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 …

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 …

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 …

Hever Castle

Hever Castle, beside the River Eden, two miles east of Edenbridge, is set within a wet moat between beautiful gardens and what appears to be a Tudor village. Gardens, “village” and the splendid interior of the castle are all the creation of a rich American, William Waldorf Astor. He purchased the castle in 1903 and immediately set about its transformation, which thus went on at the same time as Lord Conway was restoring Allington Castle. To his credit, Viscount Astor did not interfere with the exterior, which remains largely authentic. There is some doubt as to the original builder. William de Hever obtained a license to crenellate in 1340 and Sir John de Cobham obtained another in 1384. The latter …

Hertford Castle

Hertford was one of the burgs founded by King Edward the Elder during the English re-conquest of the Danelaw. It was no doubt soon after 1066 that William the Conqueror raised the castle beside the River Lea. In general form, Hertford Castle resembles Berkhamsted – a motte and bailey once surrounded by a double moat, with much of its flint curtain still standing. The earthworks of the castle do not compare favorable, since the motte is surprisingly small and the moats have long been filled in. Royal expenditure is recorded in 1171-74, and the curtain probably dates at least partially from that time. The octagonal tower at the south angle of the enclosure is a later medieval addition. Like Berkhamsted, …

Hedingham Castle

The village of Castle Hedingham is dominated by one of the finest keeps. Faced with ashlar masonry brought all the way from Barnack, it is almost perfectly preserved, lacking only its battlements. The sloping plinth and pilaster buttresses are typical Norman motifs but the turrets rising at two opposite corners are a distinctive feature. From outside, the keep is seen to have five stages. This translates to four stories within because the hall – as usual in the larger Norman keeps – is twice the height of the other rooms and its upper windows are at gallery level. The top floor, or solar, is just below the parapet, so there is no blank space to protect a steeply pitched roof …

Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall stands on a bluff overlooking the River Wye, two miles southeast of Bakewell. The situation and the embattled outline give an impression of strength from a distance, but as a castle Haddon is something of a mystery. Its complex building history suggests a manor house, which developed defenses but has been effectively de-fortified since. The story goes back to Richard de Vernon, who obtained a peculiar license in 1195. It allowed him to enclose his house within a wall, but the wall was not to exceed twelve feet in height and was not to be crenellated. Some of the wall and part of the chapel survive from that time. What stands today is a rectangular enclosure of the …

Exeter Castle

Despite its checkered history, Exeter preserves many relics of its medieval past. Even its city wall has managed to survive for the most part and the bombing revealed stretches, which had been concealed behind houses for centuries. It is nearly two miles long, but with frequent small gaps and little parapet to walk along it is not a particularly rewarding circuit. The Roman and medieval city occupied a near-rectangular area, today bounded by Northernhay, Eastgate, Southernhay and West Street. Like most other Romano-British cities, Exeter was first enclosed by a stonewall in the third century. The Roman plinth and regularly coursed masonry can be seen in many places – it is unusual for so much Roman work to survive. The …

Dover Castle

Dover Castle rises high above the town and harbor, crowning a hill, which ends at the White Cliffs. This site was first fortified in the Iron Age and the medieval castle fills the area defined by the ancient hill fort – thirty-five acres. The castle, therefore, is of extraordinary size and exceptional strength. The keep is one of the greatest of square Norman keeps. It is a mighty cube, nearly a hundred feet long in each direction, with square corner turrets and the most elaborate of fore buildings. This fore building is an L-shaped structure appended to the main body of the keep with three projecting turrets of its own. The fore building was originally roofless, so the assailants would …