Shirburn Castle

Shirburn Castle is a Grade I listed, moated castle located at the village of Shirburn, near Watlington, Oxfordshire. Originally constructed in the fourteenth century, it was renovated and remodelled in the Georgian era by the first Earl of Macclesfield who made it his family seat, and altered further in the early nineteenth century. The Earls of Macclesfield remained in residence until 2004, and the castle is still (2020) owned by the Macclesfield family company. It formerly contained an important, early eighteenth century library which, along with several valuable paintings, remained in the ownership of the 9th Earl and were largely dispersed at auction following his departure from the property; notable among these items were George Stubbs's 1768 painting "Brood Mares and Foals", a record setter for the artist at auction in 2010, the Macclesfield Psalter, and personal correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton.

Shirburn Castle
Shirburn Castle - more detailed view of the frontage from the surrounding gardens
Detail of the west front in 2014, showing construction materials revealed by loss of the external render, and the early nineteenth century drawbridge in raised position
Shirburn Castle on Robert Plot's 1677 "Map of Oxfordshire"
The Castle (as "Sherbourn Castle") as illustrated in John Neale's "Views of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. L.P", volume 3 (1818)
Shirburn Castle, coloured engraving from Morris, 1880, "A Series of Picturesque Views of Seats of the Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland", vol. 3
Shirburn Castle: the 19th-century Gatehouse, viewed from Castle Road
Bodiam Castle in Sussex, showing a possible analogue for the appearance of some aspects of Shirburn (such as windows and other openings) prior to the latter's 18th-century remodelling

Description and historyEdit

1377-1716 (de Lisle/Quatremain/Fowler/Chamberlain/Gage era)Edit

The castle was constructed around 1378 on the site of a previous moated grange. The present, still moated, three storey building has a quadrangular form with four rounded corner towers. Rendered on the exterior (although the covering has now disappeared in places), it has been stated as being the earliest brick building in Oxfordshire,[1] although Emery, cited below, believes that the original construction was more likely built entirely in limestone, with the brick "casing" added only when the castle was remodelled in 1720 in the Georgian style.[2][a]

Records state that the first licence to build the castle was granted to Warin de Lisle in 1377. After his death five years later, the castle passed to his daughter, who married Lord Berkeley, and then to her daughter who married Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick,[2] whose principal residence was Warwick Castle. Later it was owned or occupied by successive families including the Talbots, Quartremayes [Quatremains] and Fowlers[3] and eventually sold to the Chamberlain family, commencing with Edward Chamberlain, whose mother took out a lease on the Shirburn estate from her brother in 1505 and who died there in 1543. The castle's next owner was Sir Leonard Chamberlain (or Chamberlayne), d.1561, who was also the Governor of Guernsey from 1553. An account survives from 1559 documenting something of the internal layout of the rooms at that time, specifically: "the wardrobe, the entry, the great chamber at the lower end of the hall, the inner chamber, 'the brusshynge howse', the hall and the chamber over the parlour, and an inner chamber there; there was also a cellar, buttery, chambers each for the butler, priest, horse-keeper, cook, and chamberlains, an additional chamber, a low parlour, a kitchen larder, boulting house, fish-house, garner, brew-house, and other outhouses".[4] During the 1642–1651 English Civil War Shirburn was held by Richard Chamberlain for the King, but was surrendered to Sir Thomas Fairfax for the Parliamentarian cause in 1646, apparently without damage.

After the end of the Civil War, the castle remained in (or was returned to) the Chamberlain family. The last male of the line, John Chamberlain, died in 1651, leaving no sons but two co-heirs, his daughters Elizabeth, wife of John Neville, Lord [A]bergavenny, and Mary, who was married first to Sir Thomas Gage of Firle, Sussex, and later to Sir Henry Goring. Elizabeth and Lord Abergavenny (d. 1662) possessed the manorial rights there until Elizabeth's death (date not known); by 1682 both Elizabeth and Mary had died and the castle passed to Joseph Gage (1652–1700), Mary's fourth son by her first husband, Thomas Gage.[5] The castle then continued as the seat of that branch of the Gage family until 1714, when the eldest son Thomas Gage succeeded his wife Elizabeth's late father to the estate of High Meadow, a property in Gloucestershire, and associated "considerable fortune". He then decided to sell Shirburn.

1716-1830 (Parker era, first part)Edit

In 1716 the castle was acquired by Thomas Parker (1666–1732), Baron (later to be the first Earl) of Macclesfield and subsequently Lord Chancellor of England from 1718-1725,[4] the purchase price (for Shirburn plus another property, Clare manor) being £25,696 8s. 5d. (more than £2 million in recent money), and the castle became the seat of the Earls of Macclesfield (and/or their associated family company), until the present time. The then very wealthy, soon-to-be first Earl was responsible for extensive renovations to the castle (considered by most authors to be a substantial rebuild, see below), costing a further £5000, and also started to accumulate the castle's extensive and important library, which survived intact for almost 300 years until its dispersal.[b] The appearance of the castle prior to Parker's refashioning/rebuild is not known in detail from contemporary accounts or illustrations; it does appear (as a small icon) on Robert Plot's 1677 "Map of Oxfordshire" (relevant portion reproduced at right), similar to the castle of today, although whether this is intended to be a "stock" castle representation or an actual likeness is unclear. Emery, 2006, suggests that many features of its original external and likely internal appearance probably would have resembled its near-contemporary at Bodiam in Sussex;[2] unlike Bodiam and many other castles of the era, Shirburn appears to have survived the Civil War relatively unscathed, remaining a habitable home to the Chamberlain and Gage families for the next 70 years until its purchase by Thomas Parker, only then to be refashioned—in particular, internally—as an elegant 18th-century baronial seat.

The Earls of Macclesfield are (or at least were) protective of their privacy, allowing few visitors to see the inside of the castle and denying requests for access for an examination to scholars of medieval architecture, with the result that Anthony Emery wrote in 2006: "Shirburn Castle has a well deserved reputation for being barred to all students of architecture ...Consequently, the castle has never been studied in detail ...The list [of persons denied entry] extends from Lord Torrington in 1775 to Nikolaus Pevsner, the architectural staff of Country Life, and the Department of the Environment recorders 200 years later. ...Not surprisingly, Shirburn has been ignored by all writers on castles except for the summaries of ownership by Sir James Mackenzie, The Castles of England, 1 (1897) 163-5 and Sir Charles Oman, Castles (1926) 46-9".[2] (It should also be noted that the list of excluded persons also included Emery himself, who was unable to report further on the interior.) The medieval entrance hall, a surviving room from the pre-eighteenth century castle, was previously illustrated by J. Skelton "after F. Mackenzie" and published in Skelton's Antiquities of Oxfordshire in 1824 (see "external links"). An early 20th-century photograph showing the interior of the South Library while it still contained its complement of books is reproduced in Mark Purcell's 2019 book, "The Country House Library", which also covers the content of the library in some more detail.[7]

J.P. Neale, in his 1847 "Mansions of England" work, had to rely for his description of the interior on an account by J.N. Brewer from 1813, who wrote:

The interior of Shirbourn Castle is disposed in a style of modern elegance and comfort, that contains no allusion to the external castellated character of the structure, with an exception of one long room fitted up as an armoury. On the sides of this apartment are hung various pieces of mail, together with shields, tilting-spears, and offensive arms, of modern as well as ancient date. In a due situation is placed the chair of baronial dignity. The rooms are in general well proportioned, but not of very large dimensions. There are two capacious libraries, well furnished with books, and tastefully adorned with paintings and sculpture. Among the portraits are several of Lord Chancellor Macclesfield, and an original of Catherine Parr, queen to Henry VIII. ... Within the castle are constructed both warm and cold baths, a luxury which too tardily creeps on the notice of this country, but which is one of the most desirable in which rank and affluence can indulge.[8]

One other record of a successful 19th century visit survives, in the form of Walter Money's report "A Walk to Shirburn Castle", from the Journal of the British Archaeological Association for December 1895, which describes the interior in some detail from p. 290 onwards, especially with regard to some particular items of interest in the armoury, plus an extensive list of the more important portraits and other pictures to be seen in various rooms, together with a description and illustration of a Roman sarcophagus originally found in the garden, being used as a pedestal.[9] A more recent, detailed account is contained in the 2003 litigation of Macclesfield v. Parker, and is included in full below.[c]

Emery postulates that after Thomas Parker purchased the castle in 1716, the latter's renovations probably affected more than three-quarters of the building, with the result that what stands at Shirburn today is "essentially an eighteenth-century interpretation of the medieval castle, following its original plan", although he allows that survivals from the original fourteenth-century structure include a "reasonable amount of the west range" (which would include the bulk of the main gate tower), the lower stages of two corner towers, and "possibly some ground-level walling internally", although he was unable to inspect the latter in person.[11] The Victoria County History also suggests that: "The present south range may represent the medieval south range, with new windows inserted and with another range of rooms added to the south, outside the original outer wall."[4] In a 1981 paper discussing the architecture of the present castle, authors Timothy Mowl and Brian Earnshaw suggest that the eighteenth-century rebuild intentionally incorporated round-arched, or neo-Norman, expressions of medievalism, "probably to assert a link with a supposed Norman foundation."[12] The same authors also point to Vanbrugh Castle, a London house designed and built by John Vanbrugh in 1719 for his own family, as a similar expression of neo-medievalism of around the same date, again with rounded windows, in contrast to the more pointed windows associated with the mid-18th century "Gothick" style of a few decades later. The rounded window style appears to have been used consistently in the Parker-era rebuild or renovation, including in all of the surviving inward-facing walls surrounding the courtyard, although from 1830, the effect was masked by the incorporation of more "standard" segmental-headed sash windows in the new external additions along several frontages.[12] Considering all of the accounts presently available, it would seem to be the case that, at a time when his contemporaries had most recently been constructing their new country houses in the English Baroque style (or even neo-medieval, in the case of Vanbrugh Castle), Parker decided to purchase an actual, habitable 14th-century castle and construct his new residence entirely within it, at the same time adding new windows to the surviving medieval walls and towers in the Georgian style.

Among the household of Thomas Parker, the 1st Earl, was his friend, the Welsh mathematician William Jones (1675–1749), close friend of Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Edmund Halley, who acted as tutor to Parker's son George, the future second Earl. Jones had earlier acquired the extensive library and archive of the mathematician John Collins (1625–1683), which contained several of Newton's letters and papers written in the 1670s, and later edited and published many of Newton's manuscripts. His collection of books and papers eventually passed into the Earl's library and was passed down through the Parker family until the 2000s; the Newton-associated items were eventually sold to the Cambridge University Library (see below).[13]

George Parker, the 2nd Earl of Macclesfield (c.1695–1764) resided at Shirburn and inherited the earldom and the castle upon his father's death in 1732. He was celebrated as an astronomer and spent much time conducting astronomical observations at Shirburn, where he built an observatory and a chemical laboratory. The observatory was "equipped with the finest existing instruments" and the 2nd Earl used it from 1740.[14] In 1761 the astronomer Thomas Hornsby observed the transit of Venus from the castle grounds. A 1778 mezzotint by James Watson, a copy of which is now in the National Maritime Museum, shows the 2nd Earl's two astronomical assistants, Thomas Phelps and John Bartlett, at work in the observatory.[15][16]

1830-current (Parker era, second part)Edit

In the early years of the 19th century, additional works were carried out, among them the (re)construction of the west access stairway and addition of the fine Regency drawbridge,[12] and the roofing over of the courtyard at a low level, providing additional internal ground floor and basement space.[10] The Victoria County History entry for the castle states: "In 1830 a fairly extensive modernization was undertaken—a drawing-room and library over it were added on the north side; the old north library over the hall was converted into a billiard room; the former drawing-room which had been over the dining-room on the east side was converted into a larger bedroom and a dressing-room; and the baths on the ground floor on the north side were removed. In 1870 the red-brick water tower adjoining the laundry was built and in 1873 the warder's room in the north-west tower and the low entresol above it were thrown into one to make a smoking-room."[4] Some further alterations, not otherwise documented, are apparent when comparing the appearance of the exterior of the castle in 19th century engravings with its present state in more recent photographs. The external gatehouse, providing access to the castle from Castle Road, is also stated as being a nineteenth century creation, in the gothic style, and is Grade II listed.[17]

With the exception of the 5th Earl, who was blind and chose to remain at his early home at Eynsham Hall, subsequent earls all resided at the castle, including Thomas Parker, the 3rd Earl (1723–1795), a Fellow of the Royal Society; George Parker, the 4th Earl (1755–1842), Comptroller of the Royal Household, Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard and a Fellow of the Royal Society; Thomas Augustus Parker, the 6th Earl (1811–1896), George Loveden Parker, the 7th Earl (1888–1975) and George Roger Parker, the 8th Earl (1914–1992), culminating with his son Richard Timothy George Mansfield Parker, 9th Earl of Macclesfield (b. 1943).

Ownership and occupancy issues and dispute, and sale of contentsEdit

To reduce future tax liabilities, in 1922 ownership of the castle was transferred from the Seventh Earl, George Loveden Parker to the Beechwood Estates Company, the Macclesfield family estate management company, with equity divided among the family members. Unfortunately for the succession, however, this had the result of decoupling ownership and the automatic right to occupy the castle from inheritance of the title, and in the early 21st century, following a long-running and acrimonious court battle, Richard Timothy George Mansfield Parker, the 9th Earl of Macclesfield and last member of the family to reside at the castle, was evicted from the family seat by the other family members, departing in 2005.[10][18] The 9th Earl lost the occupancy of the house, but retained ownership of the contents (gifted to him in 1967 by his grandfather, the Seventh Earl) including three libraries containing many rarities among their more than 30,000 volumes, largely assembled by the first two Earls of Macclesfield in the first part of the 18th century.[19]

Following his departure from the castle, the 9th Earl made the decision to sell the contents of the libraries, as well as some other items from the castle's holdings. The library items were prepared for a series of auctions, and were catalogued for the first time by staff from Sotheby's in 2004;[20] among the most notable items discovered were a first edition of Copernicus's 1543 landmark work "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres", annotated by the celebrated 17th-century Oxford mathematician John Greaves, which sold at auction for £666,400,[21] and a unique and superbly illustrated 252-page 14th-century illuminated manuscript, the Macclesfield Psalter, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Other items originally forming part of the library were a collection of Welsh material which went to form part of the foundation collections of the National Library of Wales, correspondence of Sir Isaac Newton and other scientific papers which were sold to Cambridge University Library, and manuscripts including the original of the "Shirburn Ballads" (previously transcribed and published in 1907)[22] and the Macclesfield Alphabet Book, now in the British Library. The breaking up and dispersal by auction of the library was lamented by some, including Roger Gaskell and Patricia Fara, who in 2005 wrote: "Now, without any public discussion, the Macclesfield Library is being broken up. Far more than simply a collection of old books belonging to one man, it is a fabulous treasure trove containing many of the most significant books, owned and annotated by several leading British figures in the history of European science... Formed in the 17th and 18th centuries, this is a coherent collection that was the working library of an intellectual and scientific powerhouse."[23] On completion of the initial round of 6 sales of the scientific portion of the collection, Sotheby's issued a 2005 press release indicating that the sale process had thus far realised in excess of £14 million (not including The Macclesfield Psalter, which sold separately for £1,685,600), representing "the highest total ever for any sale of scientific books and manuscripts".[24] Additional parts of the library sold by Sotheby's between 2006 and 2008, under the general heading "The Library of the Earls of Macclesfield, Removed from Shirburn Castle", comprised "Bibles 1477-1739" (part 7), "Theology, Philosophy, Law, and Economics" (part 8, which realised £1.3 million), "Voyages Travel and Atlases" (part 9), "Applied Arts and Sciences, including Military and Naval Books" (part 10), "English Books and Manuscripts" (part 11) and "Continental Books and Manuscripts" (part 12, which realised £1.8 million).[25] Further selections from the library were offered at auction by Maggs Brothers, U.K. in 2010 and 2012.[26] A set of 328 bound theology volumes acquired from the Macclesfield collection sale now forms part of the Kinlaw Library at Asbury University, a private Christian university in Wilmore, Kentucky, U.S.A.[27]

The castle contents also included a number of fine paintings, one of which, George Stubbs's 1768 masterpiece "Brood Mares and Foals", subsequently sold at auction in 2010 for £10,121,250, a record price for the British artist.[28] This painting was visible, in passing, on the wall in a room at the castle used for filming in the 1992 episode "Happy families" of the Inspector Morse TV series (see below). Previously, a 1740 William Hogarth portrait of the second Earl's tutor and mathematician William Jones, was sold at auction in 1984 for £280,000, and is now in the National Portrait Gallery.[29][30] Earlier in 1998, an extremely fine Georgian silver wine set, the only known complete example of its era to survive, had been sold by Christies and is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, its purchase assisted by a £750,000 grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund.[31][32]

Since the departure of the 9th Earl, the castle appears to have been largely vacant (for a set of photographs published in 2012, see "external links") and in need of substantial repairs (estimated as "some £2.6 million" in 2003).[10] Since that time, the owners have started to address this, commissioning replacement of a number of sections of the roof and treatment of associated timbers, as documented by the contractors concerned.[33][34]

The parkEdit

The castle sits within extensive grounds (Shirburn Park, itself Grade II listed), which is described in more detail at the relevant "Historic England" listing, with the brief description "Later C18 and early C19 garden and pleasure grounds around a late C14 castle, remodelled 1720s and early C19, set in a landscape park incorporating the remains of an early to mid C18 formal layout."[35] It incorporates a rotunda and a former orangery, the latter now derelict. Mowl and Earnshaw note that the development of the gardens was probably unfinished on account of Thomas Parker's well known downfall and financial troubles from 1725 onwards, and that further developments were likely undertaken by the second Earl in a classical style, forming a stylistic contrast with what they characterise as the neo-Medieval nature of the first Earl's renovated castle.[12]

Use as film locationEdit

On account of its "fairytale" appearance, romantic setting, and near-original condition Georgian/Victorian interior, the castle has been used as a film location on a number of occasions, including external, and some internal shots as the Balcombe family home in the 1992 episode "Happy families" of the Inspector Morse TV series,[36][37] internal rooms, the gatehouse entrance and the church as Midsomer Priory for a 2011 episode "A Sacred Trust" of the Midsomer Murders TV series[38] (although exterior shots of the "priory" house feature Greys Court, another Oxfordshire location), as well as an exterior shot of Mycroft Holmes's country estate for the 2011 film Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. The location has also been used in 2 episodes of Poirot, namely "Third Girl" (2008) and "Curtain: Poirot's Last Case" (2013);[39][40] in Annie: A Royal Adventure! (1995 TV movie),[41] Philomena (2013),[42] in the TV serial London Spy (2015)[43] and in The Old Guard (2020).[44][45] A 2016 Burberry commercial, "The Tale of Thomas Burberry" was also mainly filmed at Shirburn Castle.[46] In the 2011 Midsomer Murders Episode "A Sacred Trust", the coat of arms of the fictitious Vertue family, Lords of the Manor and as represented in the supposedly local pub "The Vertue Arms", is constructed almost identically to that of the (real) Parker family, Earls of Macclesfield and owners of the film location for the fictitious priory at Shirburn Castle.[47][48]


  • Pevsner, Nikolaus; Sherwood, Jennifer (1974). The Buildings of England: Oxfordshire. Harmondsworth: Penguin. pp. 761–763. ISBN 0-14-071045-0.
  • Mackenzie, Sir James Dixon (1896). The Castles of England: their story and structure Vol. I. Harvard University: The Macmillan co.


  1. ^ In the 2014 photographs of the tower, several accompanying this article, the partial decay and loss of the exterior render appears to show that the lower sections of much of the west front and its right-hand tower are built from stone, not brick, the render then (when originally applied) possibly acting as a concealment to the otherwise mismatched materials, as well as providing a consistent, faux stone appearance.
  2. ^ The extent of, and reason for, the eighteenth-century remodelling (or rebuild) is unclear. In "English Castles - A Guide by Counties", Adrian Pettifer writes: "The castle [is] very much a sham in its features ...A Roundhead siege in 1646 had wrecked the castle ...The north and east sides have largely been rebuilt in any case, while an outer range has been added against the south wall and the rest has been pierced by late Georgian windows. The west front is least affected by the changes, though the gate tower has been absorbed by the heightened ranges on either side."[6] However the other sources available imply that the castle was surrendered in the Civil War without damage, and there is no other documentary evidence of its condition, or need for repairs, prior to its purchase by Parker in 1716. Thomas Parker, who was extremely wealthy, may simply have decided to "refashion" the castle to suit his taste; whether or not this makes the result a "sham" is left for the reader to decide.
  3. ^ The following account is included in the case of Macclesfield v. Parker, 2003:

    27. It will, I hope, help understanding if I give a description of the layout of the castle. As originally constructed, the castle was rectangular in shape, built around a central courtyard. The courtyard probably survived the remodelling carried out by the First Earl. During the nineteenth century the courtyard was roofed over, and the space that it formerly occupied is now occupied, in the basement, by cellars and other domestic offices.

    28. At ground floor level there are three entrances to the castle, each one by way of a bridge over the moat. The original entrance (though not the current entrance) was via the gatehouse in the middle of the western side. The gatehouse would have led to the courtyard, but, as I have said, it is now roofed over. The southern side of the castle is occupied by two ranges of rooms on either side of a corridor. The northernmost range (at the southern end of the former courtyard) is separated from the outer wall by a long corridor known as the bell passage. Proceeding anti-clockwise from the gatehouse to the south eastern corner of the castle, and taking the northernmost range of rooms first, one encounters the old kitchen, the servants' hall, the small study, and a photographic dark room. In parallel, the southernmost range of rooms contains the kitchen, the breakfast room, the pantry kitchen, the small sitting room and the oak dining room. Board meetings of the company were held from time to time in the oak dining room, which is in one of the round towers. Between the breakfast room and the pantry kitchen is another entrance to the castle over a bridge. This is the entrance currently used as the main entrance.

    29. The eastern side of the ground floor is occupied by the dining room and the smoking room. These are two of the so-called "state rooms". The tower at the north eastern end of the castle is currently locked.

    30. The northern side of the castle also has two parallel ranges of rooms. That closest to the old courtyard (on the southern side) consists of the baronial hall; probably added in the nineteenth century. The other consists of a WC, an ante room and the drawing room. The baronial hall and the drawing room are also "state rooms". At the north-western corner of the ground floor, again in one of the round towers, is the gun room.

    31. There are two staircases on the ground floor, leading up to the first floor. One is the main staircase, which is elaborately carved. The other is the pink staircase, so-called because it is painted pink. The pink staircase rises towards the south-eastern corner of the first floor, while the main staircase rises towards the north-eastern corner. There is also a mediaeval spiral staircase at the western end of the castle.

    32. The western end of the first floor is occupied by a kitchen and dining room. In the round tower at the south-western corner there is a WC and a laundry room. As with the ground floor, the southern side of the first floor contains two parallel ranges of rooms. The northernmost consists entirely of the white library. The southernmost consists of the Turkish bedroom, an adjacent bathroom, a sitting room, and a study. The round tower at the south-eastern corner of the castle is occupied by a WC and bathroom. The eastern side of the first floor consists of a bedroom (currently occupied by the Countess' father), the four poster room, the crimson bedroom and the "ugly" bedroom. It is not the bedroom itself which is ugly, but the elaborate bed in it. The round tower at the north-eastern corner contains a bedroom. On the northern side of the first floor is a dressing room. This is the bedroom suite which the Earl and Countess occupy. The remainder of the northern side of the castle is taken up with two parallel libraries, the north library and the south library. The latter is reached by the flying staircase. These are also "state rooms".

    33. The principal access to the second floor is via the pink staircase. The rooms surrounding the former courtyard (on the inner sides of the floor and reached via the traditional green baize door) were formerly servants' rooms. There are ten in all. They are now almost derelict. The southern side of this floor consists of four rooms which have traditionally been bedrooms and sitting rooms for younger members of the family. The eastern side consists of four rooms and a bathroom. One of these rooms was formerly the nursery.

    34. The nature and layout of the rooms makes it difficult to find a combination of rooms which would make a satisfactory self-contained dwelling within the castle, either by vertical or horizontal division.

    35. As one would expect, the castle is also provided with a number of outbuildings. These include the old brewery, the old dairy, the old stores, stables, tack rooms and the like, and buildings which accommodate the generating equipment formerly used to power the batteries which in turn provided the castle with electricity. They are mainly in the estate yard.

    36. The castle is, as I have said, surrounded by a moat. Beyond the moat are the grounds. They are mostly laid to grass, with little formal planting. The grounds contain a derelict orangery and a temple in the Palladian style.

    37. Unfortunately the castle is in a poor state of repair. Little has been done to it, probably for a century. The electrical system has failed, and most of the castle is plunged into darkness at nightfall. A professional estimate puts the costs of putting it into proper repair as being some £2.6 million.[10]


  1. ^ Historic England. "Shirburn Castle (1368852)". National Heritage List for England.
  2. ^ a b c d Emery, Anthony (2006): Greater Medieval Houses of England and Wales, 1300–1500: Volume 3, Southern England. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139449199
  3. ^ This information from a historical account "admirably compiled by Lady Macclesfield in a little brochure published in 1887" as reported in Money, 1895, p. 293. A more complete account is that found in the Victoria County History, the relevant portion of which reads: "Warin (d. 1382) left his estates to his only daughter Margaret, Baroness Lisle, wife of Thomas, Lord Berkeley, but Warin's widow Joan had a life interest in Shirburn manor (i.e. the D'lvry half) and in the 'manor of Burgfield' until her death in 1392. Berkeley died in 1417, his heir being his daughter Elizabeth, wife of the powerful Richard Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, guardian and tutor of Henry VI. On her death in 1422 her estates were divided between her three daughters and coheiresses, Margaret, Countess of Shrewsbury, Eleanor, Lady Ros, and Elizabeth, Lady Latimer. In 1427 and 1435, however, Richard Quatremain of North Weston bought their Shirburn property (i.e. three parts of the manor), and in 1432 he acquired from the Collingridges the fourth part of Shirburn manor and thus united the whole lordship under himself. Shirburn was not mentioned in Quatremain's will and had probably been granted already to his kinsman and friend Richard Fowler, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (d. 1477), although it is not mentioned in his inquisition post mortem. The chancellor's son Richard Fowler, who was a 'very unthrift' and became a pensioner of his mother Jane Fowler in 1501, gave Shirburn as security for a loan. Sybil Chamberlain, the widow of Sir Richard Chamberlain of Woodstock and the daughter and chief executrix of Jane Fowler, who died in 1505, took possession of Shirburn manor in April 1505 as the debt was unpaid. In May Richard Fowler, by now knighted, leased the manor to his sister and her son Sir Edward Chamberlain for 60 years, and in 1527 Sir Edward obtained full rights over Shirburn by giving his uncle Tilsworth and Stanbridge manors (Beds.) in exchange."
  4. ^ a b c d Victoria County History, London, 1964: A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 8, Lewknor and Pyrton Hundreds: Parishes: Shirburn (pp. 178-198). Available online at
  5. ^ Burke, John, 1839. A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire. 6th Edition. Henry Colburn, London.
  6. ^ Pettifer, Adrian, 2002: English Castles - A Guide by Counties. Boydell Press, 384 pp. ISBN 9780851157825
  7. ^ Purcell, Mark, 2019: The Country House Library. Yale University Press, 352 pp. ISBN 9780300248685
  8. ^ J.N. Brewer, 1813: The Beauties of England and Wales: History of Oxfordshire, quoted in J.P. Neale, 1847: The Mansions of England, or, Picturesque Delineations of the Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen. M.A. Nattali, London. Available on Google Books
  9. ^ Money, Walter, 1895. A Walk to Shirburn Castle, Co. Oxon. Journal of the British Archaeological Association, December 1895, pp. 285-295. Available online at
  10. ^ a b c d Neutral Citation Number: [2003] EWHC 1846 (Ch), accessed 18 December 2012.
  11. ^ Emery, 2006, pp. 153-154.
  12. ^ a b c d Mowl, T. & Earnshaw, B. (1981). The origins of 18th-century neo-medievalism in a Georgian Norman castle. Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 40(4): 289-294. doi:10.2307/989646
  13. ^ Patricia Rothman, 2009: "The man who invented Pi". History Today59 (7), available online at
  14. ^ Hill, Elisabeth (1961). Whyte, Lancelot Law (ed.). "Roger Boscovich: A biographical essay". Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J., F.R.S., 1711-1787: Studies of his life and work on the 250th anniversary of his birth: 41. Retrieved 2012-01-30.
  15. ^ Rebekah Higgitt, 2013: Picturing science: inside a Georgian observatory. The Guardian, 23 April 2013.
  16. ^ Shirburn Castle Observatory: reproduction and information of the copy of the print in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, U.S.A.
  17. ^ Historic England List entry: GATEHOUSE APPROXIMATELY 85 METRES SOUTH OF SHIRBURN CASTLE. Accessed 26 November 2020.
  18. ^ Godfrey Barker: Who's laughing now? London Evening Standard, 18 August 2004.
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External linksEdit

Coordinates: 51°39′27″N 0°59′38″W / 51.65757°N 0.99380°W / 51.65757; -0.99380