Donnington Castle

Donnington Castle crowns a hill above the River Lambourne, a mile north of Newbury, Sir Richard Abberbury, the queen’s chamberlain, obtained a license crenellate the place in 1386. In 1414 Thomas Chaucer, son of the poet, purchased the castle and through him it passed to the De la Pole dukes of Suffolk. Donnington is notable for its role in the Civil War. After the first Battle of Newbury, Charles I entrusted the castle to Colonel (later Sir) John Boys. The Roundheads laid siege in July 1644 but were unable to take it in spite of a fierce artillery bombardment. The King marched to the relief of the castle and the second Battle of Newbury was fought around it in October. …

Deal Castle

Henry VIII built three forts -Deal, Walmer and Sandown-along a two-mile stretch of shore to hamper any attacks. An earth rampart, with intermittent bastions, linked them but that has since perished. The whole scheme was finished by the fall of 1540. Deal Castle, the central fort of the three, was the largest of all Henry VIII’s forts. Here the characteristic geometrical layout of the series attains its most elaborate form. The result, whether by accident or design, is a sexfoil plan reminiscent of a Tudor rose. At the center is a squat, round tower with six semi-circular bastions projecting from its circumference, and surrounding that is a massive curtain arranged into six projecting lobes. There is thus a return to …

Dartmouth Castle

Dartmouth, on the beautiful estuary of the River Dart, was a flourishing port from the twelfth century. When the Hundred Year War made legitimate trading difficult, the inhabitants turned to piracy to boost their profits. Their unfortunate targets were the ports across the Channel. In 1404, the Bretons land in force and attempted to sack the town in revenge, but the inhabitants drove them off with great loss to themselves. According to French sources a second attempt was more successful. Dartmouth Castle is actually a mile southeast of the town, at a point where the estuary narrows. A fortification first rose here about 1388 in response to the threat of invasion from France. It was built at the instigation of …

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle, midway between Wareham and Swanage, is one of the most dramatic of English ruins. It stands on an isolated hill which forms part of the Purbeck range, towering over the picturesque village of the same name. The late Saxon kings had a palace here and it was outside the gates that Edward the Martyr was murdered in a family coup that put Ethelred the Unready on the throne. The site allowed for two baileys of unequal size flanking a steep-sided summit, which forms a natural motte. The ring work known as The Rings, a quarter mile to the southwest is probably the siege fort of Matilda. Edward II was held captive here for a while between his abdication …

Cooling Castle

Cooling Castle, a mile east of Cliffe, was built for Sir John de Cobham, a license to crenellate being granted in 1381. Two years before, French raiders had caused devastation on the Hoo peninsula, so Cooling was built at least partly with coastal defense in mind. Ironically, but not uncommonly where English coastal fortifications are concerned, the castle saw no action against foreign invaders but became embroiled in civil strife. In 1554, Sir Thomas Wyatt sought the aid of Lord Cobham in the rebellion that he was organizing to prevent Queen Mary marrying Philip of Spain. When Lord Cobham refused, Wyatt marched upon Cooling Castle and breached its walls by cannon fire in the space of a few hours. After …

Compton Castle

Compton Castle, three miles west of Torquay, has belonged to the Gilbert family – with one long interruption – since the early fourteenth century. The Gilberts are famous for their role in the age of exploration, Sir Humphrey Gilbert discovering Newfoundland in 1583. Occupation descended to impoverished tenant farmers who could not afford any fashionable rebuilding, and for this reason the castle is one of the few to survive more or less intact but remarkably unspoiled. Disregarding its later defenses for a moment, Compton originated as a typical West Country manor house. It is centered upon a fourteenth-century hall which, having fallen into ruins, was rebuilt on its original lines in 1955. Otto Gilbert added the west wing containing the …

Colchester Castle

Colchester reached the peak of its importance before the Romans came. A city for veterans of the Roman army was established here, dominated by a temple of the deified Emperor Claudius. Queen Boudicca razed it to the ground in AD 61 but a new city soon rose from the ashes. Colchester Castle, near the center of the walled town, has by far the largest ground area of any keep in England, measuring 150 by 110 feet. William the Conqueror founded a castle here soon after the Norman Conquest and the keep may have been started following a Danish raid on the town in 1071. The masonry is certainly early Norman – note for example the herringbone work in the fireplaces. …

Cockermouth Castle

Cockermouth Castle crowns a promontory between the rivers Derwent and Cocker. The notorious William de Fortibus acquired the manor in 1215 and built a castle here, possibly on an older site, but Henry III ordered its destruction upon his downfall six years later. It seems to have survived this episode but most of the present complex is the work of Gilbert, last of the Umfraville barons, and Henry Percy, who acquired Cockermouth on Gilbert’s death in 1381. As Earl of Northumberland, the latter played a major part in the Border struggles of the period. And the Black Douglas sacked the unfinished castle. Henry is better known for his revolts against Henry IV, familiar from Shakespeare. The castle remained in Percy …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …

Buckden Palace

Buckden Palace was a residence of the medieval bishops of Lincoln, allowing a midway break on the journey from London to their cathedral city. This Episcopal palace was entirely rebuilt in brick by Thomas Rotherham, who became bishop in 1472. After his transfer to York in 1480, it was completed by Bishop Russell. The dominant feature is a tower modeled on the great brick tower at Tattershall Castle. Buckden’s tower house is oblong in plan with octagonal corner turrets rising above parapet level. However, it is less ambitious in scale and lacks the machicolated crown, which gives Tattershall such distinction. The broad chimneybreast is a prominent and altogether domestic feature. Another obvious weakness is the tower’s proximity to the steeple …