Acton Burnell castle

Acton Burnell Castle is a 13th-century fortified manor house, located near the village of Acton Burnell, Shropshire, England (grid reference SJ534019). It is believed that the first Parliament of England at which the Commons were fully represented was held here in 1283. Today all that remains is the outer shell of the manor house and the gable ends of the barn. It is a Grade I listed building of the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest.

Initial building

The manor house was built in 1284 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, friend and advisor to King Edward I. Its position was important at the time because it was near to the old Roman road of Watling Street. The extent of the estate is not known, as much of the building has been completely destroyed or remains undiscovered. It would have been substantial enough to accommodate Edward I and his retinue, soldiers and advisers, but was never an actual castle.

Robert Burnell was granted a licence by the king to crenellate and fortify the manor on January 28, 1284, a benefit only extended to trusted people. The building was rectangular with a tower at each corner. It was three storeys high consisting of a hall, solar, bedrooms, offices, chapel and kitchen. Robert Burnell also built the nearby Church of St Mary and the surrounding village.

Prior to this, in the autumn of 1285, Edward I had held a Parliament at Acton Burnell, presumably in the adjacent great barn, the only building large enough. It is significant in that it was the first time in English history that the law-making process included the Commons. The law passed became known as the Statute of Acton Burnell, a law giving protection to creditors, indicating the increasing significance of traders during those times.

Subsequent owners

When Robert Burnell died in 1292, the estate was passed down through the family line, eventually becoming owned by the Lovels of Titchmarsh, via a marriage. Following the Battle of Stoke Field in 1487, the land was confiscated by Henry VII, who in turn granted it to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk. By the time it passed to the Smythe family in the mid 17th century, it had been mostly demolished.

Acton Burnell Hall

This hall was built near to the castle in 1814 by the Smythe family. The hall is in classical style and is a Grade II* listed building. It is surrounded by parkland, with two lakes and a Gothic folly (Sham Castle). This folly has round towers, gothic windows and dates to 1780, standing on a mound in a field surrounded by trees. Acton Burnell Castle was another folly in the grounds. Large entrance doors were knocked through the private residence buildings. A pyramid roof structure was placed on top of a tower, turning it into a dovecote.

Monks from the monastery of St Gregory’s, Douai, took refuge with Edward Smythe, the 5th baronet, until his death, whereupon they moved to Downside, Somerset in 1814.

Today's ruins

Today Acton Burnell Castle is maintained by English Heritage. All that remains open to the public is the shell of the former private residence, accessible via a footpath through a small wood. The rest of the land, and the relatively modern Acton Burnell Hall is now a privately owned college, "Concord College". The gable ends of the great barn, where the parliament sat, survive and are situated on the private land.

Building Activity

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