Wolvesey Castle

As the capital of the kings of Wessex, who brought the whole of England under their sway in the tenth century, Winchester enjoyed the status of capital long into the Norman period, though eventually the pull of London proved too strong. It is therefore inevitable that William I should have founded a castle here soon after the Norman Conquest. The castle occupied a curiously elongated site on high ground at the western edge of the walled city. It received stone buildings in the twelfth century but much restoration was necessary following the city’s capture by Dauphin Louis in 1216.The early history of the castle is confused because a royal palace with another Norman keep stood near the cathedral. It existed …

Upnor Castle

Upnor Castle belongs to the genre of Henrician cosastal forts but is an Elizabethan addition to the chain. It was begun in 1599 to guard the approach to the new dockyard at Chatham, lying two miles away near the estuary of the River Medway. Sir Richard Lee interrupted his work on the fortifications at Berwick-on-Tweed, to come and design this fort, but construction dragged on for eight years. In 1599-1601, Upnor was enlarged but it had to wait until 1667 to face enemy action. In that year, the Dutch, under Admiral de Ruyter, sailed into the Medway and set fire to much of the English fleet. The castle was unable to offer any effective resistance and in the following year …

Trematon Castle

Trematon Castle stands on an eminence rising steeply above the River Lynher, two miles southwest of Saltash and the Tamar estuary. Robert, Count of Mortain and Earl of Cornwall probably founded the castle. It is referred to as his in the Domesday Book. At that time Trematon was a place of some importance whereas now it is scarcely a village. The castle saw action in the Civil War and, earlier, in the course of Kilter’s Insurrection which broke out in Cornwall in 1594. The rebels laid siege to the castle and managed to lure out and capture its defender, Sir Richard Grenville. Trematon is a fine example of a motte and bailey castle. It is even more notable for the …

Tintagel Castle

The legend of King Arthur has made Tintagel a hallowed place. Geoffrey of Monmouth, writing about the time when the castle was in fact founded, chose it as the setting for Arthur’s conception. That is his only link with Tintagel, but it has lasted in the popular imagination. The beauty of the site is no doubt the reason why. This rocky, sea-battered headland is an unusual setting for a medieval castle but a very likely one in which to find an ancient hill fort. It comes as a surprise to discover that no evidence has been found of any fortification before the Norman period. Instead. The headland first became the retreat of Dark Age monks who were drawn to such …

Southampton Castle

One of the chief ports of medieval England, Southampton preserves a wealth of medieval domestic architecture. Its flourishing Dark Age predecessor was abandoned in favor of the present site in the tenth century, and excavations have shown that this new town had earth and timber defenses from the beginning, no doubt as a defense against the Danes. Over a mile in length, the walled circuit enclosed a roughly rectangular area. It had numerous bastions, mostly semi-circular, and larger towers ar the angles. Today, only the wall survives, along with parts of the north wall and a length near the southeast corner of the circuit. A tour of the wall may conveniently begin at the Bargate, the northern entrance to the …

Lancaster Castle

Lancaster Castle and its distinguished neighbor, the priory church, crown the summit of a hill overlooking the River Lune. A Roman fort occupied the site. Following the arrival of the Normans, Lancaster became part of the vast estate granted to Roger de Poitou and the first castle is very likely to have been his foundation. In 1265, the castle became the chief seat of the powerful lords who followed, including Thomas, ring leader of the baronial opposition to Edward II; Henry, the first palatine duke; and john of Gaunt, who married his way into the duchy. After John of Gaunt’s son seized the throne as Henry IV in 1399, and the consequent union of the Duchy of Lancaster with the …

Hurst Castle

Its nucleus is one of the coastal forts of Henry VIII, expanded as a result of another invasion scare in Victorian times. The original castle was built in 1539-44 and the master mason, Thomas Bertie, later became captain of the garrison here, a curious but not uncommon reward for a castle builder. Like Calshot, it lies at the end of a spit of shingle, well over a mile long and projecting into the middle of the Solent. The Isle of Wight is little more than a mile away and, along with its counterpart at Yarmouth, the castle’s guns could effectively command the western entrance to the Solent. Hurst was garrisoned almost continuously until the Second World War. Its situation also …

Raby castle

Raby Castle stands within a vast park to the north of Staindrop. Despite the alterations inevitable in a castle that has become a stately home, Raby ranks among the finest of later medieval fortified mansions. It reflects the aspirations of the Neville family, who became the most powerful of the Bishop of Durham’s vassals. Ralph, Lord Neville, commanded the English forces at the Battle of Neville’s Cross and probably started building here. His son John obtained a license to crenellate in 1378, but the castle was probably nearly complete by then. The irregular layout suggests a piecemeal development around an older residential core. On the east side of the courtyard is a hall range, with a small tower – the …

Portsmouth Town Defenses

Portsmouth’s historic role as a naval base derives from its position guarding the narrow entrance to Portsmouth Harbor. Richard I built the first dockyard here. Its importance increased with the Hundred Years War and the town that developed around it inevitably became a target for French attacks. Following a royal survey in 1386, an earth rampart was raised around the landward sides of the town. From 1560, the rampart continued along the sea front and strengthened elsewhere by a series of arrowhead bastions. Charles II’s engineer, Bernard de Gomme, undertook more works. The defenses were further elaborated over the next two centuries but Lord Palmerston’s astonishing ring of fortifications, built in the 1860’s, rendered them obsolete. The complex of ramparts, …

Penhurst Place

At the heart of this great mansion is one of England’s finest medieval manor houses. Sir John de Pulteney, four times Lord Mayor of London, built it after he purchased the manor about 1338. His house conforms to the usual domestic layout of the later Middle Ages, the hall being flanked on one side by service rooms and on the other by the solar block. Porches from both north and south lead into the screened passage of the hall. This magnificent chamber is virtually untouched by time, and its chestnut roof is one of the glories of medieval carpentry. Its main beams are supported on carved figures, other authentic features being the tiled floor, the step up to the dais …

A Cornish Pilgrimage – Falmouth

The road veers right and begins the steady climb to the heady heights of Pendennis Point. My modest car huffs and puffs as traffic files patiently behind me. A barrier to my left clouds the seascape and the temptation to peep is too immense. I stop the car and stride eagerly to the wall and peer over. The scene is impressive, revealing a small section of old Falmouth harbour. A vast warship, presumably undergoing maintenance prior to setting out to defend the shores dominates the visible harbour view. As the road continues to twist and climb en route for the summit, hungry seagulls swoop overhead, groups ever-increasing as we approach the peak and assembled tourists. Surprisingly, parking is free, hence …

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 …

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 …

A Cornish Walk: A Simple Tourist Activity, But An Absolute Must For An English Holiday

Cornwall has always been a favourite holiday destination and its dramatic coastline, picturesque villages, vibrant culture and sumptuous cuisine. For those visitors who have travelled to the region, the benefits of a Cornish holiday need no explaining, but for our international friends, who have yet to explore outside of London, a visit to Cornwall will give you a very different taste of English life. In this article, I describe one of my favourite walks in Cornwall and thoroughly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. Parts of the walk between St Agnes and the Jericho Valley have been trodden so often by my sturdy boots, that they practically know their own way. It’s one of my favourite stretches of coastal …

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 …

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, …