Steeped in history, Warwick is one of the best-preserved towns in England, with a range of civic architecture from medieval gateways to Georgian townhouses plus a superb castle. It’s easy to spend an hour or two on this delightful circular walk.
Warwick is a beautiful English county town , and its medieval shape is still visible even if its city walls have all but gone. During Wars of the Roses the earls of Warwick were hugely important powerbrokers. The bear, chained to a tree stump was their symbol, which is why to this day so many English pubs have the name of either The Bear or The Bear and Ragged Staff. The most powerful of all Earls of Warwick, Richard Neville (1428 – 1471) deposed two Plantagenet kings, which is why he became known as Warwick The Kingmaker.
Start this walk in front of a very different kind of warrior king, Randolph Turpin, whose statue stands in front of the Rose & Crown Pub. Turpin was born in nearby Leamington Spa in 1928 but went to school and lived most of his life in Warwick. In 1951 he became World Middleweight Champion. His combative statue faces on to Market Place, which once functioned as a parade ground for the Warwickshire Fusiliers. Opposite Turpin’s statue is the Market Hall, which was built in 1670 and was originally open-sided. Today it is a museum for the County of Warwick and contains a video installation that recreates medieval Warwick in great detail.
Walk north through the Market Square and you’ll pass a number of pubs or former pubs – historically markets and alehouses were inseparable. The Tilted Wig (formerly The Green Dragon) on your left doubled as the town ‘shambles’. It served beer at a counter facing on to the square while butchers were busy hacking carcasses of dead animals apart to the rear.
At the top of Market Square turn right past the new county offices (notice the Bear symbol that has now been adopted for the whole of Warwickshire). Now pass through Old Square to St Mary’s Church.
This splendid structure with its 174-foot tower was rebuilt in the 18th century after the terrible fire of 1694 that destroyed two-thirds of the old inner city. Heroic firefighting teams managed to save half of the church, including the Beauchamp Chapel dedicated to the earls of Warwick. Now head south down Church Street past the Athenaeum. This former home of a town mayor was opened in 1846, following the model of the London Athenaeum, a club founded in 1824 where gentlemen could read books and newspapers and enjoy intelligent conversation.
At the bottom of Church Street note the Warwick Arms to your right on High Street and the Old Court House on Jury Street to your left. These two streets are part of the same thoroughfare from Warwick’s Westgate to its Eastgate, but at this point High Street quaintly becomes Jury Street, to the confusion of visitors.
The Warwick Arms is the town’s oldest coaching inn, dating back to 1591 in this very position. The Court House was built on the site of a tavern that was demolished in 1725 so that Warwick’s first baroque building – a sign of great civic affluence – could be built. A figure of Justice cast in lead still stands above the main door, while inside is a museum to the Warwickshire Yeomanry Regiment. Upstairs the courthouse has a ballroom designed for music and card playing, and which is still used for social events in the town.
Walking down Jury Street as it descends towards Eastgate, the visitor passes a range of buildings in different styles, from half-timbered Tudor structures to 18th-century mansions in brick and stone.
Pretty much all of Jury Street was spared the Great Fire, as was the East Gate itself. This is a pretty, ornate structure built originally in the 12th century, but then embellished with a 15th-century church on top. The Church of St Peter originally stood in the High Street where it would have burned down, so the relocation was prescient. It was not unusual in England to build churches and chapels on top of solid structures like gatehouses, but Warwick is unusual in having two such composite buildings, one in the east here and one at the West Gate.
Turning right before you pass through East Gate, walk downhill as far as Castle Lane on your right, which leads to Warwick Castle, one of the best-known fortresses in England. You can leave the lane to walk as far as the castle stables, which serve today as a ticket office.
This unusually well-preserved castle is well worth visiting, although it will take you at least half a day to do it justice. These days it is owned, not by the earls of Warwick, but by a company that includes the Tussauds Group. A very convincing Henry VIII is there with all his six wives as well as Warwick the Kingmaker and the recreation of a Victorian house party of 1898 in Warwick Castle, which includes a young Winston Churchill.
Even if you are not visiting the castle, you will get glimpses of the monumental Guy’s Tower and the fortifications built by King Richard III as you return to Castle Lane. Now turn right on Back Lane past 18th-century Alderson House, which is the august meeting place of the local Freemasons. The fanlight over its front door (on High Street) is a direct and – as far as we know – intentional copy of that over 10 Downing Street in London.
Now turn left down High Street and The Lord Leycester Hospital will soon be visible. This almshouse for former soldiers was endowed by Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester in 1571. Inside its half-timbered facade exists a pre-existing 14th-century banqueting hall and part of the old Angel Inn. The hospital runs as far as the Chapel of St James, which has been built over the West Gate. Here the road has been cut deep into the rock to make a steep entrance into medieval Warwick. The gateway is full of old locking mechanisms to keep latecomers out at night.
From Lord Leycester’s Hospital there is a short walk back along Brook Street to Market Place. And there is the statue of Randolph Turpin, still standing ready for a fight.
Plan your trip to Warwick
Where to stay
Three miles southeast of Warwick sits this beautiful early 20th-century manor house with a deserved reputation for fine dining. There is also an excellent spa and formal gardens.
The Warwick Arms
The town’s oldest hotel dates back to 1591 on this site but the current structure replaced a coaching inn that burned down in the devastating fire of 1694. Notable guests have included Lord Nelson, Mark Twain and Frank Sinatra.
The Rose & Crown
This simple but friendly inn on Market Square was created by amalgamating two Georgian townhouses. The main dining room is decorated with David Bailey’s black and white photos of Mick Jagger, Elton John, and Lord Snowdon in the Swinging Sixties.
Where to eat
Thomas Oken’s House
This cosy cafe serves cream teas and all-day snacks inside a halftimbered house that belonged to a wealthy 16th-century mercer who dealt in silks and luxury goods.
The Tilted Wig
Good, sturdy British food at a pub with rooms that has outdoor tables out on Market Square. There are a few vegetarian dishes but this is a great place for steak and chips.
Text by Adrian Mourby | Illustrations by Sophie Minto