Anyone with an interest in English history will find a wealth of sites to explore in Warwickshire. Sometimes described as the ‘heart of England’, this midlands county has occupied a central place in the country’s cultural history since the medieval era, when the foundation of Warwick Castle, one of the most impressive medieval structures in England, signalled the region’s importance.
Warwick Castle is no less impressive today and it’s easy to see why it’s long been one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. But it’s not the only majestic castle in Warwickshire: Kenilworth may be a ruin but it remains a gloriously imposing structure.
Of course, no guide to Warwickshire would be complete without several references to its most famous son, William Shakespeare. Sure enough, the Bard features heavily in our list of unmissable Warwickshire historic sites.
One of the most dramatic and complete medieval castles in the country, Warwick Castle is among the UK’s most popular tourist attractions and should be considered a must-see for anyone interested in English history. The site’s historic importance can be traced back to the 10th century, when King Alfred the Great’s daughter, Æthelflæd had a castle built on the banks of the River Avon to defend against Danish invaders.
A prototypical version of the castle that stands today began to take shape in 1068, two years into William the Conqueror’s reign, but the wooden mott and bailey castle he constructed was replaced by a stone castle in the 13th Century. Warwick remained a vital stronghold through the centuries, and its continually updated architecture incorporates elements from a variety of eras. Much of the interior, such as the State Dining Room, was redone or created in the 18th century.
The Battle of Edgehill came about after King Charles I and Parliament became locked in an increasingly dangerous political struggle for supremacy. By the summer of 1642, both sides had raised armies and Charles began to lead his forces towards London, in the hope of achieving a quick, decisive victory. The Crown’s troops were met by a Parliamentarian army led by the Earl of Essex at Edge Hill in Southern Warwickshire and the first major battle of the English Civil War ensued. It was a bloody stalemate.
Today, the site of one of Britain’s most significant battles is accessible to the public via a number of walking routes that map the battlefield. Along the way, information boards tell the story of the battle. The Battle of Edgehill Exhibition in nearby Radway offers a free and interactive experience with a more detailed display of the site’s history.
3. Shakespeare’s Birthplace
Warwickshire certainly isn’t short of interesting historic sites, but one man was always likely to dominate this list. William Shakespeare’s association with Stratford-Upon-Avon has made the charming Tudor market town a mecca for fans of the Bard. Rest assured, anyone arriving in Stratford with a desire to immerse themselves in all things Shakespeare will have their expectations fulfilled, and then some.
In a town brimming with Shakespearean attractions, the great man’s (reputed) birthplace on Henley Street is surely ground zero. Shakespeare’s Birthplace is a restored 16th-century house that aims to recreate the Bard’s childhood home and present visitors with a slice of 16th-century domestic life. The adjoining Shakespeare Centre, housed in a strikingly un-Tudor glass and concrete building, offers yet more insight into the Bard’s life and career.
Many details of Shakespeare’s life remain mysterious, but we do know that he married Anne Hathaway when he was 18 in what many suspect was a ‘shotgun wedding’. Hathaway was 8 years his senior and pregnant with a child when they wed and their relationship has been the subject of speculation for centuries. Anne Hathaway’s Cottage is the family home in which Shakespeare’s wife-to-be was born and raised and as such it’s likely to have been the setting for the couple’s early courtship.
Like Shakespeare’s Birthplace, the cottage is a faithfully preserved Tudor wattle and daub house complete with period items that help to present an authentic vision of 16th-century life. It’s also considerably larger than ‘cottage’ implies – a reflection of her family’s successful sheep farming business – and features acres of beautiful orchards and gardens that visitors are invited to wander.
5. Mary Arden’s Farm
Completing our triumvirate of Shakespearean properties, Mary Arden’s Farm is the family home of his mother, the titular Mary Arden. Located in the village of Wilmcote, which is situated to the northwest of the River Avon, 3 miles from Stratford, this expansive farmhouse provides another perspective on the Shakespeare story by exploring his mother’s rural upbringing.
The house itself has been extensively modified over the years but the site, which is now owned and managed by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, is run as a working Tudor farm. As such, it offers a fascinating glimpse of 16th-century country life, complete with authentic activities and demonstrations that make for an immersive and enjoyable experience.
6. Charlecote Park
Located on the banks of the River Avon, about 4 miles east of Stratford, Charlecote Park is a sprawling country estate with a fascinating history. It’s roots as the seat of the Lucy family can be traced back to 1247 but the original house was built by Sir Thomas Lucy in 1558. While its standing as a Tudor landmark is enhanced by the fact that Elizabeth I stayed at Charlecote and William Shakespeare’s alleged conviction for poaching rabbits and deer in the park, little remains of the Elizabethan house.
In fact, the house has been extensively modified over the centuries and the architecture that remains today is mostly Victorian. Nonetheless, Charlecote is a stunning property with an important art collection. It’s beautiful parkland – home to a large population of free-roaming deer – is also a big draw.
7. Kenilworth Castle
Described as “the finest surviving example of a semi-royal palace of the later Middle Ages”, Kenilworth Castle is a spectacular fortress ruin located in the town of Kenilworth, around 6 miles south of Coventry. The castle was first built in the early 12th century by Geoffrey de Clinton, then greatly expanded by King John in the late 12th century. Kenilworth became one of the largest and most powerful castles in England. In 1575, Queen Elizabeth I spent 19 days at Kenilworth as a guest of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.
Kenilworth fell into decay after the Civil War but enjoyed a return to cultural prominence in the 19th century following the publication of Sir Walter Scott’s popular romance novel Kenilworth, which is set in 1575 during the lead up to Elizabeth’s reception at the castle.
8. Baddesley Clinton
Baddesley Clinton is a moated manor house located just south of Solihull, close to the villages of Baddesley Ensor and Packwood. The house was built in the 15th century on the site of a 13th-century farmstead that already featured a moat. The house we see today is a patchwork of architectural styles, featuring elements from the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.
Baddesley Clinton is notable for its pleasing architectural ensemble, which includes a bridge, moat and crenelated gatehouse. The setting is further enhanced by seven acres of gardens, including a formal walled garden, with flower borders and fruit trees, and nature trails through woodland.
9. Compton Verney
Compton Verney is a stately home set in beautiful grounds several miles east of Stratford, and it is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of Palladian architecture in the country. The house was originally built in 1634 for Sir Thomas Compton and was expanded several times over the next 250 years. The existing house is a Georgian mansion built by Richard Verney in 1714 and remodelled by Robert Adam in the 1760s, around the same time that Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown landscaped the estate’s 120 acres of parkland.
Today, Compton Verney is open to the public as an art gallery and museum and is well worth a visit. The gallery houses an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures and ceramics, including a particularly fine collection of folk art, and plays host to consistently interesting and well-realised contemporary art exhibitions.
10. Packwood House
Packwood House is a stunning example of Tudor architecture set in beautiful grounds in Packwood on the Solihull border near Lapworth. The house dates back to the 1560s when it was built for John Fetherston. Packwood remained in Fetherston family for centuries until the Birmingham industrialist Alfred Ash purchased it in 1904. It’s largely thanks to Ash’s son Graham Baron Ash, who inherited the estate in 1925, that Packwood became the impressively authentic Tudor-style property it is today.
Baron Ash donated Packwood to the National Trust in 1941. Today, the meticulously restored Tudor mansion is filled with surrounded by suitably well-kept grounds that feature a bountiful walled kitchen garden, an abundance of majestic yew trees, renowned herbaceous borders and a lake.