Down a lane in deepest, darkest Shropshire lie the peaceful remains of Acton Burnell Castle. I hadn’t actually intended on visiting them that Friday morning a few weeks ago, but upon discovering my intended destination was closed to visitors for the day, I navigated the Shropshire lanes and found Acton Burnell Castle.
As with nearby Stokesay Castle, Acton Burnell Castle isn’t really a castle, it’s a fortified manor house. In 1284, Robert Burnell obtained a license from King Edward I to fortify his house, although the large windows on the first floor mean the fortification was more than likely there to impress rather than as means of defence. Robert Burnell was an important man within the royal service. He began as a clerk to Edward I whilst Edward was still a prince, then became Chancellor of England and Bishop of Bath and Wells. Edward I had wanted Robert Burnell to become Archbishop of Canterbury, but this wasn’t to be (most likely because Robert Burnell kept a mistress who was rumoured to have bore a number of children).
Acton Burnell Castle is of national historical significance. In 1283, Edward I held a parliament there in the tithe barn. It is thought that this parliament was the first at which commoners were represented. The gable ends of the tithe barn still stand, but they now sit within the grounds of Acton Burnell Hall (now home to Concord College) which was built next to the castle in the 18th century.
The castle was abandoned by 1420, although a roof was added to the south-west tower in the 18th century to convert it into a dovecote. It is now in the care of English Heritage.
Much of the outer walls of Acton Burnell Castle still survive, giving visitors a good idea of what it looked like when it was a fully functioning home. It really is just a shell though, so imagination is needed once inside.
Despite being deep in Shropshire countryside, Acton Burnell Castle is fairly well signposted from the A49 between Church Stretton and Shrewsbury. Although, finding your way out of the network of lanes may prove to be not so easy if you decide to go elsewhere afterwards.
Entry to Acton Burnell Castle is free for everyone. There is a small parking area with room for about 5 cars and access is via a gate leading to a short path through a wooded area to the castle itself. Dogs on leads are welcome and there is plenty of grass to sit on should you wish to take a picnic. Acton Burnell Castle is open during reasonable daylight hours, however, the college closes the gates to the access road at dusk.
To make a day of it, I would recommend also visiting the small market towns of Church Stretton and Ludlow, and dropping in on Stokesay Castle whilst travelling between the two towns. Or, if you’d prefer to travel north, try the county town of Shrewsbury and nearby Attingham Park.