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ACTON BURNELL CASTLE

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The remains of Acton Burnell Castle, a 13th century fortified residential complex. In 1284 Robert Burnell (Chancellor of England, and Bishop of Bath and Wells), was granted a licence by the king to crenellate and fortify a property at Acton Burnell.

Now a shell, the 'castle' resembles a Norman keep built of red-coursed sandstone, with two central storeys under a twin-span roof, and four battlemented projecting corner towers. It would have constituted a self-contained suite of rooms and was designed as the main dwelling for the Chancellor and his household. St Marys Church, this manor house, and the tithe barn, all lie on a roughly rectangular platform along which a moat can be traced. The moated complex survives well and is a good example of a large moated site of high status, one of the most substantial of its kind in the county.

Work continued on the manor throughout Burnell's lifetime, and it seems likely that it was still in progress at his death in 1292. The large first floor windows suggest that it never held any serious defensive purpose, and was probably designed to showcase Robert's wealth and importance.

The property stayed in the family but ceased to be used as a residence by 1420. It subsequently passed to the Lovells of Titchmarsh, and was consficated by Henry VII in 1485 and given to the Earl of Surrey in 1513. In the 16th century it became part of the estates of the Duke of Norfolk, and by the 17th century had passed to the Smythe family. By this time most of the original buildings had been demolished, which would have included accommodation for staff, guests, and attendants, stables, bakehouses, and breweries. In the 18th century a pyramid roof was added to the south-west tower to convert it into a dovecote, and Acton Burnell Hall was built to the north of the castle. The manor house ruins were also used as a barn, at which time large archways were created in the north and south walls. The site is now in the care of English Heritage.

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