Castling on the West Midlands canals

A VISIT TO DUDLEY CASTLE AND ZOO, beside the Dudley Canal, brings the rich history of this region to life

Dudley Castle

 

Overlooking the town of Dudley is the romantic ruin of Dudley Castle. For centuries, this castle was the centre of Dudley and it showed the town had great strategic and symbolic importance, a place where battles were fought and lost. In later years, Dudley became famous as a site of the Industrial Revolution, which led to the construction of the Dudley Canal – this, like the castle, demonstrated that the town was an important place, now as an industrial and commercial centre. Nowadays, neither castle nor canal are used for quite the same reasons they were constructed – but they are still landmarks rich in local and national history.

Dudley Castle was constructed by the Normans and occupied by the Lords of Dudley. John Dudley became Lord Protector in 1537 to the young Edward VI. When the king died, Dudley had Lady Jane Grey put on the throne instead of Princess Mary. Dudley, like Lady Jane Grey, was executed for this impertinence. The castle was fought over during the Civil War, when it was occupied by forces loyal to the king – in punishment, it was partly demolished. In 1750, the castle burnt for three days and was reduced to the state of a ruin. But it remained a popular local landmark, so in 1937 the Earl Of Dudley opened a zoo in the grounds, with enclosures designed by Berthold Lubetkin. The zoo remains popular but the castle is not forgotten – there are ghost walks, re-enactments, live music and bird of prey displays. The castle also has a visitor centre featuring a virtual reconstruction of the castle.

From Dudley, two canals – Dudley No 1 and Dudley No 2 – can be explored by visitors. Dudley No 1 includes the Dudley Tunnel and the Black Country Living Museum, which are both essential visits for anybody interested in the industrial heritage of the area. The Dudley Tunnel was constructed by Lord Dudley to bring limestone from his local quarries into Birmingham. Dudley No 2 is a little more rural, leading to the Bumble Hole Nature Reserve, which features grassland, ponds and wild flowers.

Tim Ellis