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Moreton Corbet Castle, located in Shropshire, England, is quite possibly the furthest thing from an unassuming ruin. Even in its dilapidated form, this colossus of architecture oozes brilliance and grandeur.
It is thanks to Robert Corbet and his passion for continental classical architecture that the castle looks as it does today. In the course of his role as an overseas diplomat in the 16th century, Robert collected much inspiration for his ancestral home back in England. Upon the death of his father, Sir Andrew Corbet, in 1579, Robert immediately began an ambitious building project, altering and adding to the already much improved castle so as to create a “gorgeous and stately house” 1 that could rival the splendour of the manor homes he had encountered during his travels. Unfortunately, Robert died of the plague before the work could be finished. It fell to his brothers, Richard and Vincent, to complete his grand vision. 2
It was during the time of Vincent Corbet that a series of events occurred which would forever change the history of Moreton Corbet Castle, and give it its haunted reputation.
During the reign of King James I of England, there was much debate as the role of Puritans within the religious community. As James was both king and head of the Church of England, some Puritans’ views of Church government were considered a threat to the established system and James’ strong, personal belief in the divine right of kings. Whilst Puritans were generally accepted within society, with Puritans and Anglicans working together to produce the translation of the King James Bible in 1611, those who held more radical views were regarded as dangerous.
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In the village of Moreton Corbet, one such Puritan was Paul Holmyard. Although Vincent Corbet was not a Puritan himself, he offered sanctuary to his neighbour Holmyard as opinion in the village turned against the man. Unfortunately, Holmyard’s views became increasingly more fanatical. Fearing that he may become embroiled in radical Puritanism, Vincent felt he could no longer protect the man and told him to leave his property.
According to the legend, Holmyard survived for some time in the local woods, foraging for food, eating whatever he could. Eventually, gripped by desperation, he risked coming into the open and made his way back to the castle in order to confront his once-protector, Vincent Corbet. It is said that Holmyard cursed him and his family, declaring that neither he nor his descendants would ever live in the house again. 3
“Woe unto thee, hard hearted man, the lord has hardened thy heart as he hardened the heart of the Pharaoh, to thine own destruction.
“Rejoice not in thy riches, not in monuments of thy pride, for neither thou, nor thy children, nor thy children’s children shall inhabit these halls.
“They shall be given up to desolation; snakes, vipers and unclean beasts shall make it their refuge, and thy home shall be full of doleful creatures..”
– Paul Holmyard’s curse 4
It is claimed that the Puritan’s curse was fulfilled, with it being said that neither Vincent nor his son, Andrew, lived at the castle because they were too afraid of the curse. Future generations of the family did, however, live in the grand house. It was in the 18th century that the castle was eventually abandoned as a residence, with it becoming roofless soon afterwards. Today, the Corbet family still own the castle, although the site is managed by the charitable organisation English Heritage. 5
Holmyard’s curse supposedly had another affect on Moreton Corbet Castle. It is said that the curse forever bound his soul to the site. According to local folklore, on moonlit nights the spectral figure of Paul Holmyard can be seen wandering the castle’s empty walls – his way of making sure no one lives there and that his wish for “desolation” is fulfilled. 6
Visiting Moreton Corbet Castle, Shropshire, UK
It is easy to be impressed by Moreton Corbet Castle. Not only is the scale of this ruin tremendous, but its stateliness also. Standing in the centre of the site, looking up at its decaying walls, I was acutely aware that four and a half centuries had done little to dampen Robert Corbet’s artistic vision. Whilst legend states that the ghost of the Paul Holmyard stalks the crumbling castle, I would not be surprised if Robert Corbet’s spirit remains there also.
I was fortunate to be able to explore the ruined castle for some time. With no one else visiting when I did, I was able to soak up its atmosphere undisturbed.
I found that Robert’s manor had a different feeling to it than the curtain wall of the original castle. It was there, in the older part of the site, that the kitchen, with its huge brick chimney stack and ground-floor larder, would have been housed. This part of the site had been constructed with a much more practical intention.
If I had to choose a favourite part of the building, it would without doubt be the enormous windows of the manor. They are truly immense! And, with views out over the open countryside, I could understand why Robert had decided for them to be built in that way. It is a tragedy that he was not able to see his masterful vision completed.
Moreton Corbet Castle is maintained by English Heritage and can be visited free of charge. The site is open daily any reasonable time during daylight hours. Limited layby parking is available. Sensible shoes are advised. As with all historic sites, please be respectful of the building and its surroundings.
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