26 April 2011

Britain's First Bicameral Parliament

Built of red sandstone, and framed by a magnificent cedar of Lebanon, Acton Burnell Castle, really a fortified manor house, was built between 1284 and 1293 by Robert Burnell, Bishop of Bath and Wells, and Lord Chancellor to Edward I. It's rectangular in plan, with towers at each corner. Over three storeys were the usual offices of kitchen, buttery and pantry; hall, solar, cabinets, and chapel.

Acton Burnell is famous for being the location for Britain's first legislating parliament consisting of both Lords and Commons, in 1283. This is believed to have been held in the nearby barn, of which remains only one gable end, in the grounds of Concord College.

The college incorporates Acton Burnell Hall, built in 1814. The castle had been in ruins for a century or so by this point, and was adopted as a folly in the grounds of the hall. Two shallow-arched coach gateways in the castle walls date from this period, the driveway to the hall passing through the castle.

Robert Burnell also founded the nearby church of St Mary, still largely as built in 1282. A small square window in the north wall of the chancel gave lepers, kept outside, sight of the altar - a heartwarming instance of a charitable Church. In the north transept is a fine sixteenth-century monument to Richard Lee and his wife.

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