the historic royal family's astley castle sees a renovation in brick

the historic royal family's astley castle sees a renovation in brick

astley castle originally served as the royal family’s fortified manor for three generations before being turned into a hotel during the second world war. after years of abandon, it became a ruined curiosity for those who knew of its location until the landmark trust – a building preservation charity – proposed to restore the structure. a competition took place for which architects were invited to submit proposals for the renovation of the residence and surrounding gardens.


london-based studio witherford watson mann architects was chosen to carry out the project, breathing a new life into the ancient construction. given a project of this scale, the studio questioned relationship between the old and new — how the new structure might fortify the collapsing ruin without stripping it of its historical image. to retain as much of the original feel of the space as possible.

all images courtesy of the landmark trust



the design strategy aimed to reoccupy the old residence, to re-institute the spaces as they had historically been used, retaining as much of the original feel of the space as possible. brick became the material of choice for the intervention as it matched the idea of the first construction but retained a visually evident difference. it also allowed the new construction to transition into the old masonry elements following the uneven joints created by the dilapidated walls. construction crew worked hand in hand with archaeologists to excavate the site in preparation for the insertion of new materials. large concrete lintels and other larger structural members had to be craned in from outside the mote, which also complicated the construction process. cintec ties were used to strengthen existing walls without adding any visible structure with a process that includes drilling holes into the partitions and filling them with a steel rod and expanding cementitious grout.

entry gate

stark contrast between original masonry and new brickwork

main hall exemplifying moments of the new intervention and the old construction

central stairs made from contemporary materials

stair detail


masonry detailing in the kitchen

living room


exposed original stonework in the bedrooms

exposed original stone details in the bathroom

bricks follow the uneven wall lines of the original masonry walls

bird’s eye view of the original castle, before renovation

  • This is great. There should be more projects like this, less demolition of “fragments”, and less replication in restoration of existing old structures.

    martha says:
  • What a beautiful, sensitive, impeccably orchestrated project. The concept of ruin lives in every single detail. The main hall is just exquisite. Bravo!

    Lena says:
  • Seems as if I may be the only one, but I think this is very badly done. The use of brick is at once too close and too far removed from the original construction. Far better to introduce a completely different material, steel or otherwise, that marks significantly the difference between the old and newer structurals. These are the newer thoughts of modern British ‘restoration’ wherin there is no thought of trying to mimic the original, simple to preserve and present as unadulterated as possible. In the early 70’s italian restorations grasped this … where a large wooden window frame was missing but the stone framework intact, they simply added a large unbroken glass fill, thereby making the structure usable and therefore sustainable, but also giving reverence to the original structure.

    pete says:
  • Interesting idea, totally awful approach and result.

    fdonelli says:
  • Sorry! A dream project was depreciated by too many cooks and diverse competing materials. If the entire renovation were completed using just those vertically stacked blocks behind the stove, the beauty of the original magnificent ruins would have prevailed. Those split level wooden stairs are a travesty. Ordinarily, I do not comment negatively, but!

    Fred A. Saas, architect says:
  • Historic crime.
    That an “architect” has wanted to look at the cost of some noble ruins.
    Since spending money to restore it and leave it as it was before, at least on the outside.
    Inside, might be all modern, comfortable and home automation whatsoever.
    If possible, furnished in period style. That the one, does not mean that.
    But that …
    It’s ugly, bad taste and as I said before, a crime in the history of this palace.

    Sure you will be so proud and blessed and all that stuff, but I hope that there are people with “half a brain” that opine like me.

    Puffffffffffff … 8 S

    Francisco Javier Lázaro Pinela says:
  • I thought Architecture was all about BUILT environment and not the environment of RUINS.
    What’s the point of celebrating ruins (even culturally) if they can be turned into habitable spaces again?

    I just dont get it when architects (all people linked to the profession) are moaning about a built environment? Or moaning for no apparent reasons is like human second nature. SMH

    This place was in RUINS, they gave it LIFE again, what the heck is wrong with that?

    So y’all wanted it to remain a worthless pile of dead stones?

    We are all involved in “built environment” aka architecture to improve the lives of humans & give our living spaces value. This is exactly what this project has accomplished. So why the pathetic moaning? Is it because those moaners wished it was their project. SMH (shaking My Head)

    Ebenezer says:
  • some of us like ruins … life and death life and death

    pete says:
  • i like the result. somthing i would have done also in an other way, but it is a good action to safe the ruin!

    bene says:
  • splendid – when can I move in?

    dbkii says:
  • I was fascinated with the state of the building after World War II and I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the ruins restored with fresh pieces of a clearly alternate color, as the previous gentleman mentioned, the Italians have so successfully done.
    It is not important for one to see an absolute replica of the very original structure but I don’t feel that there was enough left of the structure it to warrant the rather unattractive intervention that took place.

    Ron Smith says:
  • Who were the the italian architects you’re referring to?

    spork says:
  • I think this is one of the, if not the most magnificent renovation works I’ve come across. Sometimes, the reason people celebrate ruins and dilapidated structures apart from the nostalgic value, is because natural dilapidation, over time may add a sculptural aesthetic to the structure. Something that is very unique and can only be achieved over time. Case in point – the fireplace block in the main hall.

    Usually architects/designers add a lot of new and contrasting materials (as some comments also suggest) but keeping these sculptural architectural elements intact and celebrating them in this way makes the new space immensely majestic. Instead of adding too many new elements and details everywhere, I like that they have done minor alterations in most areas and concentrated on making the private spaces (like bed and bath rooms) more comfortable to live in.

    This project is an answer (of sorts) to my problem with many other renovation projects because they don’t end up showing the evidence of the passage of time and the history of the site as WWM Architects have in this site. I appreciate and really admire renovation works of Italian Masters like Carlo Scarpa, but all projects of this nature do not need to take the same approach. This is a fresh perspective of looking at structure that was practically completely ruined. I’m extrememly impressed. GREAT WORK!!

    DB says:
  • Congratulations a very good restoration.

    Fèlix Vives says:
  • I am a staunch traditionalist in historic restoration. I support replication when done within the historic context, and executed by “lineage knowledge holders” of traditional skill sets, and trained artisans. Unfortunately, we are very few in number, and most budgets do not support that level of restoration. That will mean that much of our historic fabric will be lost if we do not step forward and support the work of organization like “The Landmarks Trust,” and what they are trying to do.

    It is easy to criticize from the “armchair,” and point out perceived flaw in modality and design. I can always see improvements in my own work in both my designs, and the methods I employ, whether vintage or new work. To criticize this after the fact in others works is pointless and fruitless, nor generally productive. It is a challenge to bring modern design ito vintage architecture, and do it well, as often as not it is done poorly with the “disneyfication” of the old work with “indigent” replication, or ugly modernity. I believe, over all, this is one of the finest meldings of modernity and archaic I have ever seen…little would I change if I was to have had a chance to do the work under the budget and constraints of this project.

    Well done…

    Jay C. White Cloud says:
  • I personally think it is very interesting… I love how the structure was preserved from the exterior(the choice of brick is good!) and how it created sublime spaces on the interior; however I would have probably approached in it a different way such as using large glass windows on some facades that create an in-and-out flow of space. And maybe a bit more color on the interior

    rasha says:

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