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Astley Castle: A Ruin Reinvented (and Available for Rent)


Astley Castle: A Ruin Reinvented (and Available for Rent)

April 3, 2015

Britain’s Landmark Trust is a charity devoted to “giving buildings a new life as inspiring places to stay.” It has a large roster of rentals in notable historic structures (mostly in the UK, but also in Italy, France, and the US)–from a pineapple-shaped folly in Dunmore, Scotland, to a seaside clock tower in Devon. And it’s continually adding to its roster. But what to do when the property in question is the architectural equivalent of a tattered ball gown?

Astley Castle in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, dates to the 13th century and was the domain of three queens (Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV; Elizabeth of York, wife of Henry VIII; and Lady Jane Grey, who reigned for nine days). It was used as convalescence home in World War II and later became a hotel, but a 1978 fire left it on the verge of collapse. When the Landmark Trust first attempted a conventional restoration almost 25 years ago, it realized the site was too far gone and threw in the towel. Later, when Astley landed on Britain’s most endangered buildings list, the group issued a save-our-castle design contest. Witherford Watson Mann Architects of London won the job–and the RIBA Stirling Prize of 2013, the Royal Institute of British Architects highest honor, for the results. Come see why.

Photography via the Landmark Trust, except where noted.

Above: Astley Caste was barely standing when Witherford Watson Mann took on the project. The designers filled in the blanks with modern brickwork and wood-framed windows that unabashedly contrast with the original structure. The revival was partially funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Above L and R: Witherford Watson Mann stepped up to their task by constructing what the Landmark Trust calls “an unequivocally modern living accommodation clasped within the shell of the ancient castle.” The architects put it this way: “Contemporary brick, concrete, and timber construction sits directly on the medieval rubble walls, reoccupying the ancient manor. The project opens this private estate for public access through a network of new pathways and salvages the ruins of the castle, binding them into a vivid new house.” Photographs by Design Hunter.

Above: The second floor is devoted to a vast open-plan contemporary kitchen and dining area. At the dining table, the views are of not only 13th- and 21st-century construction, but also the remains of 15th-and 17th-century wings.

Above: The kitchen overlooks a living room with new exposed wood beams and sliding glass doors that open to a balcony so that occupants can survey their domain. Photograph by Héléne Binet.


Above: Astley’s crumbling Tudor and Jacobean wings have been artfully converted into courtyards.

Above: The interior offers framed views of the courtyards.

Above: There are four bedrooms (two doubles and two twins) on the ground floor, and the castle can accommodate eight people.

Above: The bathrooms, too, are a mix of ancient and modern. Photograph via VPW magazine.

Above: A bedroom with an old stone wall and sliding glass doors that open onto what the Landmark Trust describes as “the ghost of pleasure gardens.”

Above: A view of the Astley church. There’s also a lake and stable block and a network of walking paths.

Above: A wood stair with an openwork design that echoes the ceiling treatment connects bedrooms to the living area. The architects also inserted an elevator to make the structure accessible to all. Photograph by Héléne Binet.

Above: Newly fortified ruins in a wing of the castle. Photograph via VPW magazine.

Above: A view of the architects’ house-within-a-house approach.

Above: Witherford Watson Mann’s plan for the living floor–which includes a green roof off the kitchen/dining area–details the new and existing parts of the structure.

Astley Castle is located in the town of Nuneaton, Warwickshire, in England’s West Midlands. It rents for £871 ($1,291.69) for four nights for up to eight people, and is almost fully booked through 2016. The Landmark Trust will next be accepting reservations this September for 2017. Go to the Landmark Trust for details, including a full accounting of the restoration, and to see the group’s other rental properties.

Planning a getaway? Take a look at other rental houses on our radar:

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