Saltmarshe Castle


Location   Edvin Loach
Year demolished   1955  
Reason   Surplus to requirements  
See all images: Gallery

Text written by, and copyright of, Nicholas Kingsley - many thanks

In the medieval period and later, Saltmarshe in Herefordshire was part of the bishop of Hereford's extensive manor of Bromyard, and was held by tenants including the Mortimers and the Coningsbys, who presumably had a manor house here. Taylor's map of the county in 1786 marks a house called Salt Marsh, which was occupied by William Higginson (d. 1812) after he bought the estate in 1799, but nothing is known about the appearance of this building. When Higginson died, his property passed to his great-nephew, Edmund Barneby (1802-71), who was a minor, and was let until he came of age to his uncle, the Rev. Thomas Barneby. Edmund came of age in 1823 and the following year took the Saltmarshe estate in hand. In 1825 he received royal licence to take the name of Higginson in lieu of Barneby as his great-uncle had directed, and it is seems likely that he went on to build a new house in the Tudor Gothic style sometime between 1828 and 1834. It has usually been said that the castle was built in c.1845-6 by James Pickard of Shrewsbury, but a press report in the Worcestershire Chronicle for 15 August 1849 makes it clear that the house was built in two distinct stages, the second of which began in that year: "This already fine edifice is now undergoing extensive additions and alterations from the designs and under the superintendence of Edward Haycock, Esq., of Shrewsbury. The additions include the erection of a large west wing, 130 feet long by 60 wide, with arch transom windows, a fine door and porch, and two high towers and turret; the whole in the castellated style, with rich details. The stone from Bromyard Down will be used. The first stone of the new works was laid on Wednesday evening, by Mrs. Barneby, of Brockhampton Court, who was accompanied by Master John Barneby, Edward Higginson, Esq., the worthy owner of the mansion, and Mr. Haycock, the architect."

James Pickard was assistant to Edward Haycock until 1854 when he set up on his own, and this no doubt explains how his name has come to be associated with the project. It is possible, of course, that the addition of 1849 followed very quickly on the construction of the first phase of the new house, but there is some evidence to suggest an earlier date. In 1834 Edmund Higginson ordered 'one of the most superb billiard-tables ever built in this country' in the Gothic style from John Thurston of London, which suggests he was furnishing a new house. He also bought an extensive collection of pictures formed by M. Boursault in Paris to furnish his gallery at Saltmarshe, which were later sold by Christies at a three-day sale in 1846. Finally, references in the local press first refer to the house as 'Saltmarshe Castle' in 1840, and it must be presumed that it had then achieved a baronial appearance.

Once one understands that the house was built in two stages, the distinction between them becomes fairly easy to spot. The first phase consisted of the east range and probably the northern service range, which does not seem to feature in any surviving photographs. This part of the house was on a smaller scale than the later work, and although highly irregular in design, incorporates some fundamentally domestic features such as the two bow windows (one square and the other canted). The design lacks form and consistency, with almost no two windows the same, and it looks like the work of an amateur or novice architect familiar with the work of Jeffry Wyatville but unable to use his architectural vocabulary to articulate a coherent elevation.

The second phase, for which Edward Haycock was responsible, consisting of the south front and west wing, more than doubled the size of the house, and included the big machicolated tower, to which the composition of the south front builds up, and the square tower at the south-west corner of the house. Here the scale is larger, the forms are bolder and clearer, and the result is a much more satisfactory overall effect. Little is known about the interior of the house, for which no plan seems to survive, but it seems probable that the principal reception rooms were in the later part of the house. They included a great dining room with a high timber-vaulted ceiling, and an immense drawing room with a heavily beamed ceiling.

A park was formed around the house in the early 19th century and three lodges were built in the 1840s: battlemented ones echoing the style of the house along the B4203, and a simpler octagonal lodge to the north-east. Later generations of the family seem to have made few changes to the house, and during the ownership of William Theodore Barneby (1873-1946) the house was let from time to time and part of the land of the estate was sold in the 1930s. Having no surviving son to inherit, the house passed on his death to his nephew, Thomas Philip Barneby (b. 1908), who sold the remainder of the estate in 1953. The new owners demolished the house in 1955, and the only surviving remains are some crenellated garden walls, with one tall polygonal tower and a lower square one. A caravan park now occupies the site.