UK Genealogy Archives logo

Kenilworth, Warwickshire

Historical Description

Kenilworth, a small town and a parish in Warwickshire. The town stands on a small stream, near the river Avon, 5 miles N by E of Warwick, 5 NW of Leamington, 5½ SSW of Coventry, and 99 from London. It has a station on the L. & N.W.R., and a head post office. Its name is supposed to have been taken from the Mercian king Kenulf, or from his son Kenelm, and the word worthe, signifying " a dwelling-place;" but in many old document's, particularly of the time of Elizabeth, it is improperly written Killing-worth, and it is still so called by some old people. A royal castle stood adjacent in the Saxon times, and was destroyed in the wars of Canute. The place till after the Norman Conquest formed part of the manor of Stoneleigh, but it was given by Henry I. to Geoffrey de Clinton, and it then, about 1122, acquired an Augustinian priory and a new castle. The town thence rose to importance; it obtained a weekly market, which has long been discontinued; and it afterwards engaged largely in comb-making, which also fell into decay. Of late years the town has much improved, and many villa residences have been erected. It attracts th& notice of strangers chiefly by the vestiges of its ancient priory, and by the ruins and reminiscences of its castle. It is scattered and almost straggling, but it has an aspect of neatness, comfort, and picturesqueness, and together with its environs it answers well to the description of it by Jago: " Chiefly two fair streets, in adverse rows, Their lengthened fronts extend, reflecting each Beauty on each reciprocal. Between A verdant valley sloped from either side, Forms the mid-space, where gently gliding flows A crystal stream beneath the mouldering base Of an old abbey's venerable walls. Still further in the vale her castle lifts Its stately towers and tottering battlements, Dressed with the rampart ivy's unchecked growth, Luxuriant."

The town is governed by a local board, and is a petty sessional division. It has two churches, Roman Catholic, Congregational, Wesleyan, Baptist, and Unitarian chapels, a literary institute and library, two banks, and a convalescent home. A statue fair is held on the last Tuesday in Sept. There is a tannery and brick and tile manufactories. The parochial church is variously Norman, Early English, and Decorated; has a very fine western Norman door and a picturesque tower and spire; measures 74 feet by 28 in the nave, and 39 by S3 in the chancel; was restored and enlarged, with new chancel arch, new E window, and added chancel aisle and S transept, in 1865, at a cost of between £3000 and £4000; and contains an ancient circular font on a single Norman column and some ancient interesting monuments. St John's church was built in 1852 at a cost of —£3000, and serves for an ecclesiastical parish constituted in 1853.

The priory eventually became an abbey. It was originally endowed with all Geoffrey de Clinton's lands and woods in Kenilworth parish, excepting the site of the castle and its park, and with other privileges; it possessed at the dissolution an annual revenue of £534; it was then given to Sir Andrew Flamock; it went by sale to the Earl of Leicester; and it belongs now to the Earl of Clarendon. It was in the Anglo-Norman style, of large extent and of imposing aspect, but with trivial exceptions it has all disappeared. A gateway exists in good preservation and is very picturesque, another fragment of similar character is not far from the gateway, and several large and shapeless remnants of walls are at some distance.

The castle remained with three descendants of Geoffrey de Clinton, and then reverted to the Crown. It was given by Henry III. to Simon de Montfort, Earl of Leicester; it became, on the Earl's rebellion, and after the Battle of Eves-ham, the centre of the rebel party's operations; and in 1266 it stood a siege of six months by the King and then surrendered. It was bestowed by Henry on bis son Edmund, whom he created Earl of Leicester and Lancaster, and in 1278, while in Edmund's possession, it was the scene of a splendid tournament, challenged by Eoger Mortimer, Earl of March, and attended by one hundred knights. It continued to be held by Edmund's son Thomas, who was beheaded for rebelling against Edward II., and it afterwards was the place of that monarch's imprisonment and of his abdication. It was restored by Edward III. to Henry, the brother of Thomas; it passed by marriage with that nobleman's grand-daughter to John of Gaunt, son of Edward III. and Duke of Lancaster; and while in his possession it was renovated and greatly enlarged. It reverted to the Crown when John of Gaunt's son, Henry of Bolingbroke, supplanted Eichard II.; it continued with the Crown till the time of Queen Elizabeth; it was given by Elizabeth to her favourite, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; it was improved and extended by that nobleman at a cost of £60, 000-a sum equivalent to about half a million of our present money; it was visited by Elizabeth in 1566, 1568, and 1575; and in the last of these years it was the scene of the seventeen days' magnificent entertainment which is so graphically described by Sir Walter Scott in his novel of " Kenilworth." It was bequeathed by Dudley for lifetime to his brother Ambrose, Earl of Warwick, and thereafter to his son, Sir Robert Dudley, but it was seized from the latter by the Crown. It continued to stand in all its magnificence at the commencement of the Civil War, but being given by Cromwell to some of his officers, it was then in great measure demolished for the sake of its materials, and it afterwards for many years was left exposed to the depredations of all persons who chose to use it as a quarry. It was given by Charles IL on his restoration to Lawrence Hyde, afterwards Earl of Rochester; it passed by mamage,-first to the Earl of Essex, and then to Thomas Villiers, afterwards Earl of Clarendon; and it has since remained with that Earl's descendants.

The castle was in its best condition at the time of the great entertainment to Elizabeth. Sir Walter Scott's account of it-appears to have been drawn from jointly a description by Laneham, a survey of the time of James I., and an examination of the extant remains, and may here be quoted:-" The outer wall of this splendid and gigantic structure enclosed seven acres, a part of which was occupied by extensive stables, and by a pleasure garden with its trim arbours and parterres,-and the rest formed the large base-court or outer yard of the-noble castle. The lordly structure itself, which rose near the centre of this spacious enclosure, was composed of a huge pile of magnificent castellated buildings, apparently of different ages, surrounding an inner court, and bearing in the names attached to each portion of the magnificent mass, and in the armorial bearings which were there blazoned, the emblems of mighty chiefs who had long passed away, and whose history, could ambition have bent ear to it, might have read a lesson to the haughty favourite who had now acquired and was augmenting this fair domain. . . . The external wall of this royal castle was, on the south and west sides, adorned and defended by a lake, partly artificial, across which Leicester had constructed a stately bridge, that Elizabeth might enter the castle by a path hitherto untrodden. instead of the usual entrance to the northward, over which he had erected a gate-house or barbican, which still exists, and is equal in extent, and superior in architecture, to the-baronial castle of many a northern chief. Beyond the lake ' lay an extensive chase, full of red-deer, fallow-deer, roes, and every species of game, and abounding with lofty trees, from amongst which the extended front and massive towers of the castle were seen to rise in majesty and beauty."

The remains of the castle are on a gentle eminence to the W of the town. The entrance tower, or gallery tower, where the gigantic porter was stationed at the approach of Elizabeth, has nearly disappeared. The great gate-house still stands, is now occupied as a residence, and contains a curiously carved chimney-piece, with the arms of Dudley. Cfesar's Tower occupies the N part of the main front of the castle,. facing the base-court; was of square form, but has lost all its N side; was a keep of enormous strength, with walls in some parts 16 feet thick, and is of thoroughly Norman character, and evidently the oldest part of the castle-Leicester's Buildings occupy the S part of the same front,. are inscribed with the date 1571, were less strongly built than other parts of the castle, and have a more weathered aspect than the earlier towers. Two structures, called Sir Robert Dudley's Lobby and King Henry VIII.'s Lodgings, and an arched entrance into the inner court, were between Caesar's Tower and Leicester's Buildings, but have been entirely destroyed. The Great Hall occupies most of the upper end of the inner court, was, with several adjoining parts, built by John of Gaunt, measured 90 feet in length and 45 in breadth, and retains windows, fire-places, and other portions of such exquisite design as show it to have possessed very great magnificence. The Strong Tower, or Merlin's Tower, stands NW of the Great Hall, was originally a very strong structure of three storeys, possesses interest from the associations connected with it by Sir Walter Scott, and answers exactly to his description of it in " Kenilworth."' The other extant portions of the castle, though of considerable aggregate extent, have not much individual or separate-interest. The surrounding grounds also have lost nearly all their antiquarian features. But various points of the ruins and of the grounds command fine views, along the valley of the Avon, to Coventry and to Leamington.

The parish comprises 5914 acres. Population, 4173; of St John's ecclesiastical parish, 1112. The manor belongs to the Earl of Clarendon. The parochial living and that of St John are vicarages in the diocese of Worcester. Net value of the former, £230 with residence; of the latter, —£110. Patron of the former, the Lord Chancellor.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyWarwickshire 
Ecclesiastical parishKenilworth St. Nicholas 
Poor Law unionWarwick 

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.

Church Records

The Warwickshire County Record Office hold the following registers for Kenilworth:

St John1854-19761854-1999 
St Nicolas1630-19931630-19771630-1951

Most of the records prior to 1911 have been digitised and are available on

Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Kenilworth from the following:

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Warwickshire is available to browse.


Online maps of Kenilworth are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following Warwickshire papers online:

Visitations Heraldic

The Visitation of Warwickshire 1619 is available on the Heraldry page.

RegionWest Midlands
Postal districtCV8