Tuesday, 9 March 2010

The Ghosts at Whittingdon, Salop

The village of Whittington stands astride what is now the B5009, but was for many centuries the main road from London to North Wales and Holyhead, from where ferries plied to Ireland. The rich agricultural lands around the River Perry made this a prosperous place as well as one with strategic transport links.

It was, therefore, with some delight that a Norman knight by the name of Fulk Fitzwarin gained the castle and estates of Whittington from his father in law, the powerful baron Jocas de Dinan. The fortress and lands came as part of the dowry for Fulk’s new bride Hawise de Dinan. In 1198 Fulk died, leaving his lands to his son, the third member of the Fitzwarin family to bear the name of Fulk. This Fulk III was a colourful character, but he at once had a problem. The Dinan family declared that Whittington had been granted to Fulk II for his lifetime only and could not be inherited by Fulk III.

For two years, young Fulk pursued his claim to Whittington through the courts. But in the year 1200 he got bored with the delays and procrastinations imposed by King John. Fulk picked up his sword, rode to Whittington with a band of supporters and grabbed the castle by force. At the time King John was busy on the Continent fighting against King Philip of France and various rebels. Even so, it is unlikely that rash young Sir Fulk could have held the castle against royal troops. But the Dinan family had sided with the King of France, so John was quite happy to deprive them of a key fortress on the Welsh marches. In 1204, Whittington was officially given to Fulk, on condition that he modernise the defences and hold the castle against any Welsh raids into England.

Sir Fulk was, naturally, delighted. He set about rebuilding the castle with gusto. Until then, Whittington had been a timber fortress with extensive earthworks and a central stone tower. Despite much later alteration, it is the fortifications of Sir Fulk III that make up the ruins of Whittington Castle today. The mighty twin towers that face out across the moat to the main road were the gatehouse of the outer bailey. These buildings served as a village court and a farmhouse for many years, so they have survived in better condition than the much stouter and stronger defences of the inner bailey to the south.

The rebuilding of the castle was completed in around 1233. Sir Fulk fought the Welsh several times, holding his lands and castle stoutly for the King of England. He died in around 1255 at the age of 80. Given the trouble he went to in order to secure Whittington and the money and care he lavished on the castle, there can be little surprise that the phantom of Sir Fulk III Fitzwarin returns so often to his old home. Clad in armour of the early 13th century, Sir Fulk has been seen riding about Whittington and nearby lands – usually on wild tempestuous days when winds blow in from Wales and rain clouds scud the sky. It seems his ghost is as tempestuous as was Sir Fulk himself.

Within 20 years of his death, Sir Fulk had become the subject of a lengthy medieval epic poem, of which only parts have been preserved. He is said to have undertaken fantastic adventures in his home territories and further afield.

He is not, however, linked directly to the other ghosts of Whittington. These are the pale-faced phantoms of two children who stare out of the windows of the surviving gatehouse. They are never seen from inside the structure, only by passersby glancing up at the grim walls. It is not entirely clear who these two youngsters might be, but it is said that they are linked to the great Glyndwr rebellion of the early 1400s. Owain Glyndwr was leading an uprising of the Welsh against the imposition of English law and English taxes in Wales by King Henry IV. The children may have been hostages taken by Sir Fulk X Fitzwarin for the good behaviour of nearby Welshmen. If so, their fate is unknown. Only the sad faces of their ghosts stare out from their prison.

The castle of Whittington remained in the Fitzwarin family until the death of Fulk XI  in 1420, when it passed to his sister who married into the Hankeford family. It is still owned by her descendants, though the care of the castle is in the hands of a Trust dedicated to its repair and maintenance.

This is an extract from Haunted Places of Shropshire by Rupert Matthews

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