This Man's Home IS a Castle

Saturday, 23 July 1881 - Tamworth, England

Today I took the train to town of Tamworth, only 14 miles northeast of Birmingham’s city Centre, to visit its most impressive building--Tamworth Castle. Some day it will be a museum, but now it’s a residence. I had written a letter to the current occupant, a Mr. Thomas Cooke, telling him I was a historian from the University of Cambridge (well, that’s not a lie) and asking if I could visit. He sent me an lovely invitation.

Thomas Cooke is a amiable, if no-nonsense man in his late fifties. He has a factory in Tamworth that employs 500 making clothes for the working classes. Victorians invented “off-the-rack” for those who could not afford tailored clothes. Or in Mr. Cooke’s words, “No reason an honest working man should have to wear ragged cast-offs. My clothes may from an assembly line, but they are well-made and smart looking.”

Tamworth Castle
I asked Mr. Cooke how long his family had owned Tamworth Castle. “My family has lived here since 1867, but I don’t own it. The Townsends own it, but have been renting it out since 1833. Did you know Sir Robert Peel lived here before me? I understand he bred imported Irish pigs with local pigs to create the Tamworth pig while he lived here.”

Tamworth Piglets
“Oh yes, hardy breed.” I didn’t tell him that it’s the Tamworth pigs ability to adapt to so many climates that made it so popular with off-world colonies.

Cooke is very proud of his home, even if he doesn’t own it. He said he loved showing it off. Even invited his workers here for outdoor tea parties. He knew all about it’s history and regaled me with stories as he showed me about the place.

Cooke's Drawing Room in Tamworth Castle
Tamworth Castle dates back to about 1070 and is one of the best preserved motte-and-bailey castles surviving in England. There was even an earlier castle here dating back to the Saxons. Queen Aethelflaeda, daughter of Alfred the Great, built it in 913 to fight the invading Vikings. I got the impression Cooke greatly admired this feisty lady.

Ariel View of Tamworth Castle
Over the years many additions were made to the Norman Castle. Rather than building beside the old fortification, as other castles have, the lords here built inside the walls, retaining the original look of the motte-and-bailey on the outside. Cooke gave a lively account of all the battles that had been fought here. I’m sure University of Birmingham will love shifting through his tales to see what is true and what is local legend--both of equal importance.

George Townsend II
Like many castles, Tamworth fell into disrepair. Luckily it was inherited by Field Marshal George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend through his marriage to Charlotte Compton, the grandniece of 1st Earl Ferrers in 1751. George Townsend was one the great movers and shakers of his time. He had little interest in the castle but his son, George II decided to restore Tamworth to it’s full medieval glory. Unfortunately that included the wing from the Elizabethan period. He tore out the original windows to put in Gothic ones. When Junior died in 1811, the castle was not quite finished and his estate was bankrupt. Still he devoted his life to saving this building so we can forgive him his lack of historic accuracy.

The ruined fortune of the Townsends forced them to rent out the property. In 1897 they will be have to sell and Cooke will have to move. Luckily for the rest of us the Tamworth Corporation will buy it and turn it into a museum opening in 1899. In the meantime, the castle is Cooke’s.

Tamsworth Castle Museum Opening Day - 1899
“So you are now Lord of the Castle, eh?” I said.

Statue of Aethelflaeda
erected on castle grounds 1913
1000 years after she built 1st castle
“I’m only renting that title, but it is romantic to be living in a medieval castle. Pity there isn’t a Lady of the Castle. My poor wife died some time ago. I suppose my daughter is the lady of the castle now. She’s my housekeeper.”

“You might get married again.”

Cooke snorted. “I’m fifty-eight, sir. What woman would want an old duffer like me?”

I suppressed a smile. My files show that Thomas Cooke in 1884 will marry Frances Wann, age thirty-five. They will have a daughter later that year and name her Aethelflaeda. Fitting that the last “queen” of Tamworth Castle will be named for it’s first.

Tamworth Castles official website -- more photos and history

You can follow Tamworth Castle on Twitter at @TamworthCastle

A video of Tamworth Castle museum

The Saxons Returned to Tamworth Castle

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