History of Oswestry Castle
The Norman Motte and Bailey castle of Oswestry is mentioned in the Domesday book, so must pre-date 1086. Domesday records that it was built by Reginald de Bailleul, Sheriff of Shropshire, who held extensive lands here from Roger of Montgomery the Earl of Shrewsbury. Oswestry did not exist as a town at this time and the castle probably acted as a nucleus for its subsequent development from a number of small hamlets.
The castle is situated on a small steep-sided glacial mound which offers a commanding view of the Welsh hills to the West and the Shropshire plain to the East, which makes it an excellent defensive site with no need to build a Motte mound. The first castle here was probably a wooden structure, as most early castles were, and establishing when it was replaced in stone is a key ambition of the project.
The following 200 years were very turbulent times in the Welsh Marches. Disunity among the Welsh princes, and among the Marcher lords themselves, led to regular raiding and local wars, with some larger scale conflicts as a succession of Anglo-Norman Kings invaded Wales. Oswestry played an important role in some of these disturbances which led to the castle being attacked and the young town burned on a number of occasions. An indication of the relative importance of Oswestry castle is given by contemporary documents that record large sums of money spent on the castle during this period, including a larger than usual garrison. Castles were usually occupied by a small garrison and in times of conflict larger forces were drawn from feudal tenants in the vicinity. According to the Historian Frederick Suppe Oswestry had an unusual garrison of light cavalry known as ‘muntatores’ drawn from a much wider spread of tenancies, a system seemingly unique to the Shropshire’s Welsh border.
The castle, town and associated estates came under the ownership of the FitzAlan family in the 12th century, who developed these into the Marcher Lordship of Oswestry. Apart from a brief occupancy by Madoc ap Maredudd, Prince of Powys, the Lordship remain in the FitzAlan family until the mid 16th century. The castle must have been well appointed at this time as the Cleric and writer Gerald of Wales visited in 1188 as a guest of the FitzAlans and reports being ‘royally entertained’. The castle underwent some refortification the 13th century as part of Edward I’s war against the Welsh, but seems to have declined in military importance in the period of relative stability which followed. It still had an administrative function and was the scene of a Parliament held by Richard II in 1398, and was used to muster troops for wars in France in the 14th and 15th centuries. During the Civil War the castle was garrisoned by Royalist forces but was besieged and taken by the Parliamentarian forces in 1644. The town was badly damaged during the siege leading to the castle being used as a ready source of building materials, and a gradual demolition began. A survey of the castle commissioned in 1662 by the Earl of Suffolk records that timber, iron and lead, and much of the castle walls had been removed.
Little is known about the history of the castle mound for the next 200 years,
but in 1850 it was acquired by some local gentlemen and landscaped as a pleasure garden. The site was gifted to the Town Corporation in 1885, who undertook further landscaping for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations in 1887 and opened it as a public park. In the early 1960’s a plan was put forward to reduce the mound and build a car park, but this was withdrawn following a huge public outcry. The castle and mound now enjoy the protection of Scheduled Ancient Monument status, maintained by the Town Council, and is open without charge to the public.