Sundorne House in Shropshire was the seat of the Corbet family and the estate included the picturesque ruin of Haughmond Abbey. In 1774 John Corbet added a dramatic eye-catcher to the ensemble – a sham castle on the summit of Haughmond Hill.
John Corbet (1751-1817) spent 1773 on the Grand Tour, where he was painted by Pompeo Batoni. He had inherited the Sundorne estate from his father in 1759, when still a minor and on his return from Europe he began to remodel the mansion using the architect Robert Mylne, and his improvements to the park included a vast new lake.
Although his portrait by Batoni shows him with a plan of the Pantheon in Rome, he chose to ornament the park with a building in the Gothick style. High on Haughmond Hill he built a mock fortification called Haughmond Castle.
The architect Robert Mylne sent Corbet a ‘design of a castle to be erected on the top of a hill’ in November 1774. Mylne had experience in the field having already built Blaise Castle in Bristol: Haughmond Castle had a similar triangular floor-plan of a central core surrounded by three circular turrets, as shown on Ordnance Survey maps. It was complete by 1777 when a lucky visitor stayed in the ‘pea green’ room at Sunborne and his view took in the building on Haughmond Hill.
As well as being an eye-catcher from Sundorne, the Castle would have served as both a landmark and a refreshment pavilion during the chase, for Corbet was a passionate huntsman. Locally it is told that a flag was flown when hunting was to take place the following day, although an alternative version has it that the flag was hoisted to warn the servants at Sunborne House that the hunt was over and the participants were heading back for dinner.
It was also a belvedere and from it there was a ‘magnificent panorama’ which included ‘the valley of the Severn, with the ancient town of Shrewsbury, backed on the horizon by the Welsh Mountains, while further south the wooded crest of the Wrekin towered above the valley’.
The prominent eye-catcher played a key role in the celebrations of the coming-of-age of Corbet’s eldest son Andrew William in 1822. Cannon were fired from Sundorne Castle (the house by now remodelled and renamed) and ‘these were answered by discharges from the Castle on the hill’. Tenants and their friends were invited to partake of a ‘cold collation’ at the Castle, and in the evening the building must have been a magical sight when it was illuminated.
For some years the eye-catcher doubled as a home for estate workers. Photographs and postcards from the early years of the 20th century show the Castle in good condition, but in the 1930s it collapsed. In 1938 a visitor noted the ‘ruins of Haughmond Castle’ and by 1973 only ‘traces’ remained.
Sundorne Castle too is gone – demolished in 1955, although a very attractive gatehouse and chapel were left standing.
All that remains of Haughmond Castle today are a few moss-covered bits of masonry and some curved ironwork. The view can still be appreciated, although the valley has been developed since Corbet’s day. There are walks to the site from the Forestry Commission’s Haughmond Hill car park https://www.forestryengland.uk/haughmond-hill/walking-trails-haughmond-hill
Haughmond Abbey is in the care of English Heritage and can be visited all year round https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/haughmond-abbey/
Thank you for reading. Please scroll down to the comments box below if you would like to share any thoughts.
8 thoughts on “Haughmond Castle, Uffington, Shropshire”
Gwyn Headley says:
The remnants of Sundorne are still impressive, and can be seen on Google Street View, which I’d post here if I could.
Hello Gwyn. Yes I went to have a look but didn’t have room to add much more to the post. They are looking a little sad so I hope there are plans to bring them back to life. The vibrant red brick of the gatehouse and wall really stands out from the site of the folly and from the abbey.
David Winpenny says:
Thank you for this – most interesting as usuual! Just a point – the Batoni portrait show Corbet holding a drawing of the Pantheon, not the Colosseum. Sorry to be pedantic!
Morning David. Not pedantic at all! A silly slip by me and I have corrected it.
Alan Terrill says:
There is an art gallery in Shrewsbury which stocks a number of pictures of buildings, painted by the owner Mike Hatch. He did a good one of Haughmond Castle which was on sale for around £110 and may still be there. He’s also done several very good reconstructions of local ruined buildings such as Morton Corbet Hall. Also – there were plans drawn up to convert the remaining buildings of the castle to office and commercial space, but nothing came of it. As far as I know a part is used to store hay and the rest is empty.
Hello Alan. I now regret not including a view of the remains of Sundorne Castle. There has been no recent work as far as I could see, and the buildings seemed to be in use as agricultural storage. There are ‘keep out’ signs warning that the buildings are dangerous, which I can well believe. I missed that art gallery in Shrewsbury, but loved the displays in the city museum. I also visited Moreton Corbet, which is wonderful. Thanks for the information.
Nick Kingsley says:
I suspect this may have been the inspiration for the similar triangular Gothick sham castle on the Acton Burnell estate, designed by Samuel Scoltock of Shrewsbury, with plasterwork by Joseph Bromfield, and built in 1779-80. Anyone interested in the post-dissolution history of Haughmond Abbey could look at my post on the Barkers of Haughmond: https://landedfamilies.blogspot.com/2019/07/384-barker-of-haughmond-abbey-and.html
Good morning Nick. Thanks for this interesting suggestion, I am sure you are right that the prominent Haughmond Castle would have inspired similar buildings on other Shropshire estates. Thank you for your Landed Families blogs, they are my first port-of-call if I get stuck on who’s who!