According to legend, a wooden castle was constructed on the site in the 8th century by a Saxon lord called Dud. However this legend is not taken seriously by historians, who usually date the castle from soon after the Norman Conquest of 1066. It is thought one of the Conqueror's followers, Ansculf de Picquigny, built the first castle in 1070. and that his son, William Fitz-Ansculf, was in possession of the castle when it was recorded at the time of the Domesday Book of 1086. Some of the earthworks from this castle, notably the "motte", the vast mound on which the present castle keep now sits, still remain. However the earliest castle would have been of wooden construction and no longer exists. After Fitz-Ansculf, the castle came into the possession of the Paganel family, who built the first stone castle on the site. This castle was strong enough to withstand a siege in 1153 by the forces of King Stephen. However, after Gervase Paganel joined a failed rebellion against King Henry II in 1173 the castle was demolished by order of the king. The Somery's were the next dynasty to own the site and set about building the castle in stone starting in the second half of the 13th century and continuing on into the 14th. The keep and the main gate date from this re-building. A chapel and great hall were also constructed.
The last of the male line of Somery, John Somery, died in 1321 and the castle and estates passed to his sister Margaret and her husband John de Sutton. Subsequently, members of this family often used Dudley as a surname. In 1532 another John Sutton (the seventh in the Dynasty named John) inherited the castle but after having money problems was ousted by a relative, John Dudley, later Duke of Northumberland, in 1537. Starting around 1540, a range of new buildings were erected within the older castle walls by him. The architect was William Sharington and the buildings are thus usually referred to as Sharington Range. Dudley was later beheaded for his attempt to set Lady Jane Grey on the throne of England.
The castle was returned to the Sutton family by Queen Mary, ownership being given to Edward Sutton. The castle was later visited by Queen Elizabeth I and was considered as a possible place of imprisonment for Mary, Queen of Scots. However, the Sutton family were not destined to hold the castle for much longer and Edward Sutton's son, Edward Sutton III was the last of the male line to possess the property. In 1592, this Edward sent men to raid the property of Gilbert Lyttelton, carrying away cattle which were impounded in the Castle grounds. Financial difficulties continued to mount, however, until Edward Sutton III solved the problem by marrying his grand daughter and heir, Frances Sutton, to Humble Ward, the son of a wealthy merchant.
The castle became a Royalist stronghold during the English Civil War, and was besieged twice before its surrender to Cromwell's forces in 1646. The first siege in 1644 was lifted after the Royalists sent a relief force which drove away the Parliamentarians. In 1646 Sir William Brereton commanded the Parliamentarians in the second siege against the Royalists led by Colonel Leveson. The castle was surrendered on 13 May 1646. Parliament subsequently ordered that the castle be partly demolished and the present ruined appearance of the keep results from this decision. However some habitable buildings remained and were subsequently used occasionally by the Earls of Dudley although by this time they preferred to reside at Himley Hall, approximately four miles away, when in the Midlands. A stable block was constructed on the site at some point before 1700. This was the final building to be constructed in the castle.
The bulk of the remaining habitable parts of the castle was destroyed by fire in 1750. However, in the nineteenth century, the site found a new use as a 'Romantic Ruin' and a certain amount of tidying up of the site was carried out by the Earls of Dudley. Battlements on one of the remaining towers were reconstructed and two cannon captured during the Crimean Wars were installed. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century the site was used for fêtes and pageants. In 1937, when the Dudley Zoo was established, the castle grounds were incorporated into the zoo. The castle visitor centre was opened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in June 1994, and amongst other exhibits housed a computer generated reconstruction of the castle as it was in 1550, displayed through hardware that demonstrated the first use of the virtual tour concept, prior to its widespread adoption as a Web-based browser utility. Access to Dudley Castle is included in the zoo entrance fee.
Dudley Zoological Gardens (DZG) is much more than a zoo; hundreds of exotic and endangered animals inhabit an ancient wooded hillside, with a rich geological history, around the ruins of the 11th century Dudley Castle and share a site with the world's largest single collection of Modernist Tecton structures – and the country's only vintage chairlift! It is also unique in that the the walls of the castle incorporate thousands of fossilized trilobytes, the only species to have crystal eyes. DZG is home to more than 1300 animals, and has nigh on 200 species, including some of the rarest creatures on Planet Earth. The site is largely wheelchair accessible. Where access to certain areas is not possible for various reasons, improved interpretation and alternative services will, wherever possible, assist in overcoming these restrictions. They welcome assistance dogs on site except in animal contact areas. Disabled parking and drop off points are available. There are Disabled facilities available in all toilets. Manual wheelchairs and Electric scooters are available to hire from the main entrance.
Location : Castle Hill, Dudley, West Midlands DY1 4QF
Transport: Dudley Port Station (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes : Dudley bus station is a 3 minute walk from the Castle.
Opening Times : Daily 10:00 to 17:00.
Tickets : Adults £14.05; Concessions £12.00; Children (3 - 15) £9.00; Disabled Children £7.50
Tel: 01384 215316