The 'delectable folly' that is Brewood's Speedwell Castle
Apr 2 2010 By Chris Upton
Chris Upton attempts to deconstruct the mystery of Speedwell Castle in Staffordshire.
The village of Brewood in Staffordshire is one of those quintessentially old English communities.
If we turn a blind eye to the ubiquitous commuter dormitories that have risen up on the outskirts (the inevitable result of being so close to the large city of Wolverhampton) it is a well-preserved ancient place.
There is, of course, a medieval parish church, with a tall Perpendicular spire visible for miles around, and a collection of tricky junctions that were clearly assembled when the fastest thing on four wheels was a cart.
The village pubs are there too, though not all have survived the recession, and the central square has long since been cleared of market stalls. Brewood market never took off in the way its landowners would have wanted. Nevertheless, the later Georgian houses demonstrate that the village never died on its feet.
But there is one entirely aberrant feature, so surprising that a casual motorist with an eye for architecture might well mow down a couple of pedestrians in surprise. So strategically placed is it – right by the market place and staring down Stafford Street – that no one passing through the centre of the village can ignore it. They call it Speedwell Castle.
In a village that is largely homely and small-scale, Speedwell Castle sticks out like a flamboyant thumb. Pevsner calls it “a delectable folly” and the star attraction in the village. It consists of two bays of brick, each of three storeys, with a pillared entrance between them. Architectural styling suggests a date somewhere in the middle of the 1700s, perhaps around 1760. I suppose you could call the roof battlemented, but you could hardly call the whole thing a castle.
Then there is the glass. Most of the houses in the centre of Brewood have no more than a modest handful of windows but Speedwell has more than 40, some rounded, most under elaborate ogee canopies. The window tax evidently meant nothing here.
We do not know who the architect was. Some have attributed the building to Thomas Farnolls Pritchard, much of whose work was just across the county boundary in Shropshire, and who was certainly involved in work at nearby Chillington and Tong Castle. The dating would make this possible, but there’s no evidence to substantiate it. There are some visual links to a similarly Gothic house in Stourbridge High Street and to Shenstone Hall near Lichfield.
There is, perhaps, a link to Batty Langley, who produced a kind of pattern book to the new Gothic in the 1740s, and whose designs were widely disseminated in the following years. But if Speedwell Castle is not Batty by name, it is undoubtedly batty by nature.
The building has lived a chequered life.