Friday, 27 May 2016

Donnington Castle

Donnington Castle, Berkshire, England
Donnington Castle in West Berkshire. Henry VIII is reported to have stayed here in 1539 and Elizabeth I in 1568. 
There is just so much to see and do in our part of the world but there is not enough time to do everything. I do wish we get to visit a castle a week. Whenever we go on holiday, we consider becoming members of the National Trust to save money on entrance fees to historic sites and to avail of members’ benefits. But looking at it, it seems that visiting the sites will then be the only outing we can do every year to make the membership worthwhile. So to pay per visit is still the way to go.

But there are historic sites in the UK that you can enter for free. Like the charming Donnington Castle, located in Donnington, West Berkshire RG14 2LE. It is currently open till March 24 2017. It says on the website that it is open at “any reasonable time in daylight hours; exterior viewing only. Car park open 07:00 - 19:00” (although I think the car park closes earlier than this).

We packed a picnic, afterwards the children played whilst we enjoyed the sun and views. Little H was confident to crawl everywhere and attempted to climb the thick walls several times. He wasn’t intimidated by the grass unlike those times when I play with him in our garden – he would not leave one spot and sit on his bottom as though screaming for help (understandably so, as our grass badly needs trimming and the feel of it on one’s skin must really be scary for a baby). At Donnington, my daughter climbed up and down and jumped off the walls over and over; she could do this all day. It’s one of the few ways children of this generation get to play outdoors, and at least there are castles like Donnington that the public can still enjoy. Yes you are not allowed inside and again it’s about the preservation of the place. I remember my late father-in-law’s stories about Stonehenge not being a great deal when he was a little boy. They just ran around the stones and yes, that time, they could touch them. I suppose the area was cordoned off when visitors started vandalising the stones. When we were at Donnington, there was this family of four who kept trying to open the castle door. Maybe they didn’t know it was off-limits, I don’t know.

As a child, I wished for English castles and the countryside, and now that my daughter has exactly what I had wished for, somehow I regret that she doesn’t have my laid-back childhood. But then you just have to be grateful and make do of what you’ve got. She is indeed lucky to have these castle ruins as her playground.

I read about the history of Donnington Castle from their website http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/donnington-castle/history/

The manor of Donnington was held by the Abberbury family from 1287, and in 1386 Sir Richard Abberbury was granted a licence ‘to crenellate and fortify a castle at Donyngton, Berks’ by Richard II. Sir Richard had been a companion of Richard II’s father, Edward the Black Prince, at the battles of Crécy and Poitiers.

The castle consisted originally of a curtain wall with four round corner towers, two square wall towers and a substantial gatehouse, constructed around a courtyard in the style typical of the fortified residences of the period.

Accommodation was provided in the towers or in buildings within the courtyard, set against the castle walls. The courtyard buildings are likely to have been of timber construction and possibly included a hall, a kitchen and lodgings for guests.

In the early 15th century the castle was held by Thomas Chaucer, son of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, and later passed into the ownership of the Crown. Henry VIII is reported to have stayed here in 1539 and Elizabeth I in 1568.

The English Civil War

During the Civil War Charles I set up his headquarters in Oxford and in 1643 dispatched Sir John Boys, with 200 foot soldiers, 25 cavalry and sufficient cannon to resist a siege, to take possession of Donnington from the Parliamentarian John Packer.

Having taken the castle, Boys built defences around the lower slopes of the hill in the shape of a star, the projections providing sites for gun emplacements that gave a good field of fire.

Between 1644 and 1646 the castle was attacked many times, twice being relieved by the king in person. Only when the Royalist cause appeared hopeless did Boys surrender to the Parliamentarian troops, after first obtaining the king’s permission to do so.

Parliament voted to demolish the badly damaged castle in 1646 and only the gatehouse was left standing. This was restored to John Packer.

The building passed to the guardianship of the state in 1946.


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