Castle Donington (pronounced 'Dunington'), a small market town near to us here in Leicestershire, is often overlooked by visitors in favour of Melbourne or Ashby de la Zouch. It has nonetheless a rich history, not least because it was at one time an important military stronghold overlooking the R.Trent and its strategic crossing points. Here are a few stories and events associated with Castle Donington that might spark your curiosity should you be staying with us.
1. Danelaw and the Viking Influence: The name "Donington" suggests Danish or Viking origins. During the Viking era, the region was part of the Danelaw, an area in England under Viking rule. It's believed that the village may have been established during this time as just upstream, at Repton, was the furthest navigable point of the river for Viking longboats. The Great Viking (Heathen) Army invasion force of 865 AD probably holed up both here and at Repton for their winter quarters.
2. Castle Donington Castle: The town's name, Castle Donington, suggests the presence of a castle and indeed there was/is one! This early 12th-century castle was held by the de Lacy family. It was attacked around the time of Magna Carta. In 1311 it passed to Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, the cousin of Edward II and eventually was acquired by the Hastings family resident in Ashby de la Zouch. It fell into decay during the 14th century and was finally demolished in 1595. Any remains have now been incorporated into Donington House.
3. Medieval Market Town: Castle Donington was historically a medieval market town. Its market charter was granted in 1252, and markets have been held in the village ever since. The market remains an essential part of the village's heritage.
4. The Battle of Castle Donington: During the English Civil War in the 17th century, Castle Donington was the site of a significant battle. The Parliamentarians and Royalists clashed near the town, leading to casualties on both sides. The battle is a part of the town's history and the broader history of the English Civil War.
5. St. Edward's Church: St. Edward's Church is a prominent historical landmark in Castle Donington. The church's tower dates back to the 14th century, and it has many historical features, including medieval stained glass windows and a Norman font.
6. Donington Park: The town is perhaps best known for Donington Park, a world-famous motorsport circuit. It has hosted numerous iconic racing events, including the British Grand Prix in the late 1980s. The story of how a World War II airfield was transformed into a motorsport venue is a testament to the town's adaptability. There's a good article here about its history. Its also nowadays a successful music venue, annually hosting ‘Download’ the main rock and heavy metal genre festival in the UK, frequently attracting 100,000 + attendees.
7. George Eliot's connection: The renowned Victorian author George Eliot (the pen name of Mary Ann Evans) is believed to have visited Castle Donington. She was known to travel in the area, and her association with the town is an interesting historical connection.
8. Castle Donington Hall & the Priest House Hotel: Donington Hall is a historic mansion in the area. It has seen various owners and uses over the years, including serving as a military hospital during World War I and an army barracks in WW2, when the contents were stolen and the building extensively damaged. Today, it is known for its stunning architecture and beautiful grounds and is currently being redeveloped as a 5 star hotel. The neighbouring Priest House is an interesting place to visit, being once the site of a famous old ferry crossing on the river and known as ‘Kings’ Mills' where the monarch traditionally owned the mill, parts of which are still evident (and the fish netting rights, as the Trent used to be a highly productive Atlantic salmon river, alas no more).
9. Industrial History: Castle Donington, like many towns in the Midlands, has a deep industrial history. The town was involved in industries like lace-making, framework knitting, and quarrying, which played a significant role in the local economy.
10. Indian curry hotspot: As I have mentioned before in these annals, CD has a thriving, and very popular, Indian curry scene with numerous curry restaurants on or very near Market St, the main shopping thoroughfare. Probably the best selection of curry houses outside Leicester and Birmingham!
These historical items provide a glimpse into the rich history of ‘Dunington’, which spans from its Viking origins through medieval times to more recent historical events, making it a village with a fascinating and varied history. Go and visit!