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Occult Connections at Kinnersley Castle

Kinnersley castle is a late Elizabethan mansion that stands off the road between Weobley and Eardisley in Herefordshire. It began its life as a Norman castle, one of the dozens of such strongholds that once lined the borderlands between England and Wales, but was bought by the powerful Roger Vaughan in 1585 who rebuilt the castle as a fine mansion centred around the original Norman tower.

Later owners added unusual wooden carvings during the Jacobean era, with the main front door bring a fine example of this. However, the main hall is still decorated by the weird and wonderful plaster mouldings installed at the behest of Roger Vaughan, which are said to have been designed on the advice of one Dr John Dee.

Dee needs little introduction to most here but briefly put for those not familiar with this character - John Dee was an astrologer, occultist, conjurer, medium, mathematician, cartographer, physicist, religious cleric and alchemist who famously worked under the patronage of Elizabeth I. He then travelled across Europe accompanied by Edward Kelley, the Worcester born wizard who "scryed" for Dee and claimed to know the true secrets of alchemy. Kelley made a fortune from the patronage of various European nobles but ultimately ended up dying while attempting to escape from imprisonment in a castle in today's Czech Republic.

When Dee returned to England his reputation had diminished, his home and great library had been ransacked and, unable to promise any results from his alchemy without Kelley, was shunned by Elizabeth. He was made warden of Christ's College in Manchester, now Chetham's Library, where he was deeply unpopular and returned to his Mortlake home where he died in poverty in 1608.

If Dee really did advise on the ceiling here at Kinnersley it must have been during the period between his return to England and his move to Manchester. He knew the area as his family came from outside Presteigne, just inside Wales, and he had searched Wigmore castle for documents pertaining to his work.

The ceiling features entwined dragons that have an almost far-Eastern look to them, each pair forming an infinity symbol. They are arranged in fours around crosses with a Tudor rose at each centre. Around the edges are entwined hound's heads then a wonderful Green Man is set into the top of each window frame. Above the fireplace is a bizarre statue of a boy being throttled by a snake, this image seems shocking but is actually the old arms of the Vaughan family!

Fine Jacobean carvings grace other parts of the castle, inspired by trade and conquest around the New World. A panel featuring a Green Man at its centre was removed from the castle and actually installed in the church next door.

Kinnersley castle is a hidden gem of Herefordshire, not generally open to the public as it is still very much a family home, but the Garrat-Adams family do open their doors to visitors a few times a year. I was lucky enough to be a guest on one of these informal tours, a leisurely stroll around the castle with stories and anecdotes provided by a family member. This is not a richly decorated mansion, more a humble repository of history that still thrives as a family seat, and I will put a link for those interested in visiting in the comments.

I look at the life of Edward Kelley and other Midlands figures involved in witchcraft and the occult in my book The Magic Of Mercia, available at the link on the home page.

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