Roughly a 2.5 mile walk from Banbury town centre can be found an Elizabethan manor house which has been owned by the same family for around 650 years. The name of the family has changed a bit over the centuries, but today it’s commonly shortened to the Fiennes family, of which certain actors and explorers are related to.
This is Broughton Castle, originally an actual castle, but converted into an Elizabethan manor house later, which later residents may have regretted as it was occupied by opposing forces during the English Civil War.
I say a 2.5 mile walk to get here, because in this part of ruralshire, a regular bus service during the week is a luxury, and unheard of at weekends.
After a long walk, along roads more often than not lacking a pavement, but possessing many deep puddles for motorists to use as target practice, and down a narrow winding road, a small gate house and sign indicated the castle was at last arrived at. Except there was another seemingly long road ahead, although this is a mirage, the castle is just around the corner, hidden by ancient trees.
This is a proper old fortified mansion, with moat and gatehouse, originally to protect the occupants, but today a convenient location to pay the entry fee. Paid, and followed by an old chap who insisted there was a half-price offer today from somewhere, but he didn’t have the voucher nor remember who offered it, but demanded the discount anyway.
He was also later stopped at the house as he also wanted to pay by credit card and upon being directed to the shop next to the gatehouse had decided not to follow the signs.
Oh, the joys of being a steward at a grand house.
But, the house, a grand hall starts the tour, and this is very much a taste of what’s to come, big rooms, mighty ceilings and lots of old paintings and armour.
It’s still a family home, so in corners you might spy more conventional toys evidently belonging to younger members of the Feinnes dynasty, but the rest is evidently the home belonging to someone with a lot of staff to do the dusting.
Dart into a dark corridor and a dining room with a magnificent stone ceiling, and wood paneling along the walls. Do look carefully for the “hidden” doors, hidden from a quick glance, if not from those seeking out priest holes.
Not that there would have been priest holes here, as the Fiennes were on the side of the Parliamentarians during the Civil War, which resulted in the house being attacked and occupied for a while by the Royalists. Should have kept the old castle.
Fortunately for the then Lord, and subsequent members of the family, he excused himself from signing Kign Charles I’s death warrant, so was spared the same fate when the Monarchy was restored.
But in modern times, a visitor is climbing a lot of stairs, up to the first floor, and here is an impressively long gallery lined with more paintings than many art galleries can hope to posses.
A grand bedroom was once occupied by a Queen, with her own private window overlooking the chapel below for prayer. A room nearby for the King, being in this case King James I, and the naked men carved into the fireplace is surely just a coincidence.
More grand rooms, with a glass case containing the original royal bills conveying powers and privileges onto the occupants. Necessary, as it seems the original title was given, but not formally recorded, which lead to be a bit of an issue many years later about which of the lordly issue was to inherit the titles.
Do go up more stairs and a chance to clamber out onto the roof to peer down over the walls at the neat lawns, decorative gardens and the moat that did so little to protect the house in the past.
A small side room at the top here is reputed to be where the rebellious lords once plotted to overthrow a monarch.
Down the stairs, one last grand room, then out into the gardens, which you are free to wander around, although on a rainy day many seemed to be avoiding spending too much time outside.
The local shop is modest, and the cafe, slightly overpriced, but not excessively so by museum standards. Just wished the coffee was more than a few mouthfuls. There is also just outside the castle what was probably the estate church, and still a functioning parish church for the area.
Also notable is the 19th century restoration of a medieval tomb, showing just how brightly coloured the interior of churches once used to be. Keep thinking a church should be restored to its full gaudy colour — maybe using temporary lighting — so we can see what they used to be like before the puritans whitewashed everything away.
There is a pub at the end of the lane if you like, but otherwise, a long walk back to the railway station.
Broughton Castle is open on Sundays throughout the summer, and some mid-week days during July/August.
Location map and local interesting places
- 2] Deddington Castle
- 3] Rollright Stones
- 4] North Leigh Roman Villa
- 5] Minster Lovell Hall and Dovecote