The Origins of Dudley Castle
16th century historians once claimed there was a castle on the site in as early as 700 AD, but modern scholars agree the first Dudley Castle was built in the 11th century, shortly after William I's conquest of England in 1066.
This was a wooden motte and bailey (hill and moat) structure built by Ansculf de Picquigny in 1070. According to the Domesday Book it remained in Ansculf's family in 1086.
It later became the property of the Paganel family who demolished and replaced it with a stone castle in the early 11th century. Today only the motte and bailey remain of the original castle.
Dudley Castle II
The Paganel castle saw combat in 1138 when it withstood a siege from King Stephen's forces. Stephen was at the time two years into a contentious reign that had begun with an election following the death of Henry I. Full-blown civil war was soon to follow.
The castle survived this but was later captured and demolished in 1173 after a failed uprising against Henry II, Stephen's successor. It was supposedly one of at least 21 castles destroyed for this reason.
The Beginnings of Today's Dudley Castle
In 1262 the de Somery family began building another castle on the land. This was not completed until the early 1300s but has endured the centuries since. Many of today's Dudley Castle's most prominent features date from this rebuild, including its keep and main gatehouse. On top of this, the surviving great chamber and chapel were built later that same century.
Across the years that followed, the castle passed between various hands, its owners falling into and out of favour with whoever happened to be sitting on the throne at the time.
It was further expanded from 1540 onwards, some of the country's first and earliest surviving Italian Renaissance-style buildings being put up within its walls.
In 1575 it was visited by Elizabeth I who was considering it as a potential prison for her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots.
Dudley Castle is Ruined
During the English Civil War of 1642-52 the castle was garrisoned with Royalist forces. It was then besieged by the enemy Parliamentarians in 1644 and finally forced to surrender in 1646. The Parliamentarians partly demolished the castle to prevent it being used for military purposes again. The damage they inflicted on its gatehouse and keep can still be seen today.
The castle remained habitable and in 1700 a stable block was added by its owners. This is the last building to have been added to the site.
In 1750 the castle was damaged by fire and from then on it fell gradually out of use.
The Romantic Revival of Dudley Castle
In the 19th century the castle found a new purpose as something of a Victorian theme park. Its battlements and one of its towers were repaired and two cannons used in the Crimean War were installed. It became a place of fetes and pageants, a romantic ruin for the country's elites to enjoy.
Visiting Dudley Castle
The castle was incorporated into the newly founded Dudley Zoo in 1937. It was then converted into zoological gardens with a visitor centre, cafe, toilets and on-site parking.
The castle and zoo open 10am-5.30pm daily. Tickets cost £20.50 for adults and £14.50 for children. This rises to £21.50/£15.50 on public and bank holiday, but a concessionary rate is available for those who do not wish to donate.
The castle is about a 40 minute drive out of Birmingham city centre and can also be reached in roughly 45 minutes via public transport. To do so, take the train from Birmingham New Street to Shrewsbury (about 6 minutes) then take the 87 bus to Dudley (about 30 minutes). From here it is a 5 minute walk to the castle.
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