The market town of Ludlow, Shropshire is a special place for me as I spent many summer holidays roaming the town, while visiting my family. The castle was a magical ruin where knights fought the battles I read about in my books. It was also a place full of the history I was to fall in love with.
For example, did you know that the young Princes in the Tower stayed at Ludlow on their way to the tower?
Or, that Arthur, Prince of Wales brought his young bride, Catherine of Aragon to Ludlow, shortly after their marriage and it was where he died six months later?
Despite it being a ruin, the beauty of the castle is down to its varied architecture and the way in which you can see how it grew from its beginnings in 1056, and how it was extended during the Norman and Tudor periods.
The reason for this post, is that I saw this marvellous painting of the castle on Twitter, on the account of @HenryRothwell:
This 1930 painting by Stanley Roy Badmin is glorious, as it conjures up those sunny days of my childhood – but obviously many decades later!! We all know nostalgia comes with rose coloured spectacles but, this does have a timeless quality about it.
What we see is the surrounding Shropshire hills, with this North-west view taken from the top of Whitcliffe, although there is quite a bit of poetic licence here, as you can see from this 1738 drawing by S&N Buck:
The castle fills the skyline, with the Great Keep dominating the image. To the right, we can see St Lawrence’s Church spires. Trees of varying hues tumble down the hillside and just to the right, there is an archway leading into the castle, which was cut through the curtain wall in the late 12th century. At the base of the painting, Badmin has included one of the stone bridges that bring you into Ludlow; the newest one of the three, Dinham Bridge, built in 1823 to replace a wooden bridge.
This painting caused me to wonder about other paintings of the castle and possibly its surrounding areas.
An artist who painted Ludlow on a frequent basis was Philip Wilson Steer. Steer was a founder member of the New English Art Club in 1886, trained in Paris and is known for his landscapes and sea views, in the main.
The brooding sky in this 1898 painting, entitled ‘Bird-nesting, Ludlow’ is particularly striking:
But, this one, in an impressionist style, really stands out:
The rough strokes and autumnal colour palette is stunning and there is the unmistakable outline of the castle at the focal point of the canvas. Steer returned to Ludlow many times and, this one from 1910, shows Ludlow in a very romantic light:
This view reminded me of another painting and it is this JMW Turner pencil drawing that I had seen at the Barber Institute:
Turner painted Ludlow from a number of angles for various patrons and some of the sketches he made became full watercolours:
Turner certainly liked Ludlow as a subject and amongst the works, these colour studies from 1828 link us to his abstract ideas towards the end of his life:
Turner also gives us a view of Ludford Bridge, passing over the River Teme. Ludford Bridge has certainly had its traumas over the centuries and even survived a HGV lorry collision in 2016!
Slightly earlier than Turner is this by Royal Academician, William Hodges. This romantic painting is from 1778 and it is so atmospheric, with the viewer being positioned low and looking up at the imposing ruin of the Great Keep and Judges Chambers. The light that floods through the arched entrance illuminates the cart and we can see the stone bridge leading us to the inner bailey in shadow, over the moat, lending perhaps a sense of danger to the scene. It is interesting to compare it to this 1828 etching:
But, what about more contemporary works? After all the romanticism, I was hoping that someone had a grittier take on this, and John Piper did not fail me in this quest!
From 1972, this screenprint on paper is in Tate’s collection and there are many out on sale though varying auction houses. Love the angle of this and the imposing power of the castle. It seems apt to end on this image as, to me, it captures the original majesty of the castle, standing proud on the rocky terrain, looking out, protecting its land.
To end, this from AE Housman’s famous ‘A Shropshire Lad, a reminder to those who went off to fight that the town will always stand firm as a place of safety:
THE RECRUIT Leave your home behind, lad, And reach your friends your hand, And go, and luck go with you While Ludlow tower shall stand. Oh, come you home of Sunday While Ludlow streets are still And Ludlow bells are calling To farm and lane and mill, Or come you home of Monday When Ludlow market hums And Ludlow chimes are playing ‘The conquering hero comes’, Come you home a hero, Or come not home at all, The lads you leave will mind you Till Ludlow tower shall fall. And you will list the bugle That blows in lands of morn, And make the foes of England Be sorry you were born. And you till trump of doomsday On lands of morn may lie, And make the hearts of comrades Be heavy where you die. Leave your home behind you, Your friends by field and town: Oh, town and field will mind you Till Ludlow tower is down.