Longford Castle lies to the south-east of Salisbury, close to the banks of the River Avon. Its origins are Elizabethan (completed circa 1591), when it was known as Longford House. It was restored, remodelled and extended in the 18th and 19th centuries. In this post I want to concentrate on the Elizabethan design.
The Elizabethan Prodigy house was built for Sir Thomas Gorges (1536 – 1610) and his wife, Helena Snakenborg, the Dowager Marchioness of Northampton. It replaced an earlier manor house. Gorges had bought the Longford Estate in 1574. The house bears the date of 1591, when it was likely to have been completed.
The castle is an amalgamation of an imagined chivalric castle, the villas of Renaissance Italy, ancient Rome and Flemish-inspired ornamentation. The original plan was triangular – 3 ranges with 3 drum-like towers at each angle. The inner court is therefore triangular with a stair turret at each angle.
There may have been a Swedish castle influence on the design as Gorges’s wife was Swedish. In 1582 Gorges visited Sweden, including Gripsholm Castle, and Germany. He also held a fascination for symbolism and geometry. This is demonstrated by the elaborate tomb monument for Gorges and his wife in Salisbury Cathedral. It is packed with symbolic and geometric ornamentation.
Longford was the model for the ‘Castle of Amphialeus’ in Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia.
John Thorpe did make a drawing of the façade at some point between 1596 and 1603 and is part of a book of drawings collected and drawn by the Thorpe family (they were masons and architects). As there are no surviving records from the period for Longford, Thorpe’s drawing is a key source.
Figure 2: ‘Bird’s-Eye View of Longford Castle from the Thorpe Album Vol. 101/158’, Image: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
The double loggia was amongst the first to be built in England (and may have been the first). The Dutch gables (i.e. gables with one or more curves, topped with a pediment) are another early design for an English building. The central bay carries a segmental pediment and the other 2, angular pediments. Pevsner notes that such gables were not supposed to be in England prior to 1615 (Pevsner, p. 305).
Girouard on noting the uniqueness of Longford, states that it ‘would seem more at home in front of a Flemish town hall than an English country house’ (Girouard p. 300). The gables and terms demonstrate the influence of the designs of Vredeman de Vries (as in his Architectura of 1577).
Figure 4: Detail of ‘Bird’s-Eye View of Longford Castle from the Thorpe Album Vol. 101/158’, Image: © Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
Salvin restored façade in the 19th C from the changes made in the 18th C, Thorpe’s drawing being the main source along with an anonymous drawing of 1620 from Wilton House (which is in Longford Castle). Whilst drawings are not always accurate, Thorpe’s elevation gives an idea of what the façade was originally. The Elizabethan house had double niches alternating with windows on the second storey. On the parapet, between the central pediment and right-hand side one, there is a rising obelisk finial. It sits in front of what looks like 2 Doric columns supporting an entablature. On the ground floor, steps lead up to the loggia.
Salvin, in his restored version has projected a wing on each side of the double loggia and added a bay between the wing and the tower. The second story has been receded. The windows, original and current are cross-type. In contrast many of the prodigy houses of the period bear large mullioned and transomed windows. The earlier Strand facade of Somerset House has cross-type windows (mid to late 16th C).
The castle in the main is constructed of Chilmark stone. The chivalric-castle-inspired corner towers are built of a grey-green stone and have decorative bands and vertical strips of knapped-flint squares, alternating with white Chilmark stone squares.
According to a story, recorded less than a century after the castle was built, there were problems with funding the building project. Queen Elizabeth I made the completion possible by gifting Gorges’s wife a Spanish galleon from the Armada, which had been wrecked in 1588 off Hurst Castle. Gorges was governor of Hurst Castle. This galleon turned out to be full of treasure. The carved relief of what appears to be Neptune in a galleon is situated in the central gable. Two terms reside either side.
The changes at Longford over the centuries can be summarised as follows:
1591: Original triangular plan house – unique double loggia
c. 1750: Façade altered – maybe the design of Theodore Jacobsen or Roger Morris
1796: James Wyatt designs a hexagonal plan for 2nd Earl of Radnor
1802-17: Wyatt’s design is partially executed by David Asher Alexander
1870s: Anthony Salvin’s restoration and additions for 4th Earl of Radnor
Longford Castle has been home to the Earls of Radnor since the 18th C. For me it is one of Wiltshire’s best kept secrets. It is not just the architecture that is astounding, it also houses a fine art collection. This collection originally included Holbein’s Ambassadors and Poussin’s Adoration of the Golden Calf, now in the National Gallery. Longford is open for guided tours a set number of days every year and tickets can be purchased via the National Gallery website. I enjoyed a very nice lunch with friends at the Radnor Arms, where the castle’s minibus picks you up and delivers you back after the tour. It was a most enjoyable afternoon out!
‘Bird’s-Eye View of Longford Castle from the Thorpe Album Vol. 101/158’, Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
Girouard, Mark, Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009)
Hasler, P. W., ‘GORGES, Thomas (1536-1610), of Longford, Wilts’, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, 1981,<https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1558-1603/member/gorges-thomas-1536-1610> [accessed 10 September 2019]
Penny, Nicholas, A Guide to Longford Castle (National Gallery)
Pevsner, Nikolaus and Bridget Cherry, The Buildings of England: Wiltshire, 2ndedn (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2002)