The main route continues amid surroundings of much beauty, with the well-named White Sheet Hill to the right and the wooded and hummocky outline of Ansty Hill to the left, until the turning for the latter makes a good excuse for leaving the high road once more. Ansty village, seven miles from Shaftesbury, is unremarkable in itself, but has close by it one of the most picturesque and historic ruins in Wiltshire. The demolition of Wardour Castle came about in this wise. At the outbreak of the Civil War the owner, Sir Thomas Arundell, was away from home with the army around the King. Lady Arundell decided to defend the Castle with the small force at her disposal, barely fifty men all told, but helped and sustained by the women servants, who kept the garrison fed and supplied with ammunition. This handful of defenders held at bay for five days a well-armed force of 1,300 men commanded by Sir Edward Hungerford, and made good terms for itself before marching out. These, however, were not faithfully kept by the Roundheads who, in occupying the Castle, were commanded by Edmund Ludlow. Sir Thomas (or Lord Arundell, his title had not then received formal recognition) died of wounds received in one of the western battles just after the capitulation and his son in turn laid siege to his own home. The resistance was as stubborn as his mother’s had been, the force within the Castle being many times as great. All hope of dislodging the Roundheads being lost, the New Lord of Wardour resolved to blow up the walls with mines, placed beneath them under cover of darkness. This was done to such good purpose that the garrison, or all that was left of it, was forced at once to surrender.
[Illustration: WARDOUR CASTLE.]
The castle and estates had been acquired from the Grevilles by the Arundells, an old Cornish family, in the early sixteenth century. The Arundells were convinced Catholics, and the first of the family to own Wardour was beheaded in 1552 “as a rebel and traitor” or rather, “as his conscience was of more value to him than his head.” As we see the building to day it forms a fine example of fifteenth-century architecture, despite its dismantled state. The walls are fairly perfect and the eastern entrance with its two towers, approached by a stately terrace, is most imposing. The gateway is surmounted by an inscription referring to the two Arundells of the Great Rebellion; above is a niche containing a bust of Christ and the words “SUB NOMINE TUO STET GENUS ET DOMUS.” The entrance to the stairs, an arch in the Classic Renaissance style, is a picturesque and much-admired corner of the ruin.
Not much can be said for the aspect of the new Castle, a building erected in the eighteenth century. It is a museum of art and contains many treasures by Rembrandt, Holbein, Velasquez, Vandyke and other great masters and, most interesting of all, a portrait of Lady Blanche Arundell, the defender of the Castle. She was a granddaughter of Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, and so came of an heroic and kingly line. Another famous relic is a wooden chalice made from the Glastonbury Thorn, and the splendid (so-called) Westminster chasuble is preserved in the chapel.