5th Jul, 2022

Exhibition to shed light on the fascinating 900-year history of Coventry's Caludon Castle

A FASCINATING exhibition at Coventry’s Herbert Art Gallery and Museum will feature a treasure trove of precious medieval documents charting the 900-year history of the city’s Caludon Castle.

The Coventry Archive: Caludon Castle starts tomorrow, is free to view until May 21 and is part of the final months of the UK City of Culture year.

The priceless deeds and documents chronicle the rise and fall of the enigmatic castle, giving visitors a unique insight into the history of the Lords of the Manor of Caludon, who were among England’s richest and most powerful noblemen. It includes papers bearing the royal seals of King Edward I and Elizabeth I and the original licence to crenellate a castle at Caludon granted by Edward I in 1305.

The ‘Papers’ have been meticulously cared for and safeguarded by the present Lord Clifford of Chudleigh and his ancestors at the family seat in the Muniments Room at Ugbrooke, Devon, for the past 250 years. The family owned Caludon as Lords of the Manor in the 18th and mid-19th centuries.

Lord Clifford decided that Coventry’s year of culture was a perfect opportunity to share the collection and agreed on a loan period with the Herbert Museum, having been persuaded by his friend Coventry-born John Clarke, OBE, Chief Executive of Century PR and a former chairman of Coventry City FC.

Now the papers, mainly in vellum, a material made from animal hides, are back in the heart of Coventry together with stunning artists’ impressions of how the building looked in its heyday and a specially commissioned scale model as it was in 1595.

Victoria Northridge, archives manager at the Herbert, said: “Coventry Archives is thankful to Lord Clifford, his son Alexander and the Ugbrooke Estate that the Caludon Castle collection is currently situated within Coventry so everyone can learn about its fascinating history.”

Sadly, the main building of the once-glorious moated castle has long since lost its battle with the ravages of time.

Only a section of the 8ft thick sandstone wall, which was part of the Great Chambers for Lords and Ladies overlooking the lake north of the castle, today stands defiantly in Caludon Park, Wyken. It is a prized and protected Grade I listed monument but only a shadow of its former majesty as once the only nobleman’s residence in the Coventry area.

The original moat, now dry, still exists today 100 yards north of the castle site.

That lack of a strong physical presence may explain the castle’s relatively low public profile.

Ironically, it has provided fertile ground for widespread myths, the most far-fetched being that it was the birthplace of St George, patron saint of England and fabled slayer of dragons.

The exhibition is an ambition realised for John Clarke, who grew up a goal-kick away from Caludon Park. The evocative ruins sparked a lifelong passion to promote the real story of the castle’s importance to the city’s heritage.

In 2014, he commissioned and published A History of Caludon Castle, the Lords of the Manor of Caludon, regarded as the most comprehensive account of its colourful history and hailed as an ‘academic research’.

How the exhibition came about…..

John first met Lord Clifford while researching the book with its editor, George Demidowicz, and planted the seed of an idea for a public exhibition, paving the way for meetings with the Herbert that culminated in agreement for a loan of the exhibits.

He hopes the people of Coventry, given the chance to see for themselves evidence of its colourful history, will be fired by the same enthusiasm he has for an overlooked jewel in the city’s historic crown.

John said: “It gives Coventry a fantastic chance to learn more about Caludon’s colourful history.

“I am particularly excited as it will allow everyone – whether history buffs or schoolchildren – an opportunity to see the original medieval records, many in Latin or Old English script.

“They can also view a scale model of the castle at its zenith in the late 16th century thanks to Peter Garbett who I commissioned last year to create the first ever model of Caludon.

“Caludon’s owners, as Lords of the Manor, included some of the most powerful families in the land, many with strong royal and military links.

“Their influence went far beyond the royal palaces and battlefields. There are Caludon connections to literary giants like Shakespeare and Thomas Malory and royalty including King Henry Vlll and Queen Elizabeth I.

“This is a unique, priceless collection of centuries -old documents that have never been shown in public before. Caludon has been a mysterious, romantic ruin for more than 200 years and now its colourful, rich tapestry of history is being unveiled for the first time.”

Coventry Archives: Caludon Castle will be available to view on Wednesdays, Fridays and alternate Saturdays from 10.30am to 3.30pm.

Caludon Castle – 10 fascinating facts.

1. Caludon Castle started life in the early 1200s as a wooden manor house surrounded by a moat. The lands around were originally owned by Earl Leofric and Lady Godiva. The original moat, now dry, still exists today 100 yards north of the castle site.

2. One of the first Lords of Caludon, Sir John de Segrave, was the King’s Lieutenant in Scotland and was responsible for hunting down and sentencing the Scottish rebel William Wallace (of Braveheart film fame) who he decreed to be ‘hung, drawn and quartered’. The body parts were dispersed to different parts of the country.

3. Caludon Castle and the manor of Caludon was once owned by the powerful Mowbray family, Dukes of Norfolk and Earl Marshalls of England. Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk and Lord of Caludon, was famous for the aborted Battle of Gosford Green in Coventry, featured in the first chapter of Richard II by William Shakespeare.

4. Caludon’s royal connections were very strong. Lord Henry Berkeley, Lord of Caludon, was the Godson of King Henry VIII and his son, Lord George Berkeley, the Godson of ‘Queen Bess’, Elizabeth I. Lord Henry, whose family also owned Berkeley Castle, died aged 80 of salmonella after eating a custard tart at Caludon.

5. Shakespeare is believed to have based his famous play, The Taming of the Shrew, on the lives of Lord Henry and Lady Katherine Berkeley, the Lord and Lady of Caludon. The couple were passionate about hunting.

6. Thomas Malory, author of Le Morte D’Arthur, the famous book about the legend of King Arthur was responsible for attacking Caludon Manor in 1451, killing deer and causing over £500 worth of damage, a fortune in mediaeval times.

7. Although by local legend St George was said to have been born at Caludon, most scholars believe if he existed at all he was born in Cappadocia, Turkey or Lydda in Palestine.

8. The British Library contains a reference to the well documented claim that Shakespeare wrote and first performed one of his most famous plays ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for an ‘aristocratic wedding’ – believed to be the wedding of Thomas Berkeley (son of Lord Henry Berkeley Lord of Caludon) to Elizabeth Carey daughter of George Lord Hunsdon Patron of Shakespeare ‘s Company, The Lord Chamberlain’s Men.

9. For many years historians and local people have been convinced that the castle at Caludon was besieged and destroyed in the English Civil War. However recently discovered records show that the castle existed in its entirety well beyond the Civil War until the 1800s.

10. An iron coffin with the remains of a knight in armour was once unearthed near to the castle and below the farmhouse called Caludon House.

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