Wardour Castle’s somewhat remarkable evolution has in many ways mirrored the ups and downs of British history during the course of the last few centuries. Its creators were part of the network of aristocratic dynasties that provided much of the impetus necessary for imperialist expansion and nation-building that not only incentivised, but also made possible, the vast personal wealth needed to erect such lasting monuments to prestige, social one-upmanship, and vanity.
The history of Old Wardour Castle reflected the turbulence of the period. The first owners, the Lovel Barons, fought in the War of the Roses but on the losing side and forfeited the house in 1465, to be sold on to Lord Willoughby de Broke. By the 1520’s, Wardour had descended through the generations to Willoughby’s grand-daughter, Elizabeth, then the greatest heiress in England. A spirited and beautiful woman, she refused the marriage arranged by her guardian to his eldest son, John Greville, and chose instead his younger brother, Fulke.
By Tudor law, Wardour was now Fulke Greville’s and in 1547 he sold it to Sir Thomas Arundel. The house and the estate remained with the family for four hundred years despite Sir Thomas’ own unfortunate fate. Convicted of conspiracy to murder the Duke of Northumberland, he lost not only the estate but also his head. His more circumspect descendants retrieved Wardour from the Crown thirty years later and were made Barons in their own right. The Arundels fought for the Royalists in the Civil War. Surviving one siege, the second destroyed the castle and its owner the third Baron was forced to repurchase the property after its sequestration by Parliament. After imprisonment for five years, he returned home and honours with James II’s accession in 1685. The Arundel family seat was not rebuilt for 125 years.
New Wardour Castle, commissioned by the 8th Lord Arundel in 1770 in celebration of his marriage to a Lincolnshire heiress and the reunification of two branches of the family, replaced Old Wardour Castle as the family seat and continued a fine architectural tradition dating from the Estate’s record in the Doomsday book.
More recent history has witnessed uncertain times for many great English houses and the impact of socio-political change during the course of the last 100 years has been as marked in its effect on ‘New’ Wardour Castle as Cromwell’s arsenal of canon and gunpowder was on its ruined neighbouring 14th century predecessor. That the mansion has survived at all is something of a miracle, given the demolition-prone fate of many of its contemporaries throughout much of the 20th century. Since World War II, Wardour’s uses have been, arguably, more proletarian than that of a nobleman’s family-seat. The house’s use as a seminary and subsequent conversion to boarding school, following the post-war death of the last Lord Arundel, may well have saved the property from an ignomious end.
By the time of its purchase in 1961 by Cranborne Chase School, the building was close to ruin. Ravaged by dry rot, most of the roof and internal structure needed replacement, and extensive repairs were necessary to the badly damaged stonework. The school's ambitious restoration and development programme, grant assisted by English Heritage, undoubtedly saved the building - but at a cost: many of the alterations were far from sympathetic to the original buildings or landscape.
Particularly jarring were certain modifications wrought solely for practical purposes, including the insertion of a modern four storey staircase, partitioning of many of the state rooms, and concreting over most of the original stone floors. Worst of all, however, were the new extensions replacing the East Mews. An essay in '60s modernism, their breathtaking insensitivity destroyed at a stroke the building’s coherence, integrity and overall symmetry.
In 1990, the school entered into pre-application discussions with Salisbury District Council about proposals to develop twelve houses in the Walled Garden. These proposals would have increased the total number of independent self-contained residential units on the estate to 17 and in general, they were sympathetically received by planning officers. Although a formal planning application for the twelve houses was never submitted, a planning application for 70 bedrooms and lecture hall was approved by Salisbury District Council subject to s106 legal agreement which was never signed. The proposed development never took place.
With the purchase in 1992 by the present freeholders, Wardour Estates Limited, a new policy was adopted: to reverse the previous unsympathetic alterations and restore the house and grounds as far as possible to realise the architects’ original vision for the estate.
Over the years much has been written about Wardour Castle and its inhabitants. The circumstances surrounding its creation are well documented both in modern literature as well as recently conserved and catalogued Arundel family archive in the Swindon and Wiltshire records office.