Acton Burnell Castle

Visiting Acton Burnell Castle


Visiting Acton Burnell Castle

The site of Acton Burnell Castle is open to the public. The architecture is mostly destroyed, but significant remains still exist, including the ruins and buried remains of a tithe barn and a substantial chamber block, as well as the earthwork and buried remains of the structure's perimeter moat.



Free parking is available at the site entrance with enough space for one minibus and five cars


Free parking
Free entry to the site


Acton Burnell Castle is open at any reasonable time during daylight hours

Note: The gates to the access road are closed daily by the adjacent college at dusk

Location & Access

The ruins are located off the A49, six miles south of Shrewsbury; Acton Burnell, Shrewsbury, Shropshire SY5 7PF.

From the car park, enter through the gate and take the footpath through the wooded area to the site

Know Before You Go

  • There are no facilities located onsite at Acton Burnell Castle. It is approximately eight miles from Shrewsbury, which has an array of restaurants, cafes, and shops. 
  • Dogs are welcome, but they must be on a leash.
  • Climbing the walls is not permitted.
  • Drone flying is forbidden for visitors at all English Heritage sites.

History of Acton Burnell Castle (Time Line)

Please note: This is an approximation, as not all sources agree on specific dates, and some details are obscure.


-1263 (King Visits Manor)

Robert Burnell, a man from an undistinguished family, had become the Chancellor of England as well as a close friend of Edward the First. Burnell's manor house is situated near the former Roman road used, at the time, as one of the main routes between London/South East and North Wales.

It is believed that the King regularly visited Burnell's manor and held one of the first English Parliaments there at his time.

-1283 (Parliament Meeting)

This date is remembered more prominently for a meeting of Parliament (some claim it to be the first time it was held at Acton Burnell), as it appears the complete Commons was represented, and the lords passed "Statutum de mercatoribus." Parliament sat in a castle hall while the Commons sat in the adjacent barn. 

-1284 (Fortification Granted)

King Edward I grants Robert Burnell a license to fortify his residence. Construction continued for at least eight years.

-1285 (Parliament Meeting)

Another meeting of Parliament is held onsite. (Records suggest further meetings were held here, yet dates are not prominently noted.) 

-1292 (Burnell Dies)

Robert Burnell died in 1292 when fortification work was likely still in progress. The property remained in the family for over 120 years after his death. It is unclear when, if ever, the fortification was completed, though some records suggest completion by 1293.

-1420 (Abandoned) 

The property was owned and lived in by Burnell's family until 1420. At that time, ownership passed to Francis Lovell, Lord Chamberlain for Richard III, and Acton Burnell Castle was abandoned and left to decay while a new structure, Acton Burnell Hall, was constructed next to it. 


Francis Lovell was a close supporter of Richard III, devoted to the Yorkist cause still after the King's death. It was the loyalty of Lovell along with William Catesby and Richard Ratcliffe that led to the Tudor propaganda that dubbed the three as "the cat, the rat, and Lovell, our dog" that "ruled all England under a hog." (The hog being the emblem of Richard III.)

Lovell fought at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was present in 1487 at the Battle of Stoke Field, the final battle in the War of the Roses. History notes that he fled to Scotland at this time, and thereafter his fate is unknown. Following Richard III's defeat at the Battle of Bosworth, Henry VII then confiscated the forsaken Acton Burnell property and later gave it to Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk.

*Note: Both 1485 and 1487 have been noted as the date when Richard III confiscated this property. However, it would appear as though the latter date is more accurate, given the evidence of Lovell's ownership and presence at this time in history. 


The Earl of Surrey receives the property as compensation for his services in the battle of Flodden. Around this same time, the property is reported as one of the Duke of Norfolk's estates.


Humphry Lee of Langley Hall purchased Acton Burnell Castle.


Mary Lee, Humphry's granddaughter, married Sir Edward Smythe. Through this marriage, ownership of Acton Burnell passed to the Smythe family. Many original buildings were demolished by this time, and the castle in ruins, reportedly being used as a barn. The nearby Acton Burnell Hall had assumed all functions of the castle. 

Smythe, a recusant made a baronet in 1660, was reported residing at Acton Burnell around 1662, yet by 1672, he had moved to Langley. Henceforward, the Smythes were regularly seated at Acton Burnell.

-1750s - c.1784 (Grounds Developed)

Acton Burnell Hall was constructed to the north of the castle in the mid-18th century by a subsequent Sir Edward. He spent his final years improving and embellishing the park landscape. The estate was remodelled essentially into the parkland we see today, with Burnell's chamber block as an ornamental barn. 

-1939 - Present

The Smyths sold Acton Burnell Hall, which was turned into a school. A decade later, much of the remaining property was sold, with only the park retained. By the end of the century, the property was sold to Concord College and has since been put under protection by law and English Heritage maintenance.

Acton Burnell Castle Occupants


Castle Occupancy/Control...

The Burnell family held and built upon the land for hundreds of years, starting in the 12th century, through Robert Burnell's fortification in the 13th century, until a final passing through marriage to the Lovells of Titchmarsh in 1420. The manor house itself ceased to be used as a residence ever since and was left to crumble. 

13th century - Robert Burnell: 1274 appointed Chancellor; 1277 elected Bishop of Bath and Wells

1292-1420 - Burnell family (occupancy of manor house ends)

1420-c.1487 - Francis Lovell and family 

1487-c1513 - property forfeited to King Richard III 

16th century - part of the estates belonging to the Duke of Norfolk

1617 - purchased by Humphry Lee of Langley Hall 

17th-20th centuries - Smythe family 

Late 20th century - Private ownership / Concord College

Present - English Heritage


Images of Acton Burnell Castle

Acton Burnell Castle - interior Acton Burnell Castle - tower base Acton Burnell Castle Acton Burnell Castle
Acton Burnell Castle - interior Acton Burnell Castle Acton Burnell Castle Acton Burnell Castle

Images Supplied and licensed from Shutterstock Standard Licence Package

Acton Burnell Castle Q&A

What Type of Castle Was Acton Burnell?

Acton Burnell Castle has been described as both a palace and a fortified manor house. It was substantial enough for King Edward I and his soldiers, advisers, and retinue; however, it was never an actual castle.

What Was the Main Use of Acton Burnell Castle?

While Parliament meetings were held here, the manor of Acton, both before and after fortification, was only ever known as a residence for multiple generations of the Burnell family. And it is evident by the chamber block's surviving remains that it was designed to be the main dwelling for Burnell and his household. 

After receiving permission to fortify in 1284, Robert Burnell had his manor at Acton transformed into a house suitable for a senior clergy member, with four corner turrets and the self-contained block's central element having two stories underneath a twin-span roof. Still, it is unlikely built for serious defense, as the large windows on the first floor indicate structures built for comfort rather than protection or armament. 

Nevertheless, the castle and several outbuildings--including St. Mary's Church--were protected by a moat. Perhaps the reason for such was due to the castle's location; during the medieval period, the Watling Road (the erstwhile Roman road) was the main route between commonly traveled territories. Of course, this is believed to be how a visit from King Edward I and his holding Parliaments there ever came to pass in the first place. 

When Was Acton Burnell Castle First Built?

The first mention of Acton Burnell manor was in Domesday. As of the late 12th century, it was held by Robert's descendant, William Burnell, who is credited with the construction of most of the standing features. 

It wasn't until 1284 when the King granted Robert a license to fortify his property, and work began on the site shortly thereafter. This structure ultimately replaced the original house in which Burnell had been born to create the architecture left behind for us today. Records suggest the manor's fortification continued throughout the rest of his lifetime, likely still in progress at his death in 1292.

How Big Was Acton Burnell Castle?

The extent of the estate is unknown, as much of it remains uncovered or has been destroyed.

The surviving chamber block of the bishop's private apartments is the grandest building to come out of Burnell's fortification. The warm, red sandstone ashlar was built two or three stories tall (records are conflicting) on a rectangular plan measuring 16m north-south by 30m east-west.

There was also a large garderobe tower with pyramidal roof projects from the center of the west side. Each corner of the building has projecting towers, three of which retain their original battlements. The southwest tower is the only one with a pyramidal roof added, converting it into a dovecote in the 18th century. These towers are also of a rectangular plan and rise to a third story.

Evidence for this multi-storied structure is seen on the wall's outer face, and the foundations survive underground. The ground floor was made of four chambers--two halls and two rooms--with porch-like sections in the eastern towers and small chambers in the western ones. 

Indeed, this establishment's status could have housed manorial officials, attendants, and guests, as well as the domestic provisions like barns, stables, and a brewhouse. Of these, only the two gable ends of the large tithe barn remain standing above ground, still at their full height, situated about 100m north-east of the manor. 

Does Acton Burnell Castle Still Exist?

Acton Burnell Castle was mostly demolished by the mid-17th century, with only the church, the hall, and the park maintained. Today, all that remains of the fortified residence are the manor house's outer walls and the barn's gable ends. The site also includes the earthwork and buried remains of the perimeter moat.

The shell of the old private residence is still open to the public for viewing. It is accessible by taking a footpath through the surrounding woods. 

English Heritage maintains the ruins. The site is a scheduled monument and Grade 1 listed building, protected by law. 


Location of Acton Burnell Castle

The location of Acton Burnell Castle did not change over time. The site is located near the village of Acton Burnell, Shropshire, England (adjacent to the college).