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A History of Caludon Castle; The Lords of the Manor of Caludon

Publisher: John Edwards Clarke OBE, Author and Editor George Demidowitz; Co-author: Stephen Johnson. £24.95.218 pages. Available from the Herbert Gallery.

One of Coventry’s most important medieval sites has until now lacked a serious historical appraisal. Caludon Castle was in the late 16th Century one of the most important buildings in the Midlands, but all that remains is a single stretch of wall and numerous myths and fantasies.

The book is the result of a life time interest by local lad John Clarke. He grew up in the shadow of the castle and attended Caludon Castle School. He started work on the book at the age of 16 and it became a long-term ambition of his to produce a scholarly work about the castle. John is well known in the city for his charity work and local community activity. Much of the scholarly quality of the book is due to the input of George Demidowitz, the city’s former Conservation Officer who is the main researcher, author and editor of the book.

Although the land that formed the Caludon Estate was held by Lady Godiva before the Norman Conquest, the first mention of the manor of Caludon was in 1190 – 1200, when it was described as an enclosed deer park, carved out of the wastes, scrub and common grazing land by Stephen de Seagrave, a knight of the King’s court.

The book describes the history of the “Castle” from its origin as a hunting lodge in the 13th Century on a site uphill from the existing remains. Caludon means bare hill in Old English and the estate is mentioned several centuries before the buildings are. The only remains of the original building are now an overgrown moat. At the time of the first building the Caludon brook was dammed to create a fishpond. The remains of the dam form the current access road to the park and the fish pond became the moat and lake for the new house. At times of severe wet weather in Wyken, the site of the moat and lake are still revealed in the flooding of the park.

In 1305 King Edward I granted a charter to John de Seagrave to crenelate his manor house at Caludon and it appears that this charter that led to the creation of the second house to the north of the original. The new site was twice the size of the former and enabled building on a much grander scale. It is postulated that the new development might have been modelled on nearby Kenilworth Castle, with its surrounding mere.

The description of Caludon as a castle is in somewhat misleading. It was never a castle in the sense of a fortress to keep out the enemy. There was no need for fortified castles in this era, but Lords and Barons liked to live in buildings which demonstrated their status, so moats and castellated structures were the fashion of the day. This was certainly the case at Caludon.

The Seagrave dynasty at Caludon was succeeded by the Mowbray’s from 1359. Thomas Mowbray was famous in English history for the dual by combat with Bolingbroke that was to have taken place on St. Lambert’s Day in 1398 on Gosford Green, as described in Shakespeare’s Richard II. Mowbray and his entourage lodged in Caludon Castle and Bolingbroke at Bagot’s Castle in Baginton. Both men arrived on the field of combat on their war horses resplendent in new armour and fine costumes, but King Richard stopped the conflict at the last moment and exiled both men, Mowbray for life.

The zenith of Caludon’s history was to come under the Berkeley dynasty between 1494 and 1631. The Berkeleys were one of the most noble families in the country and Berkeley Castle in Gloucestershire is today the repository of many of the archives of Caludon Castle. It was during this era that the buildings became the fine dwellings shown in the reconstructions by Peter Urmston shown on the covers of the book.

The book includes a chapter devoted to life at Caludon with the Berkeleys between 1592 – 1605, based on meticulous book-keeping. It describes a high life with performances by the most famous musicians of the day, feasts and festivals as well as more normal payments to the various members of staff at the hall and the donations to local charities. In all it is a magnificent description of medieval life in a small part of Coventry.

The book makes a good case for Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream being first performed at Caludon Castle, at the wedding of Lord Thomas Berkeley and Elizabeth Carey in 1595.

After the grandeur and cultural splendour of the Berkeleys the book charts the gradual decline of the buildings in the centuries that followed. It ceased to be the main family home of a noble family and was let to agricultural tenants by absent landlords, becoming an over-sized farmhouse with scattered holdings.

Contrary to the popular belief the castle was not destroyed during the Civil War, but declined through more normal processes of under-use, wear and tear and neglect. In recent memory some of the out-buildings remained as a farm house, finally demolished in 1967, but all that remains of the main moated house is a single stretch of wall. The heart of the estate, and co-coincidently the original deer park, became a Municipal Park, whilst the outlying fields were developed as housing in the inter-war years.

The book gives short shrift to the theory that St. George lived at Caludon. However it does give a creditable explanation of how that myth originated in Coventry’s medieval mystery plays performed by local guilds.

If you are interested in this important part of Coventry’s history, then this is a book well worth reading.

John Payne

1/5/2014

Reconstruction of Caludon Castle

Reconstruction of Caludon Castle

Caludon Castle today

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