*Of course, we love you. Amazing. #comrades, don’tletthebastardsgrindyoudown xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
There used to be a castle in our village – specifically, a 12th Century motte-and-bailey castle (a fortification with a wooden or stone keep situated on a raised earth work called a motte, accompanied by an enclosed courtyard, or bailey, surrounded by a protective ditch or pallisade). I know the spot – ‘Castle Hill’. Apart from the obvious give-a-way name, it basically fits the description. From the road, the actual building is hidden, but, if you position yourself just right, through the trees you can catch a glimpse of grey, rocky wall and a castellated roofline. At the bottom of the hill, the previously mentioned brook (the one I had to cross to get to school) meanders in a shallow ditch, and there is a gently inclining dirt track that serves as a driveway leading to the top. The entrance to the driveway is rather overgrown; out of the brambles a sign crookedly declares in large black letters, PRIVATE PROPERTY KEEP OUT. This merely adds to the aura of mystery that surrounds the place, and it compels you to want to take a closer look, if you dare. It’s like something out of a Hammer Horror; it’s like when someone wanders off into a dark place to investigate a shadowy figure or an unearthly sound, and you wonder why the hell they would do that when common sense says you’d run the other way. They’re just asking for it…Well, it's like that: I want to go and have a look despite my better judgement.
With my contemporary (and largely uneducated in such matters) vision, I can’t see why anyone would want to build a castle here. I can’t see anything worth fighting over – simply land/territory/possession? Perhaps someone had a persecution complex, or pretensions of grandeur or just an over-blown ego. Anyway, I’m intrigued. Besides, it might turn out that my ancestors were deposed nobility; I like this version of events better than the rumours I’d heard that the first Pettys were brought over in slave ships from Spain. (This is the inheritance I’m up against!?)
It turns out that Whitwick gets a mention in the Domesday Book as Witewic, meaning ‘The White farm’, which could be a reference to the pervasive white sandstone found in the area. It was listed amongst the lands given to Hugh de Grandmesnil by William the Conqueror, as a reward for his service in battle. Grandmesnil received 100 mansions - 65 of them in Leicestershire - and he was appointed sheriff of the county. Perhaps it was he who oversaw the construction of the castle, and perhaps he inhabited it himself for a while.
In the present day there are no remains of the castle. The current building has an interesting history of it’s own. It is a folly (a decorative building; hence, the castellates), built in 1846 by a local landowner as almhouses for the poor. In which case, the site agreeably went from being a fortification for the privileged to being a hostel for the under-privileged.
Apparently, our whole village is steeped in history. I say ‘apparently’ because like the castle it’s not obvious to the naked eye. I say ‘steeped’ because that way it becomes much improved and interesting (rather than dullsville). Unlike some villages, where the heritage is noticeable in the form of canals, thatched roofs, stone walls, cobbled narrrow streets and the like, Whitwick’s heritage has to be sought after, and recognised for what it is. The past gets buried. Forgotten.
To cut a long story short: