Hidden History of Hanley Castle
Updated: Jan 14, 2021
Hanley Castle is a picturesque village lying between Worcester and Upton on Severn. With many buildings, including the Three Kings pub, dating from the 1500s you'd expect it to have it's fair share of history and folklore – and you'd be right.
Little remains of the castle in the name now, other than the still impressive mound and moat first raised by the Normans. This motte and bailey keep was later rebuilt in stone by King John, repaired and fortified again by Edward II, before lying empty for some centuries. The castle eventually succumbed to constant scavenging of it's stones for newer buildings and along with two other local castles provided the materials for the old bridge at Upton on Severn.
Prior to any castle existing the village and the lands around it were under the lordship of the Anglo Saxon thegn Brictric Son of Agar. A rising star under the reign of Edward the Confessor, Brictric (Beorhtric Son of Aelfgar in Old English) visited Flanders as an ambassador of the king and there met with Count Baldwin. The Count had a daughter, Matilda who was then aged around 16 and according to the accounts of Continuator Wace was not a shy girl. Matilda allegedly took a strong fancy to Brictric and made advances towards him, even talking of marriage – which were rejected.
A few years later Matilda of Flanders married William of Normandy and when “The Bastard” conquered England in 1066 he looked for a suitable seat for his queen to live at. She had never forgotten her perceived slight from Brictric and demanded that his lands be seized, choosing Hanley as her home. A motte and bailey keep was built there immediately and Matilda had the newly completed Saxon chapel Brictric had paid for torn down – with a new Norman style church constructed in it's place. As for Brictric himself? William ordered him jailed “in a noisome prison” where he died soon afterwards.
Today Hanley Castle is known mostly for it's main street featuring the aforementioned pub and a gigantic Cedar of Lebanon tree, reputedly brought back from the Crusades as a sapling and now around 800 years old. I have spent the night in an old Tudor house there and woke to the sounds of crows carking, a cricket match politely playing out and the ding of the local church bell. I marvelled at how perfectly English Hanley Castle is – probably the same thoughts poor Brictric had before 1066!
A typical Anglo Saxon thegn of the 11th century - very close to how Brictric would have looked
Matilda of Flanders
Hanley Castle main street, with it's colossal cedar and the Three Kings pub
All that is left of the castle at Hanley - the mound and moat still looming large