This charming but ruined castle was built by Sir John de la Mare in about 1373. The earliest reference to the family is in 1166, when a Peter de la Mare held half the manor of Steeple Lavington in Wiltshire.
Sir John, who was both Sheriff and knight of Wiltshire and Somerset, received a licence to fortify and crenelate his manor house from King Edward III in 1373 turning it into a castle. He had returned from his part in the ‘Hundred Years War’ in France with the rich proceeds of war.
The castle has a French influence and is in the shape of a rectangle keep laid out on a four-lobed plan and encircled by a deep moat. On each corner of the building is a round tower which were capped by a conical roof. A projecting line of battlements runs round the top of the walls. The castle as you might expect was built for security, as well as a residence of comfort.
It was extensively modernised, probably by Richard Prater, a rich Londoner, some time after 1560. The castle was in the Prater family when it was besieged during the Civil War. Being a Catholic, Colonel Richard Prater was a supporter of Charles I and as the Royalist situation began to deteriorate so Richard began to take in more refugees, many of them Catholics. In September 1645 the Parliamentary army of two regiments arrived, commanded by Lord Fairfax and Oliver Cromwell.
When Richard Prater refused to surrender, the attackers opened fire on the north side of the castle with two large cannons, blasting open the castle wall. Richard continued to resist, hoisting a flag with a Catholic crucifix on it above the castle parapet to taunt the ‘Roundheads’. Two days later the garrison together with Colonel Richard Prater surrendered. Due to the serious damage caused by
cannon fire the castle avoided the usual slighting.
Over the years it has been quarried for building materials.
The castle is now safely in the hands of English Heritage and is open to the public.
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