On a hilltop near the village of Hermitage, a few miles from Newbury, are the remains of an early Iron Age hillfort which became known as Grimsbury Castle. Close by is a battlemented structure, also called Grimsbury Castle, but this one only pretends to antiquity, being a diminutive sham castle built to house a gamekeeper.The two ‘fortifications’, ancient and modern, were once part of the manor of Hampstead Norris (sometimes Hamstead, sometimes Norryes). The estate was in the ownership of Sir John Gallini and his descendants from the middle of the 18th century until it was sold in 1838.
Gallini (1728-1805) has an interesting history: he arrived in England from Italy in around 1757 and worked as a dancer and choreographer. Later in life he was a well-known impresario on the London theatre scene and in 1763 he entered into the upper echelons of British society through his marriage to Lady Elizabeth Peregrine Bertie, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Abingdon. Through this union Gallini acquired an estate at Yattendon, which included the manor of Hampstead Norris.
An exact date for the construction of the lodge has not been found, but it was probably built during Sir John’s lifetime when he is known to have employed a gamekeeper (Thomas Milson was in post in 1799). He died in 1805 and it took many years for the wrangling over his estates and fortune to be settled, with trustees in control of the estate. So it seems unlikely that such a bold and expensive building would have been commissioned in that period. The ‘important Freehold estates of the Gallini family’ were eventually offered for sale in October 1838 and lot 25 included the ‘keeper’s lodge known as Grimsbury Castle surrounded by one of the best preserves for game’. The auctioneers considered the parcel of land ‘a beautiful site for a residence’.
Happily the plot was not developed, and Grimsbury Castle continued as home to a gamekeeper into the 20th century and remains a private house today. The land it stands on is protected as part of the site of the camp, a scheduled ancient monument, but the sham castle lodge is not listed.
The remains of the fort and the very picturesque Grimsbury Castles, iron age fort and 18th century folly, can easily be seen from public roads and from permissive footpaths courtesy of landowners the Eling Estate.
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