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Chirk Castle

Chirk Castle

1m W of Chirk, Wrexham, northeast Wales
Location map link for Chirk Castle
All photograph Copyright 1996 by Jeffrey L. Thomas.

Right: The ornamental gate leading to the castle grounds at Chirk.

Official Guidebook

Chirk Castle, occupied virtually continuously as a castle and stately home for almost 700 years, sits on a hilltop with its best views over the Ceiriog valley to the south. The successor to two known mottes in the area, it was probably built by Roger Mortimer, of the powerful Marcher family, who was granted the area by Edward I after the Welsh defeat in 1282. He was almost certainly given royal assistance in its design and construction, and its similarities to Beaumaris suggest that work may have started as late as 1295, perhaps in response to the Welsh rising of 1294.

The castle may have originally been envisaged as a rectangular enclosure with towers at the corners and halfway along each side. If so, only the northern half of the design survives, stopping beyond the central towers on the east and west. The simple gate through the eastern part of the north wall is probably original. Additional outer defences were dismantled during later landscaping.

The spirit of the 14th century structure is preserved in the Adam's Tower (near the well on the south-west), which has a magnificent dungeon on two levels and a number of upper rooms clearly showing the 5m-thick walls. Two of them contain 'murder holes', through which material could be poured on to anyone trying to batter or burn down the doors below. This tower, like the others, was originally at least one storey higher, the upper parts probably being removed after the Civil War bombardment of 1659.

The south curtain was completed on the present line early in the 15th century, under Thomas, earl of Arundel, probably against Owain Glyndwr's forces, who had strong local support. The chapel in the present south-east corner, possibly begun in the later 14th century, and the adjoining hall are the earliest surviving stone rooms outside the towers. Timber structures probably stood against the other walls.

After the War of the Roses, the castle settled in royal hands on the execution of Sir William Stanley in 1495. The south range was partially rebuilt in 1529, reusing stone from earlier work. The old hall was subdivided and new living accommodation provided to its west. In 1563, the castle was granted to Elizabeth I's favorite, Robert Dudley, soon created earl of Leicester and Baron Denbigh, who held it as part of his extensive north Wales properties until his death in 1588. He may have reroofed it and added some of the square windows.

The castle was purchased in 1595 for about L5,000 by Sir Thomas Myddelton, a son of the governor of Denbigh Castle and successful London merchant. As a founder of the East India Company, an investor in the expeditions of Drake, Raleigh and Hawkins, he had the means to convert Chirk into a comfortable Tudor residence. His new stone north range contained a hall, buttery and kitchen, with upstairs drawing and dining rooms. This range, with alterations, became the main living quarters of the castle, while the old south range was gradually given over to servants.

Sir Thomas' son, the second Sir Thomas, took up residence on his marriage in 1612 and as MP for Denbighshire from 1625, found himself on the Parliamentarian side in the Civil War. Royalist supporters seized the castle in 1643, and held it for three years. Sir Thomas' Parliamentary forces meanwhile enjoyed some successes, including the capture of Powis Castle, although he could not bring himself to attack Chirk.

The castle was eventually regained by bribery and Sir Thomas' son (Sir Thomas III) installed as governor. By 1651, however, the general had changed sides, and further payoffs were needed to dislodge the Parliamentarian garrison. Chirk was nevertheless besieged and taken by the Parliamentarians in 1659 as punishment for the Myddeltons' support of the Cheshire Rising. At the last moment it sustained the damage they had for so long sought to avoid. Most of the eastern side was demolished, and much of the rest burnt, leaving the family with a huge rebuilding task after the Restoration in 1660.

A new stone range was now added on the east, in conjunction with the reconstruction of the curtain wall and towers. The new towers, although externally similar to their predecessors, had much thinner walls, while the range included a drawing room and long gallery at first floor level, with an arcaded walkway facing the courtyard beneath it. The old state bedroom in the south-east tower was given a new entrance from the long gallery. Sir Thomas III predeceased his father, and his son Sir Thomas IV, who came of age in 1672, supervised the decoration of the newly built rooms, completed, possibly with the help of William Wynde, in 1678. Only the long gallery survives to show the original style of this work.

Within the east range, the main structure of the castle was complete, although minor alterations continued to be made. After an abortive episode in 1762-4, when a scheme for a Gothic interior was abandoned at an early stage, the north range was extensively refurbished in neo-classical style by Joseph Turner of Chester in the later 1760s and 1770s, the drawing room being completed by John Cooper of Beaumaris in about 1796. In the 1820s, however, gothic vaulting was added, and from 1845 the interior was almost totally reworked in the Gothic manner by A.W. Pugin, architect of the Houses of Parliament. Most of these alterations have been undone in recent years, with the exception of the Cromwell Hall, where a collection of Civil War arms is displayed. The castle remained in the hands of the Myddelton family, who still own and work much of the estate, until 1978. It is now in the care of the National Trust.

Offa's Dyke runs through the park. It can be seen from the air beneath the waters of the artificial lake, and is visible as a low bank as far as Home Farm, west of the castle. South of the castle it is better preserved, running to the west of the track, and out into the fields beyond, beside the footpath. The magnificent wrought iron gate-screen at the entrance to the park was made by Robert and John Davies of Bersham between 1712 and 1719. It originally stood a little way in front of the main castle gate, and was moved to its present position in 1770 during the landscaping of the park.

A Dutton Chronology, 1066 to 1784

The chronology below was taken from pages xix - xxvi of the "Duttons of Dutton" genealogy which Colin Dutton found in the Manchester Central Library. The text contains the British spelling and diction prevalent at the time the genealogy was compiled.

                           INCIDENTS IN CONNECTION WITH
                           THE DUTTON FAMILY
                           A. D. 1066-1784 
1066 Odard, the Norman ancestor, with his five brothers, came over from Avranches in Normandy, in the army of William the Conqueror. [probably later]
1086 Odard established at Dutton (Duntune) in Cheshire, where he owned a third part of the township, at the time of the Domesday Survey. The remaining portions were acquired by his descendants in 1341 and 1354.
1187-89 Sir Geoffrey de Dutton served upon the second or third crusade to the Holy land. (Ancestor of the Warburtons of Warburton and Arley.)
c. 1216 Hugh de Dutton granted the jurisdiction over the Cheshire minstrels by the constable of Chester.
c. 1236 Hugh de Dutton built Poosey chapel within the demesne of Dutton.
c. 1272 Sir Thomas de Dutton, the first knight of the family, added the chapel at Dutton.
8 Dec 1276 Birth of Hugh de Dutton, baptized at Great Budworth the following day. In 1315 he sued the prior of Norton for not providing a chaplain and lamp at Poosey chapel.
1 Jan 1293 (Sir) Peter de Dutton knighted by Edward I.
11 July 1300 Siege of Caerlaverock. Hugh le Despencer, present at the siege, bore the Dutton arms differenced with a bend. (Roll of Caerlaverock.)
1309 Robert de Dutton represented Staffordshire in parliament; and again in 1314, 1319, 1321, 1328, 1329, and 1333. (A Robert de Dutton is mentioned in the military accounts as in the retinue of lord Audley. He may have been the Dutton who is said to have been one of the four esquires who fought beside lord Audley at Poictiers.)
1314 John de Dutton and Robert de Dutton, summoned to perform military service in person against the Scotch (June 30), to muster at Newcastle-on-Tyne on August 15 following. (Scotch Roll, 8 Edw. II.)
19 Sep 1356 Battle of Poictiers. A member of this family is said to have been one of the four esquires who, according to Froissart, fought beside lord Audley in the battle. The "fret" in the Dutton arms is traditionally, but improbably, said to have been then adopted by desire of lord Audley, being his own arms or badge in memory of that occasion.
16 Dec 1359 Letters of protection granted to Thomas de Dutton while absent beyond sea in the retinue of the Prince of Wales, the "Black Prince".
1379 Sir Thomas de Dutton founded a chantry at Warrington with a priest to pray for his soul and for the souls of his two wives and of his family and of his wives' relations yearly forever, and their names to be entered in the convent's martyrology.
1379 Agnes de Dutton elected prioress of the Benedictine nunnery of St. Mary's, Chester. Died 1386.
1 May 1381 Death of Sir Thomas de Dutton.
c. 1390 Hugh Dutton, second son of Edmund de Dutton, became lord of Hatton, near Chester, in right of his wife, the Vernon coheiress. (From Hatton later, the family branched to Chester, Holt in Denbighshire, Cloughton in Yorkshire and Sherborne in Gloucestershire.)
3 Nov 1403 Sir Peter de Dutton, pardoned for taking part with Henry Percy, surnamed Hotspur.
1403-4 Sir Peter de Dutton ordered by writ from the prince of Wales to hasten and take up his abode, on the marches of Wales, and there to make defence against the invasion of Owen Glendower (Jan. 11).
1405 Hugh de Dutton commissioned to conduct men-at-arms to the marches.
1410 Sir Peter de Dutton had licence to empark the manor of Dutton.
25 Oct 1415 Battle of Agincourt. Sir Thomas Dutton, with 10 men-at-arms and 30 mounted archers in the retinue of Henry V., and Laurence Dutton, in the retinue of the earl of Huntingdon, present at the battle. Sir Thomas received as security for the payment of his wages, a tablet of gold, with the Trinity on the top and beneath their feet the Virgin Mary; on the foot of the table were the three kings of Cologne. It was garnished with twenty-seven large pearls, seven of them worth five marks each, and the other twenty worth 30d. each, weighing 5 lb. 1 oz., which had been given by the city of London to Richard II. in 1392, then valued at L800. It was redeemed by the Crown 4 Henry VI.
6 Apr 1417 Sir Thomas de Dutton obliged to set aside L60 yearly, for three years, to defray the debts which he had incurred upon the voyage with the king to Harfleur. (Chester Recognizance Rolls.) The siege and captureof Harfleur took place in the month preceding the battle of Agincourt.
23 Sep 1459 Sir Thomas de Dutton, with his brother John Dutton, and his eldest son Peter Dutton, killed at the battle of Blore heath, in Cheshire, Sunday, during the Wars of the Roses.
18 Jun 1462 Grant to John Dutton, of Hatton, of the frithmote of the forest of Mara and Mondrem, until he should have satisfied himself out of the issues of the same, for L100, expended by him in attending at the king's command at Chester with certain men. (Chester Recognizance Rolls.)
24 Jan 1476 Dutton archives. Warrant for the conveyance to the Exchequer at Chester of two chests containing charters, etc., of all the possessions of Roger Dutton, esq., deceased, which were then in the earl of Chester's hands, by the minority of Laurence Dutton, the son and heir, with note of their delivery. (Chester Recognizance Rolls.)
1481 Peter Dutton, of Hatton, father of sir Piers Dutton. Outlawed for a raid.
1496 Peter Dutton, lieut.-governor of the Isle of Stan.
1499 The Crown challenged the right of the Duttons' jurisdiction over the minstrels and vagrants of Cheshire and admitted it.
1500 Lady Strangways, then of York (formerly Mrs. Dutton of Dutton), bequeathed her red velvet bonnet to her daughter in law at Dutton to pray for her soul.
c. 1507 Birth of Thomas Dutton, descended from the Duttons of Hatton and Dutton, founder of the Sherborne branch of the family. Graduated at Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1523. (Aged 74 at his death in 1581.)
1527 Death of Laurence Dutton, of Dutton, without heir male, by which the Dutton property passed to sir Piers Dutton of Hatton, whose right was contested by the heirs-general of sir Hugh Dutton.
14 Dec 1533 The abbot, prior and monks of Winchcombe abbey, in Gloucestershire, leased the manor of Sherborne in that county to sir John Alleyn, knight, for ninety-nine years at a peppercorn rent, while secretly receiving a large sum of money for the same, in view of the approaching dissolution of monasteries. (Original lease signed by the abbot, prior, and twenty-three monks at Sherborne house.)
16 May 1534 Termination of the Dutton lawsuit, by award of Henry VIII., by which sir Piers Dutton of Hatton became owner of Dutton, confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1536.
1536 Suppression of monasteries. Sir Piers Dutton appointed one of the commissioners for the abbey of Vale Royal. Quelled an insurrection at Norton abbey and arrested the prior and canons. Thanked by Henry VIII.
1539 Sir Piers Dutton and dame Julian, his second wife, commenced the new hall at Dutton. Completed in 1549.
17 Aug 1545 Death of sir Piers Dutton, of Dutton and Hatton.
1551 Thomas Dutton acquired the manor of Sherborne, in Gloucestershire, from sir Christopher Alleyn, having previously been established there.
1567 Richard Dutton, mayor of Chester. "He kept house at the White Friars, and in all the twelve days of Christmas kept open house for meat and drink at meal-time for any that came. All the Christmas-time there was a lord of misrule" (MS., Mayors of Chester).
1571-74 John Bruen, afterwards the noted puritan layman, brought up at his uncle Dutton's at Dutton, "where by occasion of musicians and a chest of viols kept in the house, he was drawn by desire and delight into the dancing school, where he profited so well in that kind of youthful activity that he did not only please himself too much, but his parents also more than was meet with those tricks of vanity" (John Bruen's Life).
1572 Sir Christopher Hatton, queen Elizabeth's dancing lord chancellor, claimed kindred with the Duttons of Hatton.
1574 Queen Elizabeth entertained by Thomas Dutton for six days at Sherborne.
1574 Richard Dutton, mayor of Chester, in conflict with the lords of the council respecting the city charter.
24 Oct 1581 Thomas Dutton died at Sherborne, aged seventy-four. In his will he desired that the "arms of the house of Dutton in Cheshire, out of which house I came and descended," be placed over his tomb.
1588 Approach of the Armada. John Dutton and Rowland Dutton, of Chester esqs.; and William Dutton, of Sherborne, esq., each subscribed L25 for the defence of the country.
Sep 1592 Queen Elizabeth entertained by William Dutton for six days at Sherborne.
30 May 1593 Death of Peter Dutton, eldest son of John Dutton of Dutton. In 1583, on his return from his travels, sir Christopher Hatton wrote of him that the queen was assured he would prove "a man meet to be hereafter employed in service to the benefit of his country."
1594 Birth of John Dutton (son of William Dutton), who eventually succeeded to Sherborne. Born hunchbacked; and known as "Crump Dutton." Became "one of the richest men in England." Rebuilt Sherborne house from designs by sir Inigo Jones. Erected by the brothers Strong.
1603 (Sir) Thomas Dutton, of Chester, knighted by James I. Became a captain in the low countries. In 1606, lord Salisbury wrote in favour of him that he "is well esteemed of by his majesty." The earl of Suffolk and lord chancellor Ellesmere were amongst his friends at court. Temporarily lost royal favour by killing sir Hatton Cheke in a duel in 1610.
1608-9 John Dutton, the sole male heir-apparent of Dutton, killed (according to family tradition) on his wedding-day (Feb. 9). Buried at Tarvin, in Cheshire, Feb. 11, 1608-9, aged fourteen.
1609 Marriage of the hon. Gilbert Gerard and Eleanor Dutton, the heiress of Dutton, at Great Budworth (Sept. 16).
1610 Duel between sir Hatton Cheke and sir Thomas Dutton fought on Calais sands, in which sir Hatton Cheke was killed (Dec.)
2 Oct 1611 Death of Elizabeth Dutton, "a wife, a widow and a maid", aged sixteen. Buried in the chancel of St. Martin's-in-the-fields, London.
1613 William Dutton, of Sherborne, purchased the manor of Standish, in Gloucestershire, from the Winston family.
28 Dec 1614 Death of Thomas Dutton, the last of the Duttons of Dutton, aged forty-six. Twentieth in direct descent from Odard. Funeral sermon preached in Great Budworth church and afterwards printed.
10 Nov 1618 Death of William Dutton, the second family owner of Sherborne, aged fifty-seven.
Aug 1624 (Sir) Ralph Dutton of Standish, gentleman of the privy chamber, knighted by James I. at Woodstock.
1638 Marriage of Lucy Dutton and the earl of Downe, at Sherborne (Nov. 26). John Dutton, her father, had purchased the wardship and marriage of the earl, to whom he married her.
1640 John Dutton, of Sherborne, sat in the "Long parliament," and went to Oxford with the king, and is said to have drafted the articles upon the surrender of that city to the parliament. In 1642, offered to lend Charles I. L50,000 (Lord Montagu's correspondence). Paid L5,216 composition as a royalist for his estates. Afterwards an admirer and personal friend of Oliver Cromwell's, whose daughter Frances he arranged for his nephew and heir to marry. In his will he appoints Cromwell as guardian of his nephew, and alludes to the proposed marriage "which I much desire and if it take effect, shall account it as a blessing from God." It did not take place.
1643 Charles I. entertained by Lucy (Dutton), countess of Downe, at the Dutton manor-house at Coberley (Sept. 6), and again in 1644 (July 11).
c. 1646 Death of sir Ralph Dutton, of Standish, a royalist officer, said to have been wrecked and cast ashore on Burntisland in 1646. Upon the outbreak of the civil war he raised a regiment for the king, which was the second raised, "and came into his majesty complete 800 with flying colours at the setting up of his royal standard at Nottingham." He also compiled a manual of prayers for its use.
1653 William Dutton, the heir to Sherborne, sent by Oliver Cromwell, his guardian, to Eton with the poet Marvell.
1656 Death of Lucy (Dutton), countess of Downe, at Coberley (Easter day) aged thirty-two. According to the parish register, "she fasted from eating and drinking before her death ten days."
1656-57 Death of John Dutton of Sherborne (Feb. 18), aged sixty-three. "He was a learned and a prudent man; and as one of the richest so one of the meekest men in England" (Anthony a Wood). Oliver Cromwell wrote a letter of condolence to Mrs. Dutton of Sherborne, alluding to the "great loss of your noble husband, my very good friend."
1657 The Colt-Dutton lawsuit for the Sherbome estates between John Dutton's son-in-law and his nephew (verdict Nov. 4). "The greatest discourse of the town for this term hath been the issue between Mr. Colt and young Dutton for the Duttons' estate of Sherborne, which was tried yesterday in the Upper bench; and held the court from nine in the morning to nine at night, much gentry being present of both sexes, but it went with Mr. Dutton" (Francis Newport to sir R. Leveson, Nov. 3, 1657).
1665-66 Death of Eleanor, then viscountess Kilmorey (the Dutton heiress), at Dutton (March 12). Buried at Great Budworth.
1675 Death of William Dutton of Sherborne, formerly Oliver Cromwell's ward (bur. April 5).
20 Jun 1678 Ralph Dutton, of Sherborne, created a baronet by Charles II.. Represented Gloucestershire in parliament 1678-79, 1688-90, and 1695. His favourite pastime was greyhound coursing. In 1691, he was described in a newsletter, as "one of the chief men of England for that sport."
22 Oct 1680 Sir Richard Dutton appointed governor of Barbados.Originally of Chester, left the law at the age of seventeen for the army, served as a royalist officer throughout the civil war; and was twice imprisoned in the Tower. Became an officer in the duke of York's guards, and knighted by Charles II. Arrived at Barbados March, 1681. Twice thanked by Charles II. for his vigorous administration of the colony, but eventually made enemies. Returned 1683. "I hope sir Richard's home-coming will be for his honour and advantage what endeavours soever have been used to lessen him there. Sir Richard has been known to be more a soldier than a lawyer, which I presume is the reason he committed the jurisdiction of the court of grand sessions to those that were better skilled in the laws than himself" (Letter to Pepys, 1685). Made his will in 1702-3, "being of great age," and died shortly afterwards. (His elder daughter was a legatee under the will of lady Dutton, of Sherborne, in 1721, who described her as her cousin.)
1683 Birth of John, son of sir Ralph Dutton of Sherborne, whom he succeeded in the baronetcy.
3 Sep 1711 Duke of Hamilton created Baron of Dutton. Killed in a duel with lord Mohun the following year (Nov. 15).
1 Jun 1728 Marriage of sir John Dutton, bart., with his second wife, Mary Keck, at Hampstead by the bishop of Ely.
1730 Elizabeth Dutton's monumental effigy removed to Little Gaddesden church, Herts, by the duke of Bridgewater.
1742-43 Death of sir John Dutton, the second and last baronet of Sherborne. Buried at midnight (Feb. 4). He kept a minute account of all his personal expenses.
5 Dec 1748 A remarkable run by "Lord Chedworth and Mr. Dutton of Sherborne's confederate pack of hounds for five hours over the finest country in England"
20 May 1784 Creation of James Dutton, of Sherborne, esquire, as Lord Sherborne, Baron of Sherborne, in Gloucestershire, in the peerage of Great Britain, by George III.

This table is a reformatted version of a web page originally produced by Fred E. Dutton.