Dudley Castle

The original Dudley Castle was a simple wooden motte and bailey, constructed in 1070 by Ansculf de Picquigny. It must have been the first building on the site, where the great earthwork, consisting of a large dome-shaped mound adjoining a courtyard or bailey, surrounded by a bank with a ditch outside was built. It must have been a large structure at the time, because the bailey was larger than at most early castles. The later buildings that still survive were built within the Norman earthworks, so the motte and bailey covered the same area as today's ruins. At that time it would have been impossible to build anything from heavy masonry on the recently heaped-up earth, so the buildings had to be built from timber, which was much lighter.

In the 12th century, the castle was owned by the Paganel family, who built the first stone castle on the site. By this time the Norman earthworks would have completely settled down and so could now carry heavy masonry.

In 1138 the newly-built castle was strong enough to withstand a siege by the forces of King Stephen, during the civil war between Matilda and King Stephen. But when Gervase Paganel joined a failed rebellion against King Henry II in 1173, which lasted 18 months, the castle, along with about twenty others was demolished by order of the king. During the rebellion, many towns were destroyed and a large number of people lost their lives.

A plan of the castle.

In the 2nd half of the 13th century, the castle was owned by the Somery family whose manor house was on the castle site. In 1262 Roger Somery II wanted to add fortifications to the manor house, but this was not allowed because King Henry III objected to the erection of castles, that might be held by anyone in opposition to the crown. He ordered that no defences could be built without a special licence. In 1265, after Roger Somery II had fought for his king against the barons and been taken prisoner at the battle of Lewes, he was granted the necessary licence to fortify the site and so the rebuilding of Dudley castle could begin.

From an old postcard.

The stairway in the keep in the late 1880s. From an etching by Henry Pope.

At this time large amounts of building work took place at the castle including the keep, which was built on the Norman motte, consisting of a core of limestone rubble encased in clay.

The keep had four drum towers, one on each corner, 9.8 metres in diameter. The lower floor was entered by a wide flat-arched gateway facing the courtyard with a portcullis to protect it from an enemy who might have captured the rest of the castle.

The ground floor was probably used as a store, below a fine hall, with a timber floor and lit by large lancets.

There were small rooms in the towers that opened into the hall, which included a pantry and a kitchen and newel stairways leading to the two floor levels and the battlements, which had a walled passage round the roof of the upper story.

The battlements on the keep roof in the late 1880s. From an etching by Henry Pope.

The Keep. From an old postcard.

From an old postcard.

In June 1857, two cannon from the Crimean War were brought to the castle and placed in prominent positions next to the remains of the keep.

One of them can be seen in the photo opposite.

The keep and the cannon, seen from the town centre.

From an old postcard.

Another important feature built at the same time as the keep is the main gatehouse, originally constructed as a double gateway with two portcullises, connected to the keep by a curtain wall built of stone rubble, about eight feet thick.

The gatehouse was originally three storeys in height, but little of the upper floors has survived. The entrance itself is a vaulted passage with doors and a portcullis at both ends, which were operated by machinery on the first floor. Above was a guard room with battlements on top.

Also built at this time was the strong perimeter wall around the bailey, constructed along the top of the earthen banks, above the moat that surrounded the area on the east, north and west, commencing on the east side gateway and ending at the north west of the unmoated keep mound.

The wall runs up the sides of the motte to join the keep on its summit.

Another view of the triple gatehouse.

From an old postcard.

The remains of the moat. From an old postcard.

Part of the moat in the late 1940s. Then the sea lion pool in Dudley Zoo.

The triple gatehouse, the stables and the keep in the late 1940s.

The triple gatehouse, the stables and the keep in 1845. From an old drawing.

In the late 1330s John de Sutton II added more buildings to the site including the barbican, the chapel, the great chamber, bedrooms and cellars. When the barbican had been added to the outside of the gatehouse, the building became known as the 'triple gate'. Further accommodation was provided in the chambers above the gateway.

The interior of the chapel in 1780. From an old watercolour by Paul Braddon.

Also built at this time is the chapel, which stood over a barrel-vaulted basement room in a building that also contained the grand chamber on the first floor.

The ground floor rooms were used as cellars for storage. The chapel on the first floor extends across the full width of the building and is rather plain with a three light west window.

The grand chamber has large six light windows in the west wall, inserted in the 16th century, along with a small fireplace from the same date.

On the second floor was a bedroom.

The chapel ruins in the late 1940s.

Around 1540 several new buildings were added. At that time the castle belonged to John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland. He ordered the construction of a range of new buildings within the ancient castle walls, on the eastern side of the bailey, which included a great hall, a kitchen, servery, pantries, a buttery, cellars and bedrooms. They were designed by Sir William Sharington and became known as the Sharington Range. They were built in Gothic style, influenced by the Italian Renaissance, with great mullioned and transomed windows, newel stair turrets and conspicuous gables. Little is known about the interior of the building because much of it was lost in the fire of 1750.

Part of the Sharington Range in the 1890s.

The ruins of the hall in the late 1940s.

The postern gate, kitchen and bedrooms in the late 1940s.

On the northern side of the building by the postern gate are two buildings that contained a kitchen, a buttery, a bakehouse and possibly servants’ quarters. There is also an octagonal turret containing a newel staircase. The northern gatehouse or postern block had three storeys and was entered by a drawbridge over the moat.

From an old postcard.

The courtyard, seen from the keep in the late 1940s. In the background is the typical 'industrial haze' over the Black Country at that time. In the distance is Ocker Hill power station and the large gasometer at Swan Village.

In 1575 Lord Dudley received Queen Elizabeth at the castle, but no account of the visit remains.

Possibly because of the visit, the old great chamber was converted into a spacious drawing room with two large double transomed six light windows, which are still partly preserved.

After the defeat of the Royalist garrison at the castle during the Civil War, the defences were destroyed by order of Parliament in 1647, which destroyed much of the keep, the main gateway and some of the boundary walls.


The view from the triple gatehouse, across the courtyard to the postern gate in the late 1940s.

One of the last buildings constructed on the site was the two storey stable block, dating from before 1700 and built between the base of the motte and the main gate. It was once thought to be lodgings.

By the 18th century the Ward family spent little time at the castle. The dungeons and vaults were used by coiners to produce their counterfeit coins. In July 1750 a huge fire broke out there, which destroyed the habitable buildings to leave the ruin that we are familiar with today.

The courtyard in 1849. From a lithograph by Newman & Company.

From an old postcard.

A view from an old postcard of a popular pageant, from 1910, re-enacting the history of the castle.

A engraving of the castle by S. & N. Buck in 1731.

An engraving of the castle by M. Burghers, produced in 1686.

The old eastern entrance to the castle grounds, which was just to the north of Castle Mill Farm. From an old postcard.

Return to the
previous page