Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Chastleton House - and is it any wonder that the gunpowder plot failed?

Before I tell you about the house, please read the first posting below as it contains important information about the difficulties of visiting the house.

The images on this posting have been taken from the guide book supplied by the National Trust.

The Current House at Chastleton

Chastleton House is an oddity. The National Trust have undertaken minimal repair and no modification. They have replaced gutters, the slate roof and done electrical repairs. They have done the necessary for fire precaution and to prevent damp, but the whole building is presented showing the marks of age. Great care has been taken researching family history, and examining the building, talking to all who knew Chastleton,  to ensure that the true history of the building remains.

The building was first opened to the public in 1940 by the then owner, Mrs Irene Whitmore-Jones, who explained the bad state of the buildings by saying the family had lost all their money "in the war".  Not any recent world war you understand, but the Civil War, 300 years earlier!

It was built between 1607 and 1612 by Walter Jones who remained faithful to the King during the Civil War, and consequently suffered fines under the Commonwealth. (Commonwealth = "Roundheads"....who won!)  About every 100 years or so since, emergency repairs were done to the house, but in between it was left to decay and is as you see it today.

The furniture in the house is sparse.  This photo shows a court cupboard or buffet and, according to an inventory in 1633, there were 13 similar ones in the house. However this is an early 1800's made-up piece incorporating older oak wood.  It was used for storing food, candles, jewels and other valuables. They were always dressed with a cloth either of tapestry or embroidery.

The Great Parlour. This was the dining room. It was furnished in 1633 with five chairs and a dozen stools. It's was used for 150 years until the early 1700's when money was short, and it was used for storage.

The chairs you can see in the photo are unmatched and have twist-turned legs and carvings incorporating crowns - typical of the Restoration period (c1660) and originally had caned seats.

However, not that poor, as the National Trust say that the tapestry is from about 1730, from the workshop of Guilem Werners in Lille, and it shows a musical party in a garden. It would have been expensive in it's day, and was probably acquired by John Henry Whitmore-Jones who records buying tapestries in his diary.

In that 1633 inventory, this bed chamber is called "Mr Fettyplace his Chamber". Once the family was established at Chastleton, the Jones' sought to marry into the leading gentry in the neighbouring counties. Henry married Anne Fettiplace in 1609, when the house was still under construction. Anne's coat of arms is in the overmantel. It was very colourful when new. The bed was hung with striped needlework combined with taffeta curtains and there were chairs and stools covered with needlework, cloths to the tables and the court cupboard and freshly coloured tapestries.
The three panels you can just see above are from a set depicting The Story of Jacob (Genesis, xxxiii) and were woven in Flanders around 1600.

Next to this room is a small closet called The Fettiplace Closet. It has one small window as well as the door into the above chamber.

It is entirely hung with flamestitch hangings from the early seventeenth century. The whole is made up of several different sized panels, and could possibly have been a set of bed hangings. It has 12 colours which are sewn onto a jute backing.

 The Sheldon Room. This room was the most expensively decorated of all the bedchambers.  The field bed was furnished in taffeta  and there were rich coverings for the chairs, stools and court cupboard.

The modern gloss paint disguises the original striking interior. You can just see the chimneypiece which has inset marble and touchstone, with painted marbling. This marbling scheme has been found on panels concealed behind one of the tapestries.

The White Parlour. This was a daytime room where guests were received.

The early history of the house and that chap called Catesby.

The name Chastleton is Saxon in origin, and the last bit is easy as tun means town, or habitation enclosed by a fence. The second bit probably means a heap of stones or cairn from the Saxon word ceastel.  It's really near to the Rollright Stones which we always visit when in the area. (nb when we visited this time, we were unintentionally entertained by a very handsome young man wearing heaps of bangles and a cheesecloth shirt, who was walking round and round the stones invoking the gods to do something. Sorry, I couldn't hear what exactly, but it involved flinging dirt around a fair bit and "omm"-ing with his eyes closed and head cast upwards to the heavens.)

Sorry, I diverted. Although the current house was built in1607, there is evidence of an earlier occupation. In 777, when Offa, the great King of Mercia made a grant of land to the Benedictine abbey of Evesham, the gift included property at Chastleton.

Immediately before the Norman conquest, it was held by Edwin, Earl of Mercia (grandson of Lady Godiva). Its history is long and complicated being owned at various times by Odo Bishop of Bayeux, and Thomas Chaucer (son of the poet). It continued to be handed on by family until we come to the slightly more interesting owners, the Catesbys.

Left: the conspirators of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, which was masterminded by Robert Catesby.

There was a long lineage of Catesbys at Chastleton, and we join them when the newly widowed Catherine married Anthony Throckmorton from Coughton in Warwickshire. (somewhere local to me that I've posted about before; the link is to the website for the house)

Their grandson was Robert Catesby, the charismatic leader of the conspirators who took part in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 against James 1 and the House of Lords. He was devoutly Roman Catholic, despite by law, being baptised as an Anglican. In 1601 he took up residence in Chastleton and whilst there was fined £2,666 13s 4d for his part in the rebellion of the Earl of Essex.. An unbelievable amount, and as a result he was mortgaged to the hilt, and the family never recovered financially.

If you believe in the survival of the fittest, you can see why Darwin might have had a point when it comes to Catesby.  Perhaps not the brightest in the bunch? After the Gunpowder Plot failed, Catesby fled north with the remaining store of gunpowder.

He went to Holbeach in Staffordshire, but unfortunately, on the way, the gunpowder got damp.  So what did he do when he got there? He put it in front of the fire to dry. A "Doh" moment I think. It exploded of course, killing quite a few inhabitants.

Catesby himself was killed resisting arrest, by the sheriff of Worcestershire, thus ending his family's connection with Chastleton.

There is a much longer and involved history of the house of course, but forgive me for picking out some of the more interesting bits! 


  1. Thank you for sharing all these wonderful details and photos and histories- it really is so nice to see these fascinating outings.