Celebrating 120 years of Tamworth Castle open to the public

Picture-courtesy-of-Tamworth-HeraldThis year, as we prepare for the reopening of Tamworth Assembly Rooms, we’re shining a spotlight on Victorian Tamworth and the era’s many significant contributions to the shaping of Tamworth as we know it today.

The historic theatre in Corporation Street was first proposed as a fitting monument to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887. It was officially opened to the public in October 1889 and therefore celebrates its 130th birthday this year.

However, we also have the Victorians to thank for bringing Tamworth Castle into public ownership. It was on May 22, 1899, that Tamworth Castle first opened its doors to the people of Tamworth as a public building, after being in private ownership since the day it was built centuries before that. Today (May 24) also marks the 200-year anniversary of Queen Victoria’s birth.

In 1897, councillors of the day resolved to buy Tamworth Castle when it came up for sale by the Marquis Townshend and its acquisition was considered a ‘most fitting memorial of the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen’.

We’ve teamed up with the Tamworth Herald newspaper to delve through their archives to rediscover just how that sale came about and the extent to which Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee influenced that decision-making process.

Credit-Tamworth-HeraldAn article reports on the proceedings of a meeting which was held in 1897 to decide how the town would celebrate the royal anniversary. It was attended by a variety of townspeople and councillors of the time, including the Reverend William MacGregor. The gathering felt - just as Tamworth Assembly Rooms had been built for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee 10 years earlier – that a permanent and lasting memorial would be most fitting.

It was concluded that: “this meeting of the inhabitants of Tamworth and neighbourhood resolves that steps be taken to commemorate in a permanent manner the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty the Queen and is of the opinion that the most fitting way of doing so would be the acquisition of Tamworth Castle for the use and enjoyment of the town and district, providing it can be obtained on favourable terms. The Castle should be open to the public.”

The then Vicar of Tamworth, the Rev, J. H Courtney Clarke, had attended the meeting to give his hearty support to the proposal of buying Tamworth Castle as ‘a unique opportunity which would never come to the town again in all probability’. The Castle was the very centre of the history of Tamworth and it seemed to him if they could acquire it on reasonable terms it should not be lost.

‘As the old royal residence of the Kings of Mercia, as he believed it was in days gone by, he could not believe that anything could be a better memorial to the glorious reign of the Queen than to make Tamworth Castle the property of that ancient borough.’

The Castle was subsequently purchased for the ‘moderate price’ of £3,000.

History of Tamworth Castle

Tamworth was vitally important in Anglo Saxon times as the principle royal and administrative centre of the Mercian kings. The town was attacked and destroyed by the Vikings in 911 and it is thought a burh (a defensive settlement) was built in King Offa’s time. In 913, Lady of the Mercians and daughter of Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed, is known to have refortified Tamworth, paving the way for the construction of the motte and bailey Castle by the Normans more than 150 years later.

It is likely the original motte and bailey Castle was built around 1073 by the Normans for Robert le Dispenser, a high ranking nobleman of William the Conqueror.

Over the centuries the Castle became home to a variety of well-known families including the Lords Marmion, the Frevilles and the Ferrers, The Townshends and finally, the family of Thomas Cook, a local clothing manufacturer.

Tamworth Castle today

Today, Tamworth Castle is a popular tourist attraction and museum, attracting visitors from both the neighbouring area and across the country, with a popular programme of annual events and activities. It is also one of a select locations chosen to display pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard. A new dedicated Anglo Saxon gallery is currently being developed on the top floor of the Castle, including a high quality battle film experience, a touch-table strategy game and a mead hall.

The creation of the stunning new ‘Battle and Tribute’ exhibition represents an investment of more than £750,000 into Tamworth Castle, including a £499,900 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. This will enable the Castle to display even more pieces of the Staffordshire Hoard.

Louise Troman, Head of Castle and Museum Collections, said: “Tamworth Castle is one of the town’s most prized possessions and we have our Victorian ancestors to thank for bringing it in to public ownership. It has changed a lot since then and we are constantly working to enhance the visitor experience, keep our history alive and ensure this ancient monument can be enjoyed by as many people as possible.

“While the Castle attracts people from across the country, it remains a jewel in the crown for the people of Tamworth, and if you haven’t been for a while, we would encourage you to come back and have a look at how it’s changed.”

For more information about events at Tamworth Castle, please visit www.tamworthcastle.co.uk. For more information about Tamworth’s connections to the Victorian era and a number of events planned to celebrate that history this year, please visit www.tamworth.gov.uk/Victorian-Tamworth.