Astley-13ALast month saw the annual awarding of the Stirling Prize for architecture, the Royal Institute of British Architects highest accolade. The winner was the outstanding medieval ruin, turned modern holiday villa, Astley Castle. We take a look at the Castle’s story!

Set in the beautiful Warwickshire countryside, Astley Castle dates back to the 12th Century, when it was the manor house of the Astley family. The house played a key role in British history, being home to no less than three Queens, including the infamous Lady Jane Grey, otherwise known as “The 9 Days Queen.” The house was actually the spot where Jane was proclaimed Queen, in 1553, before she was arrested by supporters of Mary, Queen of Scots, and subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London and executed a year later, in 1554.

The Grey family were then disgraced and the house was forfeited and sold by the Crown to Edward Chamberlain who restored it and carried out a number of alterations. The house later became a Paliamentarian stronghold during the English Civil War, before being sold to the Newdigate family, who would own the house until the early 1960s, when it became a hotel.

In 1978, it was totally gutted by fire and remained neglected – an empty shell that had once housed a rich history.
Taking a “Bold Leap”

And that’s where the story would have ended, had it not been for the Landmark Trust, a British building conservation charity, who saw the potential in the old ruins and undertook work to turn them into an upmarket holiday home.

Director of the Landmark Trust, Anna Keay, told the BBC “there isn’t anywhere in England, that was more important and more in jeopardy than Astley Castle.”

Something needed to be done. The question was, what? Anna says, “there was a fork in the road. Either we could accept that this will be gone forever, or we could take a bold leap and say ‘let’s try this new way of looking at it, to try and save it.’”

And they took the bold route, turning the ruins into a modern, two-storey house. The old walls were sured up, under floor heating was installed, the open roof closed in with sky lights and modern fixtures and fittings installed in what was once the great hall, with it’s roaring fireplace and huge windows.
“An Exceptional Example”

The result was what Riba President Stephen Hodder called, “an exceptional example of how modern architecture can revive an ancient monument.”

The architects Witherford Watson Mann, were the firm charged with the task of breathing new life into this ancient monument. Their hard work paid off, when on Thursday 26th September, they were rewarded with the Riba’s Stirling Prize, the most prestigious prize in British architecture.

The firm was chosen for the award, Mr. Hodder told the BBC, because they had “designed an incredibly powerful contemporary house which is expertly and intricately intertwined with 800 years of history.”

Astley Castle, once a pile of tumble down stones in a field in England, has been returned to something approaching it’s former glory, and once again has a future to be proud of, as well as a past.

That’s the power of great architecture!