Donnington Castle, Newbury, Berks
Donnington Castle stands today as little more than a ruined gatehouse & the flint & mortar outline of the external walls on a grassy hill to the North of Newbury in Berkshire, with a great view right across the town to the countryside beyond. This is “my” castle. Having lived in Newbury on & off throughout my life, I’ve dropped by regularly over the years. My friends & I played here as kids, I practised night-time map reading here with the cub scouts, walked the family dog here, spent drunken summer evenings with members of my bike club here, brought various girlfriends here & just sat & gazed at the scenery & day-dreamed here. So it’s mine, a little piece of the landscape of my life, but you can visit if you like.
In 1287 the manor of Deritone is recorded as being held in the name of Edward the Confessor, but the castle itself didn’t appear until 1386 when Richard the 2nd decreed “Our beloved & faithful Richard Abberbury may build anew & fortify with stone & lime & crenellate a certain castle on his own land at Donyngton, Berks & may hold that castle so built, fortified & crenellated to him & his heirs for ever”.
200 years later, in 1586, the diarist Camden wrote “A small but very neat castle, seated on the banks of a woody hill, having a fair prospect & windows in all sides very lightsome”. Well it’s still very lightsome, mainly cos the windows, & most of the walls, have long since gone.
In the 17th century Donnington played it’s part in the 2nd battle of Newbury. The English civil war was raging. Oliver Cromwell & his Parliamentarian forces were marching across the country & in September of 1643 King Charles the 1st sent Colonel John Boys with a regiment of 200 foot soldiers, 25 horses & 4 cannon to secure the castle as it stood on the main road from London to Bath. In July of 1644 Lieutenant General Middleton arrived with a Roundhead force of 3000 horse & dragoons.
“Sir, I demand you to render Donnington Castle for the use of Parliament” he wrote.
Colonel Boys’ reply- “Sir, I am instructed by his majesty’s express commands & have not yet learned to obey any other than my sovereign”, led to a furious continual 12 day cannon assault that destroyed 3 towers & part of the outer wall.
The spirited response from the castle read “Sir, neither your forces or high threatening language shall deter me. We resolve to maintain this place to the utmost of our powers“. And so they did, surviving another 19 day barrage & holding the castle until King Charles arrived with his army to fight an inconclusive battle in the meadows of Speen & Shaw on the 27th October 1644. Having left his crown at the castle during the punch-up, Charles rewarded John Boys with a knighthood for his efforts.
Fresh men & provisions were left but in the Autumn of 1645 yet another mortar attack was launched by the Parliamentarians, resulting in the gaping hole in the South tower, now repaired with red brick. By this time the Royal cause was clearly lost. Charles was on the verge of defeat & after some 20 months of almost continual bombardment the castle was eventually surrendered with the terms allowing the battered inhabitants to “march away with muskets charged & primed, drums beating & colours flying”.