Christchurch Castle

Christchurch Castle

Christchurch Castle

Christchurch was in the beginning called Twineham and Richard de Redvers, Earl of Devon, in all probability founded its castle in the region of 1100. The town is noted for its priory church, a gem of Norman architecture, but close by stands the Norman House, which is as well of great interest. This ruined building contained the hall and solar of the castle, both apartments standing higher than an unvaulted undercroft.

The original doorway, once upon a time reached by an outside staircase, marks the junction flanked by the two rooms, which were only divided by a wooden dividing wall. A number of two light windows enriched with chevron ornament lighted the hall. Two of them pierce the wall in front of a stream, for example, the outside wall of the castle. In the face of the fact that positioned at first floor level they are too near to the ground and too large for real defense.

Flanked by these two windows is a tall, circular chimney – one of the very oldest in existence in England. The architecture of the hall looks a lot like that of the 1600s, making it the work of Richard de Redvers, the grandson of the founder, or his son Baldwin. The only other remnant of the castle is the motte, bearing two featureless walls of a square tower. It may possibly have been a Norman keep, despite the fact that the canted corners suggest at least a remodeling in the later Middle Ages at what time the castle belonged to the Montagu earls of Salisbury. In 1645, the derelict castle became the very last way out of some Roundhead armed forces, who managed to hold out here at what time the Royalists attacked the town. Afterwards, the coastal defenses were destroyed by order of Parliament.

Chester Castle

Chester Cst

Chester Castle

Chester originated as the Roman legionary fortress of Deva. Stone defenses first rose around AD 100 and for the next three centuries it housed the Twentieth Legion. When the Roman occupation came to an end the site appears to have been deterred, but the Danes took refuge one winter behind the old walls and withstood a Saxon attempt to dislodge them. This prompted Ethelred, Earl of Mercia, to establish a burgh here on the Wessex pattern in 907. It put up a rare resistance to William the Conqueror but fell in 1070. The present city wall is largely of the thirteenth century, a period when most English towns rebuilt their defenses.

Underlying the medieval defenses are the remains of the legionary fortress. This had the usual rectangular plan of Roman forts, with rounded corners and a gate on each side. The city wall follows the Roman alignment on the north and east. Near Newgate can be seen the foundation of the Roman angle tower where the two walls parted company.

King Charles’ Tower, at the north-east corner, is the best of the mural towers. From here Charles I watched the Battle of Rowton Heath. However, an even more impressive tower is the cylindrical Water Tower, added in 1322-26 at the end of an embattled spur wall which projects from the north-west corner of the circuit.

Chester Castle occupies a knoll overlooking the river at the south end of the walled city. Before the defenses were extended it stood outside their circuit. William the Conqueror founded the castle after the city had fallen, but he soon made Hugh d’Avranches Earl of Chester and granted the castle to him. The tower’s upper floor contains a vaulted chapel in Norman Traditional style, adorned with the remains of newly-discovered frescoes. A length of inner curtain also survives.

Castle Rising

The village, four miles northeast of King’s Kynnm takes its name from the Norman castle which dominates it. William d’Albini, Earl of Sussex, started building here about 1139. One of the foremost barons of his time, he was loyal to King Stephen but consolidated his own power during the Anarchy.

Castle Rising’s earthworks are prodigious, comprising an oval ring work and a smaller bailey in front. Such is the height of the ring work bank that is almost conceals the splendid keep within. This keep is the sole building of any substance left, though there was once a well-appointed group of residential buildings alongside. The only other masonry remains are the truncated gate tower and the ruin of an early Norman church. Set in a gap in the ring work bank, the gate tower is contemporary, with the keep, but the surviving fragment of wall is later medieval. The church originally served the village. William d’Albini buried it in his rampart and built the beautiful church that still stands nearby in recompense.

The keep stands virtually intact, though long deprived of its roof and floors, except in the fore building tower. It is a rectangular structure that is considerably longer than it is high-in other words, a hall keep, and the best example of this rare type.

The ground floor was just an undercroft for storage, the principal accommodation lying on the floor above. Owing to its importance, the first floor rises through two stages, giving the illusion of three stories in all. The keep is divided longitudinally by a cross wall, thus separating the hall from the solar on the first floor. Stone vaults support a kitchen and pantry at one end of the hall, and another vault supports a chapel beyond the solar. A gallery runs along one wall at hall level.

Carlisle Castle

Carlisle is the great fortress city at the west end of the Scottish Border. Roman Luguvallium grew up in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall and some vestige of the town remained when William II captured it in 1092. William repopulated Carlisle with Anglo-Norman settlers and founded the great royal castle on a bluff above the River Eden.

Carlisle Castle is an impressive reminder of centuries of strife. It sits grim and squat at the north end of the old walled city, still a medieval stronghold but much patched up after the many batterings it has endured. The layout is roughly triangular, comprising two walled baileys but no motte. The curtain walls are basically Norman. Two flanking towers survive on the west side but the walls are otherwise quite plain. During the Civil War the Scot’s tore down the cathedral nave to repair the damage wrought during the siege.

The outer gatehouse facing the city, known as Ireby’s Tower, dates from Henry III’s reign but is not a great example of military planning. It consists of two square blocks curiosly out of alignment with each other, and a small projection between them containing the entrance. Gloomy barracks now occupy the outer bailey – a reminder of the continuous military presence here down to modern times.

In front of the inner gatehouse is one of Henry VIII’s additions – a semi-circular gun battery with a covered fighting gallery facing the ditch. During the invasion scare of the 1540s, Henry thickened the inner curtain to support artillery. The wide parapet is partly carried on arcades and there is a ramp for wheeling up cannon. Within the inner bailey rises a great keep, which is virtually a cube. The keep is freestanding though very close to the curtain. As was originally conceived, each of its four stories contains a single large room.

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle

Carisbrooke Castle is an extensive fortress situated on a hill about a mile southwest of Newport, virtually in the center of the Isle of Wight. As a fortification, it has a very long history, because the Norman castle is raised on the site of a Roman fort and is surrounded in turn by Elizabethan defenses designed to withstand artillery.

The Elizabethan rampart surrounds the two baileys of the Norman castle in concentric fashion. This low, artillery-proof earthwork is encased in stone. There are arrowhead bastions at the corners and a fifth one on the west, commanding the entrance. Beyond the simple gateway through the rampart, one is confronted with the main gatehouse. It began as a thirteenth century gate tower but in 1336, at the start of the Hundred Years War, Edward III extended it outwards.

Round turrets flank the handsome façade and there is a row of machicolations above the entrance. The long gate passage, with three portcullis grooves, leads into a western bailey, which occupies the site of the Roman fort. Instead of utilizing the Roman wall, the Normans raised a massive rampart over it and piled up a lofty motte in one corner. Nevertheless, the Roman masonry still peeks out from the bank in several places.

Before long, a polygonal shell keep was placed on the motte and a new wall was built on top of the bailey rampart. The rampart is so powerful that the curtain only needs to be of modest height.

During the Elizabethan modifications, artillery bastions were added at the south corners of the curtains, but encased within both are square, open-backed towers. Clearly, they are early examples of mural towers and they are too small and too widely spaced to be effective as flankers. They support the written evidence that the curtain was built by Baldwin de Redvers.

Canterbury Castle

Canterbury Castle

Canterbury Castle

Considering the level of bombing sustained by the city in 1942, it is a miracle that so much of medieval Canterbury survives. Among the many attractions are the ruined castle keep and a large part of the city wall. Indeed, though incomplete, the wall of Canterbury ranks among the foremost in England.

The shape of the defenses was determined in the third century AD. The Roman wall enclosed an oval area nearly two miles in circumference, and the medieval wall follows exactly the same line. However, very little Roman masonry survives because the wall was rebuilt from the 1370s, when a French invasion seemed imminent.

More than half the circuit is preserved, extending from the site of the North Gate at the southwest end of the old city. The only gaps in this sector are those left by the demolition of the gatehouses. Eleven bastions survive, notable for their early “keyhole” gun ports. The four northernmost are square and date from about 1400, but the others are the traditional U-shaped type with open backs.

Canterbury Castle was probably founded soon after the Norman Conquest and certainly before the Domesday Book.. All that remains is the lower half of a large, oblong keep. The stepped splays behind the narrow window openings suggest an early date. The plinth and pilaster buttresses are typical Norman features. The entrance was at first-floor level in the northwest wall and excavations have uncovered a fore building.

The West gate is the only survivor of seven gatehouses in the wall. The fortress-like outer façade of the gatehouse, with machicolations overhanging the entrance and sturdy drum towers pierced by gun ports, contrasts with a more domestic townward front. Note the porticullis groove in the vaulted gate passage. The West Gate has survived because it housed the county gaol after the castle keep had become too derelict.

Caister Castle


Caister Castle

Caister Castle stands three miles north of Great Yarmouth, not at Caister-on-the-Sea, but a little inland at West Caister. This brick stronghold is a monument to Sir John Fastolf. Fastolf was a distinguished veteran of the Hundred Years War, a knight of relatively humble origin who played an important part in the Lancastrian conquest of northern France.

Falstolf built this castle in 1432-46 when he was enjoying a prosperous retirement. On his death in 1459, Caister passed to the Paston family, whose letters give a first-hand portrayal of life in fifteenth century Norfolk. Unfortunately for the Pastons, the Duke of Norfolk also laid claim to the castle and, when legal means had failed, he set about making good his claim by force. In 1469, he brought a considerable force to lay siege to the castle, which creditably held out for several weeks against the duke’s cannon before the inevitable surrender.

Veterans of the French wars built most fifteenth century castles and a number were in fashionable brick. They tended to be showplaces, combining lavish accommodations with a show of strength. Some had a secondary role in coastal defense and Caistor did repulse French raiders shortly after its completion.

Caister was one of the finest of its kind but rather too much was pulled down in the eighteenth century. The castle stands in a wide moat still full of water. It is one of those with an inner quadrangle and a subsidiary base court for retainers. This is less obvious now because the arm of the moat between the two courtyards has been filled in.

There is also part of a third courtyard behind, arrested only by a circular corner tower incorporated in a later house. The base court, of inferior brick, is now fragmentary and the main quadrangle had suffered so much destruction that only its north and west walls still stand.