Tutbury is situated five miles from Burton, on the south bank of the river Dove, which separates it from Derbyshire. The elevated and commanding site of Tutbury Castle was occupied by a fortress in the time of the Heptarchy, when it was the principal residence of the Kings of Mercia, who dwelt here in security against any sudden attack of an enemy.
But the first certain information on record respecting Tutbury is that immediately after the Norman Conquest in 1066; Hugh de Albrincis was in possession of Tutbury Castle, but was deprived of it by the Conqueror, who gave it to one of his greatest favourites and friends, Henry de Ferrers. In the year 1250, it passed to the Earl of Lancaster, in consequence of Robert de Ferrers having joined Simon Montford in rebellion against Henry III. In 1322, Thomas Earl of Lancaster fortified it against Edward II but could not hold out, and was obliged to surrender. Tutbury Castle consequently reverted to the Crown. It was afterwards neglected and fell into decay, till it came into the possession of John of Gaunt, who re-built it of hewn freestone, upon the ancient site in 1350.
This castle was now the principal seat of the Dukes of Lancaster, and was for ages distinguished as the scene of festivity and courtly splendour. The number of minstrels which crowded to it was so great, that as an expedient for preserving order among them, the celebrated John of Gaunt, appointed a chief minstrel, with the title of King, with inferior officers under him to assist in the execution of the laws. A charter to that effect was granted to the chief minstrel in 1381, by the Duke of Lancaster.
On the demise of John of Gaunt, the Duchy of Lancaster and its dependencies devolved on Henry Plantagenet, his only surviving son; and when that Prince afterwards ascended the throne by the title of Henry the Fourth, the honour and castle of Tutbury being thus united with the Duchy of Lancaster to the Crown, they have continued so to the present time.
In 1568, Mary Queen of Scots was confined in Tutbury Castle, which was then a solitary spot, neglected and decayed. Here she continued many years a State prisoner, with sufficient time for contemplation, and to repent of her former levity and wantonness.
The following account of the state of the castle at the time this unfortunate Queen was confined there, is extracted from the papers of Sir Ralph Sadler, the keeper. "The whole area, containing about three acres, was encompassed on all sides but one with a strong and lofty embattled wall, and deep foss, as the present ruins plainly shew. The principal entrance was by a bridge under the great gateway to the north, part of which is still remaining. At a small distance to the left of this gateway, or lodge, stood Mr. Dorel's office and bedchamber, and four other rooms. Along the north-east wall, about 160 feet from the entrance, was a lofty tower, embattled, containing four rooms, viz. store-house at the bottom; above that, Curie's apartment; over which was the doctor's; and at the top, the chief cook's. This tower is then said to be very much shaken and cleft, and now very little of it is remaining. At a little distance from this began the principal suite of the Queen's apartments, extending along the east side; viz. the Queen's dining chamber, her closet, and bedchamber, cabinet, place for wood and coal, and then her women's room. These were all above stairs." From this Castle Mary was removed in 1585 to Chartley, and thence in 1586 to Fotheringay Castle, where she was beheaded.
King James the First, in one of his tours through England, visited Tutbury Castle, the former place of his mother's confinement; and such are the strange vicissitudes of life, that those walls which had so long re-echoed the sighs and groans of an unfortunate Queen, were now shaken with the acclamations of a multitude assembled to greet her son, their Sovereign.
During the Civil Wars in the time of Charles I. Tutbury Castle was fortified and garrisoned by the Royalists. The King spent a fortnight at this castle in 1643; and the following items of expense for provisions for the garrison, will shew the prices of those times:
1644. May 7th, paid for 8cwt. 2qr. 17lb. of cheese to Tutbury... £7 15 10
...................................................For five pots of butter to ditto.. £0 13 0
Dec. For 25 strike of oats, which were sent for by
warrant to Tutbury.....................................................................£2 4 10
1646. Jan. 1. Paid for a standing piece of beef, a quarter of
mutton, and a fat pig, and for carrying them to Tutbury............£0 8 0
This Castle, after a long siege, being much battered, was surrendered by the garrison to Colonel Brereton in 1648; it was then greatly demolished by the Parliament forces; and when the event of the war was determined, the fortifications were destroyed by an order from the usurpers of power. This demolition, and the dilapidations of time, have finally reduced this once-beautiful and lofty edifice to a picturesque ruin. A considerable part of the gateway remains; and from the few vestiges of the castle, it appears to have been built of hewn freestone, with admixtures of gypsum.
A round tower, intended to appear as a ruin, has been erected on a high mound by Lord Vernon, the present possessor, who holds the castle and circumjacent grounds by lease from the Crown. A building has been erected among the ruins, which is the residence of the steward, who entertains the tenants occasionally at wakes, etc. A large room in this house is used for assemblies; and the Minstrel's Court is annually held in it. The green park around the Castle-hill is now a pasture for sheep and cattle; the prospect from the summit of the hill is very extensive, and commands a picturesque view of Needwood Forest.
Tutbury is a pleasant little town, containing about one thousand inhabitants. There was a weekly market held here prior to the Norman invasion, but it is now discontinued. A large cotton factory has been established in this town by Bott and Co.; it is supplied with water from the Dove, and gives employment to a considerable number of men, women, and children. Several woolcombers are also employed in this town.
The Dove fertilizes the rich meadows on its banks, and affords a supply of trout and other fish to the inhabitants of the town. There is an excellent stone bridge over the river at Tutbury; and the turnpike road from Burton-upon-Trent to Uttoxeter passes through the town. The soil of this parish is generally rich, abounding with alabaster and marl; and the meadows are occasionally improved by the inundations of the Dove.
Tutbury Church is a vicarage, dedicated to the Virgin Mary; it constitutes a portion of the ancient priory church, and is a large edifice, with an embattled tower, surmounted by four pinnacles. The principal entrance is an archway of exquisitely rich and beautiful Saxon architecture, and is perhaps the most perfect specimen of the kind in the Island. This entrance is a low semi-circular arch, with a similar arched window above it; it is partly composed of alabaster, richly ensculptured with a variety of grotesque figures; but no description can give an adequate idea of the beauty of the whole. Part of the arch of the window is beginning to moulder, but the entrance is in a state of perfect preservation.
The Priory was founded by Henry de Ferrers in 1080, and amply endowed by him with lands and revenues. The religious order who resided here were Benedictine monks, and several additional donations were conferred on the establishment by William Rufus and his Queen Maud. Earl Robert Ferrers, grandson to the founder, confirmed to the monks all their possessions, and added the tithes of Newborough to his gift. His descendants also contributed to the wealth and magnificence of this celebrated Priory, scarcely a vestige of which now remains. Little is known of the original extent of this monastery; but among the few facts recorded by antiquaries respecting it, we are informed that it contained a splendid monument to the memory of the founder, with a Latin inscription upon it. A general account of the annual revenue from the possessions belonging to this Priory, is preserved in the First Fruits Office, by which it appears that in 1538 they amounted to the annual sum of £244 16s. 8d. a very considerable income, according to the value of money in the middle of the sixteenth century.
On the dissolution of the monastic orders by Henry VIII. Arthur Meverel alias Throwley, with eight monks, surrendered this Priory to the King's Commissioners on the 14th day of September, 1538, as appears by the original deed of surrender in the Augmentation Office. This prior afterwards received a pension of fifty pounds a-year. The site of Tutbury Priory was granted in the sixth year of the reign of Edward VI, to Sir William Cavendish, who pulled down the Priory, and part of the church, to build a large mansion, which was the residence of his eldest son Henry. He dying without legitimate issue, it devolved to his next brother; and it has descended from successive possessors to the present owner, the Duke of Devonshire
A pretended instance of total abstinence, in the case of a woman named Ann Moore, an inhabitant of Tutbury, for a long time engrossed a very considerable share of public attention. The imposture was carried on for several years with such extraordinary art and success, that it obtained, in regard to the supposed validity of the woman's assertions, the sanction of a large number of medical, philosophical, and other visitors of every description from all parts of the kingdom. The laudable exertions of a Committee of gentlemen, formed for the avowed purpose of investigating this extraordinary case, at length discovered the cheat; and the wretched woman completed their labours by a formal and unequivocal confession of her guilt before Thomas Lister, Esq. one of the Magistrates for this county."