Ashby de la Zouch Castle
History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
HERITAGE HIGHLIGHTS: 15th century tower house, and an underground passage to the kitchens
The most impressive new feature introduced by Hastings was a kitchen tower that was at the time one of the largest in the country. Hastings' original plans called for a further three towers set in a high wall around the property, but these further towers were never built. The old manor house was rebuilt and extended beyond all recognition, a new chapel built, and a a number of service buildings. The tower still stands to its original four storeys, rising from storerooms at the base, to a kitchen, hall, and solar on the top storey. It was, and still is, one of the most impressive tower houses in England. Visitors can climb the stair to the top of the tower for wonderful views out over the town and across the later formal gardens. So thorough were Hastings' plans that the tower had its own well, its own portcullis, and an underground tunnel between the tower and the main kitchens.
But if the early 17th century was a time of relative prosperity at Ashby, the mid-17th century was not, for the castle was about to get caught up in the Civil War.
Henry Hastings, brother of the 6th Earl, garrisoned Ashby for the king, and fortified both the castle and the town. Charles I visited Ashby twice during the war, and stayed at the castle after the defeat of his army at Naseby in 1645. In 1646 Hastings was eventually forced to surrender to Parliament and was forced to destroy the town fortifications. Parliament briefly used the castle as a prison, then decided that it was better to destroy the defenses. Parliamentary troops went beyond their mandate, however, and Hastings complained to Parliament that they had ruined his 'only convenient mansion'. I'm not sure his protest was heard with much sympathy.
Moira could not have foreseen what was about to happen to make his ruinous possession a destination for tourists. In 1819 Sir Walter Scott set a jousting scene in his novel Ivanhoe at Ashby de la Zouch Castle. The popularity of Scott's book meant that people flocked to see the castle. Being no fool, Moira's agent repaired the ruins, printed a guidebook to the town and castle, and Ashby was transformed seemingly overnight into a popular resort. Lord Moira's son tore down Ashby Palace and erected Ashby Manor, now a school between the castle and nearby church.
Ashby de la Zouch Castle came under care of the state in 1932 and has been looked after by English Heritage since 1983.
Summing up Ashby de la Zouch Castle
I've visited a lot of castles around Britain, but this was one of the most enjoyable visits I've ever had. The detail of the architecture is sumptuous; it really does help you imagine just what a grand and impressive castle this must have been in Lord Hastings' day. Do take time to stroll over to the church, which is practically next door to the castle. There you can see the Hastings Chapel, and the tombs of several owners of the castle.
About Ashby de la Zouch
Address: South Street, Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, England, LE65 1BR
Attraction Type: Castle
Location: Ashby is 12 mile south of Derby on the A511. Well signed. Parking on South Street in town parking lot (paid)
Website: Ashby de la Zouch
Phone: 01530 413 343
English Heritage - see also: English Heritage memberships (official website)
OS: SK359 166
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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NEARBY HISTORIC ATTRACTIONS
Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest
Ashby de la Zouch, St Helens Church - 0.1 miles (Historic Church)
Ashby de la Zouch Museum - 0.2 miles (Museum)
Staunton Harold Church - 2.9 miles (Historic Church)
Moira Furnace - 2.9 miles (Historic Building)
Calke Abbey - 4.1 miles (Historic House)
Stretton-en-le-Field, St Michael's Church - 4.4 miles (Historic Church)
Donington-le-Heath Manor - 4.6 miles (Historic House)
Grace Dieu Priory - 4.8 miles (Abbey)
Nearest Accommodation to Ashby de la Zouch: