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Thornbury Castle


Thornbury Castle has the remains of an elaborate Tudor garden on an earlier site. There is formal planting from the time of Henry VIII. There are 16th-century bee-holes, an 18th-century ha-ha, specimen cedars and sequoia. There are also yew topiary hedges and an arbour. Lawns and flower beds are enclosed by castellated walls. There is an Armillary sundial and a recent vineyard. The garden enclosures extend to around 2 hectares. The building is now a hotel, but is not open to the public in the general sense. This record was checked with South Gloucestershire Historic Monument Records Officer - June 2010.


The site is located on the flat plain between the Cotswolds and the Severn.
The approach to the castle from the main entrance is through the outer courtyard, which is now partly used as a vineyard. The south-west facing frontage of the main building is situated on either side of an archway leading into the inner courtyard. This is bounded by buildings on the north-west, south-west and south-east sides, facing inwards onto a plain grassed area. Mounting steps are positioned to the side of the hotel entrance in the south-east block of the building.

The north-east part of the site consists of open lawns with a boundary of trees and also some individual tree plantings. The south-east aspect of the existing residence overlooks the inner garden of lawns, one of which is octagonal. This inner garden is separated from the eastern area of the garden by castellated yew hedges. Beyond these are further lawns and flowerbeds. The whole garden area is surrounded by castellated walls some 4.5 - 6 metres in height.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):

The surviving landscape at Thornbury Castle, comprising the walled gardens and the inner and outer courts, laid out in the early C16, with much later re-modelling.


Early-C16 pleasure garden and castle grounds, re-designed in the latter part of the C19, probably in conjuction with Anthony Salvin's restoration and remodelling of the castle buildings circa 1854.


Thornbury Castle is located on the north-western edge of the market town of Thornbury on the flat plain between the Cotswolds and the Severn. The park is now reduced to the area bounded by the unfinished ranges of the castle (listed at Grade I) to the west and north sides of the outer court (a ha-ha runs parallel to the western half of the north curtain wall) and by the garden walls (listed at Grade I) and churchyard walls to the south and south-east. To the north-east the garden is separated from the grounds of Sheiling School by a screen.


The castle is approached from a northward continuation of Castle Street, Thornbury, which turns sharply to the east, 100m south of the castle, to run along the south wall of the churchyard. A short drive of some 100m leads north from the bend, past the Tudor Gothic-style West Lodge (1855, listed Grade II), and past a line of four C19 lime trees into the base or outer court, to the west of the castle's west front. The arms of the Howard family are carved above a pedestrian door in the gateway. The drive runs east through a central gatehouse in the castle's west front to the inner court, enclosed by buildings on three sides but open to the east; the inner court has a central lawn.

A drive, announced by the East Lodge (1855, listed Grade II) in the same Tudor Gothic style as the West Lodge, enters the site at the south-east corner of the walled garden and leads round the east and north walls of the garden into the inner court.


Thornbury Castle, listed at Grade I, a fortified house or castle, the principal part of which was built between circa 1511 and 1521 for Edward, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, with C19 restoration and alterations by Anthony Salvin, and C20 alterations The buildings, of Cotswold stone ashlar, comprise an inner court with a ruined outer court to the west (listed separately at Grade I). The inner court is entered through a gatehouse at the centre of the western range; the intended symmetrical composition of this range was left uncompleted at two storeys, only one of the intended four large polygonal towers being built to full height, with heavy machicolation but no crenellation. The gatehouse carries a long inscription, announcing the date the building was begun, and the identity of the builder. Within the inner court, the south range originally contained the principal state rooms and private chambers, whilst in the north range were kitchens and additional lodgings; the earlier eastern range which once closed the inner court has been demolished. The south-facing elevation of the south range, overlooking the privy garden, is the castle's architectural showpiece, and contains spectacular double-height compass windows with elaborate geometrical profiles, designed to light the Duke's and Duchess's apartments. The decoration of the south and west ranges includes lavish use of heraldic emblems, including the Stafford knot. The south range retains two red brick of complex design.


The gardens at Thornbury Castle comprise an outer court to the west of the castle, an inner court, and the walled garden to the south and south-east of the castle buildings. A scattering of C19 parkland trees survives in the parkland still owned by the castle (Wellingtonia, horse chestnut, sycamore, walnut).

The outer court is the entrance forecourt to the castle. It is enclosed by roofless ranges to the north and west (c 1511-21, listed Grade I), and the castle buildings to the east, with a low stone wall defining the boundary with the churchyard, and contains a lawn with a late-C20 vineyard planted on the west side. In the south-west corner, abutting the West Lodge, is a small Howard family graveyard established in the later C19.

The inner court is grassed; to the east of the castle buildings is an open area with a central lawn, five Robinia pseudoacacia trees, and a number of small conifers in front of a line of Leyland cypress trees forming a screen on the eastern side of the castle grounds.

The pleasure garden is enclosed by rubble walls, approximately 4-5 metres high - the eastern portion being lower - with an embattled parapet (circa 1511-21, listed Grade I), and with oriel windows and door openings on to the churchyard. The garden is in two halves - east and west - with contrasting designs. These were formerly divided by one range of the two-storey timber gallery which surrounded the western half, and provided direct access from the apartments in the south range, through the south wall, and across the churchyard to the ducal pew at the east end of the church. This gallery apppears to have been removed by 1732. The western part of the garden, known as the privy garden, immediately below the south-facing windows of the castle, now comprises mown lawns and stone-edged gravel paths around an octagonal lawn with a sundial at its centre, with herbaceous plants and climbers on the castle walls. An area of symmetrical bedding at the centre of the privy garden, and a fountain in a stone-edged octagonal basin close to the ground-floor windows of the castle, shown in the Country Life article of 1907, have been removed.

The eastern portion of the garden, known as the goodly garden, has three subdivisions, created in the mid-C19. To the west are two small rose gardens, enclosed by substantial crenellated yew hedges, with paved paths north and south of an axial east/west path. The north rose garden has a post-1921 shelter in an Arts and Crafts style against the wall, on a site occupied by the greenhouses in the C19, while the south rose garden has a statue of St James at its centre. At the eastern end of the walled enclosure is an area of open lawn with gravel paths; there are herbaceous borders against the garden walls. Bee-boles are located approximately 1 metre above ground level and 4 metres apart in the walls in this area. At the centre of the eastern wall is a bench framed by a tower of yew. At the southern end of this wall is a doorway, leading to the area once occupied by orchard.

Selected Sources

Book Reference - Author: Hearne, T - Title: The Itinerary of John Leland - Date: 1769 - Page References: 658-61 - Type: DESC TEXT

Book Reference - Author: Howard, M - Title: The Early Tudor Country House: 1490-1550 - Date: 1987 - Page References: 88-90 - Type: DESC TEXT

Book Reference - Author: Strong, R. - Title: The Renaissance Garden in England - Date: 1979 - Type: DESC TEXT

Map Reference - Author: Ordnance Survey - Title: Ordnance Survey Map - Date: 1881 - Type: MAP

Book Reference - Author: Bell R - Title: Bath Archaeological Trust: Thornbury Castle A Report On The Trial Excavations In The Privy Garden - Date: 1992

Book Reference - Author: Verey, D and Brooks, A - Title: Buildings of England Gloucestershire II: The Vale and the Forest of Dean - Date: 2002 - Page References: 752-5

Article Reference - Author: Hawkyard, A D K - Title: Thornbury Castle - Date: 1977 - Journal Title: Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society - Page References: 51-8

Other Reference - Author: Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, vol 3: 1519-1523 - Title: 1867 - Date: 485-516

Book Reference - Author: Pugin, AC, Pugin, A W N, Willson E J - Title: Examples of Gothic Architecture, Second Series - Date: 1836 - Page References: 28-38

Article Reference - Author: Avray Tipping, H - Title: Thornbury Castle - Date: 16 November 1907 - Journal Title: Country Life - Page References: 702-12

Book Reference - Author: Emery, A - Title: Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales 1300-1500. Vol 3: Southern England - Date: 2006 - Page References: 183-9

Book Reference - Author: Buck, S and N - Title: 'The South View of Thornbury Castle, in the County of Gloucester' in Buck's Antiquities: Views of the Ruins of the Most Noted Abbeys and Castles in Great Britain and Wales, 4 vols - Date: 1720-42

Book Reference - Author: Smith, Lucy Toulmin - Title: The Itinerary of John Leland, 1535-43 - Date: 1910 - Page References: 100

Book Reference - Author: Tipping, A - Title: English Gardens - Date: 1925 - Page References: 337-42

Book Reference - Author: Mowl, T - Title: Historic Gardens of Gloucestershire - Date: 2002 - Page References: 15-20

Map Reference - Author: Ordnance Survey - Title: Ordnance Survey Map - Date: 1921 - Type: MAP

Reasons for Designation

The landscape of Thornbury Castle is designated at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

* Historical interest: the surviving landscape forms part of the complex created from 1511 for Edward Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, which remained unfinished at his execution for treason in 1521; the site as a whole is recognised as being one of finest examples of Tudor domestic architecture in the country;

* Design interest: the enclosure to the south and south-east of the site survives as an important example of a Tudor walled garden, whilst there is both documentary and physical evidence for the unusual cloister which once surrounded the privy garden, linking the house with the adjacent church;

* Group value: the landscape has a strong relationship with the upstanding castle buildings and garden walls, listed at Grade I, and with the scheduled remains of the medieval manor house and privy garden, as well as with the two Grade II-listed lodges and the Church of St Mary the Virgin, listed at Grade I.

Date first registered: 30-Apr-1987

Date of most recent amendment: 10-Jul-2013

Visitor Access, Directions & Contacts

The earliest accounts of Thornbury date from 925, when it was owned by Aulwood. His grandson, Berthwick, suceeded to the property but lost it, apparently as a consequence of spurning the lady Matilda, who later married William of Normandy.

Following Matilda's death William took over the property, which was granted to Robert Fitzhamon in 1087. It passed through 28 generations to William Stafford Howard, Earl of Stafford. In 1508 the then Duke of Buckingham was granted a licence to castellate the existing manor, and work began on the present castle. Building continued until 1521 when the Duke was executed.

One of the features incorporated during this period was a series of cloisters superimposed by galleries set against the south-west and south-east walls of the inner garden. The cloisters and galleries were constructed of timber with slate roofs. This allowed the users a comfortable view of the inner 'privvy' garden, a further 'goodly gardeyn to walk ynne' to the east, the outer courtyard and the adjoining churchyard.

From the south-east wall of the inner garden a further cloister and gallery was built across the churchyard to the north-east corner of St. Mary's church, where a room was prepared so that castle residents could observe the services whilst in well-furnished and heated accommodation. In addition to this, a further set of cloisters and galleries was constructed, returning from the south-east wall to the north-east end of the main castle. These features are no longer extant.

In 1720 a roof was built over the tower on the south side of the gatehouse, which was to be occupied by a steward. A portion of the south side was restored and roofed over in 1850. This work was supervised by the architect Anthony Salvin.

The main building is now an hotel. The castle, outbuildings, ruined walls and gardens are all well maintained.

The following is from the Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest. For the most up-to-date Register entry, please visit the The National Heritage List for England (NHLE):


In 1066 it was recorded that the manor of Thornbury was held by Beorhtric, son of Aelfgar, although by Domesday it was in the hands of King William. The manor has changed hands many times during its history, being held by the Crown at intervals. In the C12 and C13, it was part of the earldom of Gloucester; the de Clare family was responsible for the foundation of the borough of Thornbury in 1243, to the south of the church and manor house. A major fire in 1236 destroyed the manor house, following which Henry III ordered that the Constable of St Briavels supply 20 oak trees from the Forest of Dean for its rebuilding. The house came to Hugh Audley on his marriage to Margaret de Clare in 1317, passing to Audley's son-in-law, Ralph Stafford, in 1347. It is understood that a licence to crenellate was granted in the C14, and early-C14 and C15 financial accounts provide evidence for an extensive complex in which an inner court, entered through a central gate, gave access to a hall, orientated north to south, with kitchen offices to the west and a chapel, begun in 1340 and completed in 1435, to the east of the hall. Accounts also record an outer courtyard containing a range of service buildings.

The manor house was forfeited at the execution for treason of Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, following the Rebellion of 1483, but was restored to the family and inherited by his son Edward, 3rd Duke, in 1498, who made it his principal seat. Plans were laid for the creation of an ambitious fortified house and a licence to fortify, crenellate, and embattle the manor house was granted in 1510. With the hall and chapel of the existing manor house forming the east range of an inner courtyard, Buckingham set about building an elaborate palace-castle, which demonstrated the involvement of masons of the highest quality, and was apparently modelled on Richmond Palace, at that time England's most splendid royal residence. To complement his bold plans for the castle, Buckingham enclosed some thousand acres including not only the Newe Parke north of the castle, but two further adjacent parks, Marlwood and Eastwood, as well as a coneygar; the 1521 inventory recorded 1500 head of deer in the three parks. In 1514 the Duke obtained a licence to found a college of priests attached to the adjacent parish church of St Mary; the project was not realised.

Thornbury Castle's pleasure gardens lay to the south and south-east of the castle, surrounded by a high stone wall. In the survey made in 1521 (see below) the entire enclosure was referred to as the 'privy garden', whilst the area immediately to the south of Buckingham's principal range of apartments was described as a 'proper garden', but in a late-C16 inventory of the estate this area is identified as the privy garden, the name it retains to this day. There is both physical and documentary evidence that a two-storey timber gallery, roofed with slate, enclosed the privy garden, entered from the apartments; such galleries had featured in the gardens at Richmond. On the south side of the garden, the gallery gave access to a raised walkway crossing the adjacent churchyard, and leading directly to the ducal pew (now lost) at the east end of the church (the church is listed at Grade I). C16 tiles have been found in the north-east corner of the privy garden, and it has been suggested that these may have lined the walkways, though they are more likely to be associated with the demolished Duke of Bedford's apartments in this area. The eastern portion of the walled garden enclosure was described in the 1521 survey as being 'a goodly garden to walk in', and is known as the 'goodly garden' today; this area originally communicated with a large orchard, to the east.

Edward, Duke of Buckingham, was executed on the orders of Henry VIII following an investigation for treason in 1521 - the Duke's ostentatious behaviour and wealth, as evidenced by his lavish building programme, having exacerbated the suspicion with which he was viewed - and the estate was confiscated, remaining in Crown ownership until 1554. Henry sent surveyors to make a record of his new acquisition shortly after Buckingham's death, and their account provides a detailed description of the castle and estate. Although works were not recommenced, the buildings were maintained and periodically used; Princess Mary visited during the 1520s, and Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn stopped on a royal progress in 1535. Thornbury Castle was restored to the Staffords in 1554 when it was granted to Buckingham's son, Lord Henry Stafford, by Queen Mary. The upkeep of the castle proved too expensive, however, and it fell into ruin, eventually coming into the ownership of a branch of the Howard family in 1637 and remaining in their hands until the 1960s.

The east range, comprising the original medieval hall and chapel, was demolished at some point before 1732. No pictorial representations survive of the range, which is described in the late-C16 inventory; archaeological investigation has demonstrated the survival of this part of the castle as a buried feature. Although part of the castle - principally the section of the west range to the south of the gatehouse - served as lodgings and a farmhouse in the C18 and early C19, much of the building was ruinous, and it was not until the C19 that it was brought back into use as a high-status residence. In 1849 Henry Howard commissioned Anthony Salvin to restore the castle for his private accommodation. The gardens were re-designed in a C19 interpretation of Tudor style, and this forms the basis of the garden's current appearance. The C19 garden appears to have been laid out on an accumulation of top soil and other material circa 0.8-1m above the earlier garden level. The castle is now (2013) a hotel and restaurant. Trial excavations in 1992 led to the conclusion that there is a strong possibility the early-C16 garden survives largely intact.

In 1679 part of the park immediately to the north of the castle was sold to form a separate estate known by 1775 as Thornbury Park; the present neoclassical house (1832-6, listed Grade II) is now occupied by Sheiling School, Camphill Community, with additional late-C20 residential units to the east of the castle. To the west of the west curtain wall, and outside the registered site, is an area known as the Pithay, now an area of rough grazing. Its historic development is uncertain although 'the Pitties' is referred to in an inventory of 1521 by the Crown Commissioners. Although backfilled with large amounts of building rubble in the 1970s, it was evidently the site of extensive quarrying and excavation, and was possibly the site of part of an abortive scheme by the Duke of Buckingham to cut a canal from the castle to the River Severn to the west. To the south of the castle is the church of St Mary, listed at Grade I. The origins of the church lie in the C12 or earlier, but the building is predominantly C15, with later additions and restoration. The fabric incorporates examples of the Stafford knot, as found in the castle building, and it has been suggested that the tower's openwork crown belongs to the first part of the C15, but there is currently no evidence that the church's surviving fabric contains work directly associated with the 3rd Duke of Buckingham.


Tudor (1485-1603)

Associated People
Features & Designations


  • Conservation Area

  • Reference: Thornbury
  • The National Heritage List for England: Register of Parks and Gardens

  • Reference: GD1557
  • Grade: II
  • The National Heritage List for England: Listed Building

  • Reference: Thornbury Castle
  • Grade: I




  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: The castle was built for the Duke of Buckingham and restored by Anthony Salvin (1850).
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  • Castle (featured building)
  • Description: The castle was built for the Duke of Buckingham and restored by Anthony Salvin (1849-54).
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  • Ha-ha
  • Description: The ha-ha lies just outside the boundary of the north-west corner of the outer castle walls. The feature is stone-faced on the castle side and has a short steep slope towards the north-west. The total length is some 140 metres, commencing at an entrance and continuing to the west. The evidence of certain nearby tree plantings - sequoia and cedars, indicates that the ha-ha is probably of 18th century date.
  • Earliest Date:
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  • Specimen Tree
  • Description: Cedars and sequoias.
  • Bee Bole
  • Description: The bee boles measure some 53 cm high by 30-35 cm wide and 45 cm deep. They served as protected recesses into which straw 'skips' could be placed on a stone or slate base. The 'skips' had to be replaced each time the honeycomb was removed. The bee boles have subsequently been filled in with stone and brick rubble. There are 10 examples on the inner side of the north wall, 12 in the east wall and only 4 visible in the south wall.
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  • Topiary
  • Description: The enclosed garden is dominated by large, mature yew hedges cut into castellated form. These are shown in the 1907 photograph in Country Life Magazine. A large central yew arbour shown in these photographs no longer exists.
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  • Arbour
  • Description: A yew arbour is situated against the inner side of the north-east garden wall.
  • Lawn
  • Description: There is an octagonal lawn.
  • Flower Bed
  • Description: The flower beds are enclosed by castellated walls.
  • Armillary Sphere
  • Description: The incomplete armillary sundial is situated in the centre of the octagonal lawn of the inner garden. The base plinth on which the sundial pedestal stands carries inscriptions in Greek, Latin, French and Italian. The inscriptions are damaged and not legible.
  • Planting
  • Description: There is a vineyard of recent origin in the outer courtyard.
  • Entrance
  • Description: The main building and garden precincts are entered through an archway block or gatehouse.
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  • Garden Feature
  • Description: There is a mounting block on the south side of the inner courtyard by the side of the hotel entrance. Its date is unknown.
  • Planter
  • Description: This planter is a complete millstone unit (grinder or 'runner stone' and base or 'bed stone'). It is placed at the centre of the inner courtyard lawn.
Key Information





Principal Building



Tudor (1485-1603)





Open to the public


Civil Parish





  • Avon Gardens Trust

  • W.A. Alan Barnard