The Castle at Elmley
with David Phillips
A large audience was present to hear David Phillips present a talk to the Vale of Evesham Historical Society on the history of Elmley castle, not the village itself, but the Norman castle that once existed there and of which very little now remains.
The castle was built shortly after the Norman Conquest by Robert d’Abitot, younger brother of Urse d’Abitot, appointed Sheriff of Worcestershire by William the Conqueror, who had his own castle at Worcester. Robert was given the manor of Cropthorne, which extended from the top of Bredon Hill through Elmley and other villages to the current village of Cropthorne. What might be regarded as Elmley Castle’s golden age began when Robert died without an heir and Urse, inheriting from his brother, moved the administrative centre of the county to Elmley.
Ownership of the castle passed to the Beauchamp family in the 12th century when Urse’s daughter Emmaline married the wealthy Walter Beauchamp. The Beauchamps resided in Caversham, near Reading and Elmley might have fallen into decline but for the onset of the so-called “Anarchy”, the civil war between Henry I’s daughter Matilda and Stephen of Blois, her cousin, who fought for the throne of England. Walter’s successor supported Matilda and thought it politic to remove from eastern England which supported Stephen, back to Elmley.
Matilda’s son succeeded as Henry II, and the Beauchamps were back in royal favour. Saved once again, by the death of King John, from punishment for having sided with the barons who forced him to sign Magna Carta, the family gave their support to Henry III (John’s son). Among the signs of royal favour bestowed over the years by Henry on the Beauchamps were permission to hold a market at Elmley every Thursday and to hold an annual fair on 10/11 August. The king also supplied deer for the park at the castle.
The irresistible rise of the family to become one of the most powerful in the land led to the final decline of the castle at Elmley. In 1269, the Beauchamp of the time, who had become Earl of Warwick, chose to move the family seat to that town. His younger brother chose to move out of the castle and live in the village. The castle was left to decay and never really recovered its former glory.
After the Beauchamps supported Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, the new Tudor king Henry VII confiscated all their lands, and Elmley passed into the hands of the Savage family, whose tombs can be seen in the church and churchyard. The Savages also chose to live in the village, and when the traveller and writer John Leland passed through in 1535 he recorded that very little of the castle remained. (He actually saw a cart carrying stone from the castle to repair the bridge at Pershore.)
The work of demolition of Elmley Castle was completed during the Civil War. If you visit Pershore Abbey and look at the stained glass windows, you can see in one of the sections the disastrous collapse of the central part of Pershore Bridge as it was being demolished by Royalist soldiers More stone from the castle was used to repair the bridge.
Virtually nothing of the castle remains nowadays, although the Iron Age ditch and bank within which it was built have withstood the passage of time.