Alton Castle from Birmingham Diocese
Castle of today is the third castle to be built on this site. The first castle was built in 716AD of which little remains. The second castle, whose ruins are still very evident, was built in 1176 by Bertram de Verdun who also founded the nearby Croxden Abbey. The castle that stands today was built by the A.W. Pugin in 1844 for the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, John Talbot. It was intended for the Earl’s cousin, and after his death, as a Dower House for his widow. Pugin was a prominent gothic architect who had designed many buildings such as Alton Towers, Cotton College and the Houses of Parliament.
Unfortunately, the castle was not thoroughly completed before the deaths of both the Earl and Pugin in 1852. It was sold for a mere £100 and was the home for two families until 1904. During this time, five sisters of Mercy arrived from Ireland in 1852 to open a convent in Cheadle. In 1855 they opened the Alton Foundation, teaching in the parish boys’ school and undertaking the works of mercy. In 1904, the Sisters of Mercy took over the castle and opened a school for boys. In 1919 the castle was bought by the sisters for £3,500 and remained a preparatory school until 1989, when it closed. In 1995 it was bought by the Archdiocese of Birmingham as a Residential Youth Retreat Centre.
more on Wikipedia
Alton Castle was founded by Bertram de Verdon and built on a rocky precipice overlooking the River Churnet in the 12th century, however the site had been fortified since Saxon times. The castle is also known as or referred to in historical documents as Alton, Alverton or Aulton. The 12th-century castle was substantially reconstructed during the 15th century and subsequently was damaged during the Civil War.
Since 1442, the castle was in the possession of the Earls of Shrewsbury, who from the beginning of the 19th-century made their home at nearby Alton Towers. By the mid-19th-Century the castle was mostly in ruins. John Talbot, 16th Earl of Shrewsbury, commissioned Catholic architect Augustus Pugin, who was already working for the Earl at Alton Towers, to construct a new gothic castle/country house on the site. Most of the 12th-century ruins were demolished to make way for the new building which was designed to look like a French or German medieval castle. The earl also commissioned Pugin to develop the surrounding area on castle hill. A “replica of a medieval hospital, a guildhall and presbytery” were constructed; dedicated to St. John the Baptist, the buildings served as a church and hospital (almshouses) and were designed to provide and care for the poor for of the parish. The church was also used as a school for local poor children.
It is unclear why the 16th Earl had the castle rebuilt. It may have been intended for the Earl’s cousin and eventual successor, Bertram Talbot (17th Earl of Shrewsbury); or it may have been intended as a Dower House for the Earl’s wife, if he should predecease her. Towards the end of the castle’s construction, the earl suggested the castle could be a home for priests, but Pugin was “vehemently against the idea”.
The site was taken over by the Sisters of Mercy in 1855 and the presbytery became their convent. The castle remained a private residence until 1919 when the Sisters of Mercy bought it for £3,500 to extend their boarding school. The school closed in 1989 and the castle was left empty until in 1996.
In 1996 it was established by the Archdiocese of Birmingham as a Catholic Youth Retreat Centre.
Alton Castle is now in its 21st year as a residential youth centre and UK registered charity working with children aged between 9 and 13 years. Over 8,000 children visit the Castle each year, mainly with schools, but also from other children’s organisations such as youth groups and charities who work with children with disabilities. Some of the children have suffered disadvantages, including disability, and many come from inner city areas of social and economic deprivation.
Alton Castle aims to raise self-esteem, to strengthen and build friendships, and to help each child realise their potential as human beings. The children participate in a variety of activities during their stay including mountain biking, trekking, archery, rockclimbing and survival.