, it was ordered that Walter was to be distrained for these crimes.  However, Walter simply claimed that he had been distrained illegally and demanded a trial by jury.  Sadly the outcome of this is not recorded.  In the meantime Walter cut down the trees of Wem's forest and generally sold Butler's goods.  In reply Walter claimed that he held a life interest in Wem and therefore could do as he pleased.  According to Walter's marriage contract this was not true and Walter only held an interest in the barony while his wife lived.  She had died in 1281.

On 7 May 1290 Walter fell foul of King Edward I and was imprisoned in the Tower of London and fined 500m (£333 6s 8d) for corruption.  During this time his wife, Matilda Pantulf, died in June 1290, but Walter continued to hold Wem through ‘the courtesy of England'.  Despite these problems he was soon back in royal favour and was twice elected to assess royal taxes and became knight of the shire in 1304.  At some point after 1290, Walter went on to marry Ela Herdeburgh and had by her a much wanted son, Walter, who was born before 1303.  The last Walter Hopton died during the Wars of the Roses and the castle passed by marriage to the Corbets of Moreton Corbet castle.  

During the Civil War Hopton castle was one of the few castles held for the Parliament in the west.  In 1644 Sir Michael Woodhouse marched from Stapleton castle and laid siege to the fortress.  John Moore valiantly defended the castle until the bailey fell.  He then attempted to hold the tower until the porch was fired: he then surrendered at mercy.  Unfortunately Michael Woodhouse refused his surrender and his Irish troops butchered all the garrison except Moore.  Moore was later used to force the surrender of Brampton Bryan castle with the threat of annihilation to the garrison.  It is not known exactly how the garrison of Hopton was put to death.  The two surviving contemporary accounts differ.  One says that the garrison was tied back to back and then had their throats cut.  The other says that they were bound and thrown into the moat.  It is not impossible that both were right and one action followed the other!  The castle, or at least the keep, just like Moreton Corbet castle, was still habitable in 1700, but fell into disrepair soon afterwards.  

Hopton castle appears a typical motte and bailey structure lying in lowland, with its outer defences being waterworks in the muddy ground.  The castle seems to have been founded as a motte and bailey with the motte lying to the south-east of the bailey over its south-east corner.  Quite possibly the ‘motte' is a secondary feature to the bailey.  Beyond the motte and bailey ditch to the south-east is a probably late medieval fish stew, mostly within an outer enclosure which defends the east, west and south sides of the castle in an U shape, with the new car park possibly overlying the outer defences.  The longest side is about 425' long and has a ditch about 40 wide and 6' deep.  The scarp to the east appears to mark the edge of the flood plane of the diminutive Llan brook.  Between the car park and the fish pond are 2 odd features.  To the north is a cut running down to the brook which may have been used to drain the castle moat, while just south of this is an odd circular depression about 30' in diameter.  This is certainly man made, but whether it is the foundations of a round tower or a waterwork is uncertain.

The motte and bailey was once surrounded by a wet ditch about 30' across and 10' deep, which is now mostly silted up.  The bailey is sub rectangular with uneven rounded corners, about 140' north to south and 120' east to west.  There are numerous indications of buildings including a rectangular block running east to west about a third of the way down the bailey from the north and an oblong or D shaped tower at the south-west corner of the ward, roughly 20' square.  There are also traces of the curtain of the enceinte.

The keep stands on the rather pathetic motte, standing only 6' high and having a base diameter of 110'.  The surrounding ditch is somewhat smaller than that around the bailey.  The keep at 45'x40' was similar in size to the keep at Criccieth (43'x32') and Dolwyddelan II (44'x31') in Gwynedd, the large tower keep (45'x33') in the bailey at Richards Castle in England and Adare (43'x35') in Limerick, Ireland.  Despite this, the castle which appears nearest to Hopton in style could well be Pendragon castle.

The tower was entered from the north, probably from a bridge running from the north-western corner of the bailey where there are still jumbled earthworks.  This led into an entranceway which had a spiral stair to the west.  Within the entrance was a rectangular room with mural chambers in 2 pilaster buttresses to the angles of the east wall.  The south-west angle had a larger buttress which contained the garderobe chutes, while the west wall had a single window which has been largely smashed out.  The vice led up to the second floor which served as a solar to the small hall below.  This had mural chambers in 3 of the turrets, the fourth being taken by the vice.  A small vice off the south-west turret apparently led to the battlements.

The decorations on the keep, corbelled out chamber above the entrance, decorative string course at ground level and fine plinth, all point to a thirteenth or fourteenth century date, but the bailey defences could well be as old as the Hopton barony which seems to have existed during the reign of King Stephen (1135-54). 

The remains of Hopton castle, both the keep/tower house and the earthwork remains are fully explored as well as two nearby castle sites at the Rabbit Berries and Warfield Bank.

Hopton Castle, 1066 to 1282 (ISBN 1-899376-01-1) [1994] can be ordered for £4.95 through the PayPal basket below.

Copyright©1994-2007 Paul Martin Remfry