Some castles existed in Herefordshire well before the Norman Conquest and Edward the Confessor was the fiercest guard of the southern portion of both sides of the English/Welsh border in history. Ewyas Harold and Richard’s Castle are two of his own which are relatively unknown to casual visitors but are important to the two country’s histories- collective and separate- and there was much Welsh warfare during the 13th century involving the two Llewelyns and later, a fierce resistance put up by Owain Glyndwr, a Welsh folk hero if ever there was one!
The county is rich in surviving motte and bailey sites amounting to 21 visible mounds with the possibility that there were many more. Goodrich and Pembridge Castles are excellent surviving examples of Herefordshire’s medieval castles while Clifford, Longtown, Wilton and Wigmore show mostly the remains of defenses. Wigmore in the north and Goodrich in the south share spur defense features which are rare to see in England. You’ll see such defenses in Wales, as well, in the mural towers of Caerphilly Castle and Marten’s Tower at Chepstow. Less tangible evidence of spur defenses were once apparent at Wigmore but because of the deplorable state of its stone remains they cannot be discerned now. The cross section of ruins and revivals, such as at Eastnor, by comparison, makes Herefordshire a castle lover’s playground of variety and an oasis of unspoiled rural calm practically unknown to the county throughout most of its history. Today it is pure joy to drive through this lovely Cotswold countryside. Enjoy your travels !
– The Castle Lady
Sitting right in the center of the county, Hereford and Hereford Castle along with the remnants of the city wall are mere shadows of their former propriety. Hereford, which means army fort, was under Saxon rule by Ralph the Timid (who was the son of the Count of Vexin) around 1052 making the original fort pre-Norman and was erected to the south and east of the current city overlooking the River Wye. The Saxon origins go back as far as 850. Today that area is referred to as Hogg’s Mount which remains as a mound on the northeast corner of the original fort site. By the time of the Norman conquest, circa 1066, William FitzOsbern, who was Lord of Breteuil in Normandy, was given the title of the first Norman Earl of Hereford and restored the castle, a motte and bailey of course, on the previous site making use of the river as a moat on one side and man-made moats on the other three. His son, Roger, took over his estate upon his death but Roger was forced to abdicate after his involvement in trying to depose the King (William).
Hereford Castle was eventually built in stone and the town fortified most likely before the Anarchy during which time Geoffrey Talbot, in 1138, garrisoned the castle for Matilda. This castle was much fought against and seized by many individuals throughout its history and suffered heavy warfare with every major or minor skirmish. King Stephen’s army seized the city and castle from Matilda’s army but by 1154 Matilda’s son, Henry II, had possession and granted Hereford Castle’s motte to Roger of Gloucester. During Roger’s rebellion against Henry, the King regained possession during a siege with heavy casualties and from that point on the castle remained, officially, a royal stronghold despite the struggle for possession.
When the 13th century was well under way, the Sheriff of Herefordshire, Walter de Lacey, was given authority by King John to fortify the castle against Welsh attacks. As I have said before, the Welsh were formidable enemies of English castles and even those of their own or those built upon their own soil. Sometime after 1258 the Welsh prince, Llewellyn ap Gruffudd, conquered the town and destroyed the earliest fort. During the second Barons War, Simon de Montfort used it as his headquarters. Henry IV used the castle as his base during the Owain Glyndwr rebellion during the first decade of the 15th century.
As a medieval castle, rebuilt in stone, John Leland (the famous mid-15th century antiquarian) was known to have written that Hereford was ‘nearly as large as that of Windsor and one of the fairest and strongest in all England’. Curiously, Hereford Castle itself was not heavily slighted during the Civil War in spite of its status as a Royalist castle but the city walls, which included six gatehouses and seventeen towers at one time, were heavily destroyed. Some evidence of those walls can still be seen! Eventually the castle was sold to Sir Richard Harley and from his possession to several of his friends and fell into decline during this period. Most of the destruction, which is complete, came after 1650 and stone from it was carried away and utilized for Hereford city dwellings and buildings by 1746. The moat was turned into a lake and the Governor’s residence is thought to be a particle of the southwest corner of the castle.
When the area was remodeled in 1833 as Castle Green (the former outer bailey of the castle) the city council was given lease for a period of two hundred years and responsibility for its upkeep as a recreation area and parkland lies with them. In the center of the green a monument to Lord Nelson is prominent along with a footbridge called the Victoria Bridge crossing over the river Wye and links to riverside walks which lead to and around Hereford Cathedral. Additional walks lead to Bishops Meadow and the Bishop’s Palace (a Royal residence in the 14th century when the castle was in bad disrepair) and the Castle Green can be accessed from Mill, Castle or Quay streets.
Other architecture you may want to take in while in Hereford is the Town Hall on St Owen street, Old House, Harley Court, the Old Wye Bridge, St Ethelbert’s Well on Quay Street, the Victoria Suspension bridge, Drybridge House on St Martin’s Street and many other buildings along Wye Street.
A short distance away from Eastnor Castle at Bromsberrow and contained within Eastnor’s parkland estate, Bronsil Castle consists of a few footings of a former fortified quadrangular manor house which appear as mere outlines. Once supplied with corner and mid-wall towers, dating from the 15th century, only a small portion of a tower remains which collapsed in 1990 and now is being reconsolidated with scaffolding to save it. The castle was surrounded by a moat, also, which still exists, and the estate included 1300 acres of land on the slopes of the Malvern Hills previously belonging to the bishops of Hereford.
Record of the castle exists from around 1240 but no description was given. Records do show that Richard Beauchamp, who was the treasurer of Henry VI, was given license to crenellate this structure in 1449 and again in 1460. Most of the castle was destroyed during the Civil War and burned to the ground. Currently under protection by English Heritage, a visitor, nonetheless, will most likely be disappointed with the lack of remains.
The motte and bailey of Castle Frome can be found near St Michael’s Church, about six miles northwest of Ledbury near the River Frome. The small Norman church which sports a Victorian turret sits on a slightly elevated portion of the remains of the motte. If you visit the church you will be rewarded with seeing an attractive font which is a relic of post-Conquest art along with other beautiful works of art.
Another former castle, Bredwardine which is ten miles west of Hereford retains only traces of the stone walls of a 13th century great tower keep which can be seen best on a platform near the River Wye. Next to it, in the southeast corner of the site, another earlier mound also shows signs of stonework. Originally granted to John de Bredwardine shortly after the Conquest, building in stone didn’t commence until 1227 during the occupation by the Baskerville family. By the time the struggles between the baronage and the Crown were well underway the castle was under the control of Hugh de Lacey. There are records which indicate that it was continually dismantled and refortified by turns during the wars of Stephen and Maud and the reigns of Henrys II and III. By the 15th century it was a waste site and no value was attached to the property but since the estate of the Baskerville family were eventually passed to Roger Vaughan, he converted the castle and manor into a multi-gabled house not far from the scant ruins circa 1640. Tombs of the two families connected with the castle are laid in St Andrew’s Church in the town.
A wonderful large specimen of English military architecture is none other than Goodrich Castle five miles southwest of Ross-on-Wye which overlooks the Wye River. Castle enthusiasts do not fail to be excited by Goodrich’s appearance which is striking even from a great distance. This, and its impressive size up close make it appear completely formidable. First documented in 1101, its sandstone origins were built on a rocky spur on the right bank of the Wye which was an ancient strategic crossing. Its defenses are natural and man-made with a moat cut out of the rock and its ranges are compact and remarkably unified.
Goodrich received its name from Godric, an English thegn who was the first lord of the castle up to the time of King Henry’s reign. Henry I took possession from its recorded date and built a square great tower in the mid 12th century. Today the tower is the oldest surviving masonry on the site and can be easily distinguished from the red sandstone building of a later date by its grey limestone and square configuration. From the top one can see all the way to Symonds Yat.
A series of Welsh owners took possession through the first half of the 12th century when William de Valence of Pembroke, the heir to William Marshall, substantially built onto the castle from the year 1280 on- adding the quadrangular stone courtyard with three corner cylindrical towers reinforced by spur defenses which cemented the towers to their rock foundations. This was highly innovative and very effective defenses of the time. The northeast corner was given a magnificent 16th century chapel which was heavily protected by an extensive north outer curtain wall, formidable 14th century semicircular barbican and bridge. The barbican, bridge, outer curtain walls, keep and great hall were all rebuilt by King Edward I. Large apartments were built inside the castle quadrangle including a solar along the northwest, great hall along the west side and keep and kitchens on the south side of the courtyard.
Goodrich became a favorite residence of the Talbot family by the 15th century and they remained there until 1616 when the castle passed to the Earls of Kent. It was heavily slighted during the Civil War in 1643 even though it was garrisoned with 100 men by the Parliamentarian Earl of Stafford. It was taken back by force when the Royalists arrived and even after Charles I surrendered, Goodrich continued to be occupied by Sir Henry Lingen. Eventually he surrendered when the water supplies were cut and the stables in the outer bailey were burned down. By June the castle was slighted quite heavily by Col. John Birch’s army and no rebuilding took place thereafter.
Interior tours, which are given year round, reveal a maze of rooms which will seem rather small but fascinating and visitors are generally curious about the amount of ‘murder holes’ throughout. Be sure to check out my Herefordshire photo album to see all the amazing photos of Goodrich in the large size !
owned by English Heritage Tel: 01600 890538
Herefordshire Beacon which is a prehistoric hillfort and used as a castle during medieval times is sometimes referred to as The Citadel and is situated north of Eastnor high in the Malvern Hills. Once there you’ll find the multi-level ditches etched into the sides of this mammoth motte are very picturesque and there isn’t a finer point at which to view the entire Malvern range!
Fifteen miles west of Hereford, Dorstone and Snodhill Castles are very close to the River Dore in the very tiny village of Dorstone in the Golden Valley. Veritable neighbors since they are a mile apart, Snodhill is a mile to the south off the B4348. Dorstone Castle started with an oval motte from the late 11th or early 12th century and survived into the 13th century without stone building of any kind. Originally the seat of the de Sollers family it is supposed that they were the builders of a castle entirely of wood. By 1403 it was, of course, garrisoned against Owain Glydwr and was placed in the hands of Sir Walter Fitzwalter, a Baron knight, to defend. From that time on it was passed through many families through the centuries until it was purchased by the Cornewall family of Moccas Court circa 1780. An earthwork motte remains and is over 6 meters (20ft) high, flattened by eight feet, with a dry ditch and an adjoining kidney-shaped bailey which adjoins the ditch on the northeast side and has remains of a ditch on the south.
At Snodhill Castle fragments of an unusual octagonal tower keep dating from the 13th century and a gateway flanked by drum towers along the west remain on the top of the motte. Part of a wall still remains of a second keep which had a battered plinth. The site is public land seated near a church and is a very impressive situation despite its near destruction from the Civil War. Interestingly, it was visited by John Leland in 1540 and he described it as ruined at that time. Nevertheless it was granted to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, by Elizabeth I after nearly 200 years occupation by the Chandos family.
The motte predates the Domesday Book but the stonework which was most likely extensive took place between 1200 and 1230. The castle was in the possession of Sir John Chandos by the time of the Welsh rebellion and this is most likely the time when the before mentioned circular towers were added to the curtain wall. During the Civil War it was the Scottish Army which was sent to attack in 1645 and judging by what is left they must have used the Mons Meg cannon! English Heritage has put this Grade II listed historic site on their At Risk register.
www.dorstone.co.uk Snodhill: contact Tony Fleming 0121 6256856
Among Kilpeck Castle’s best remains, a good example of a Norman fireplace is the most interesting. King John was entertained twice in this castle early in the 13th century and by 1325 the de Bohuns owned the castle. Seated northeast of Pontrilas and Ewyas Harold Castle in a corner of the Golden Valley, the massive keep of this medieval castle was totally demolished during the Civil War. This was built by William FitzNorman and his son built the Romanesque church, St Mary and David’s, next to it in the 12th century. The church is marvelously intact and practically unchanged!
Until the 9th century, when it was taken over by Mercia, the area around Kilpeck was within the Welsh Kingdom of Ergyng. After the Norman conquest, the area became known as Archenfield and was governed as part of the Welsh Marches. It became part of Herefordshire in the 16th century. According to the Domesday Book the land was given to William Fitz Norman de la Mare by William the Conqueror in the 11th century and the clan de la Mare is one of the oldest in Normandy. Evidence shows that an enclosure around Kilpeck indicates that a Saxon village once was seated there.
Just west of the church the motte and bailey and various outworks follow a circular configuration with a diameter of 54 yards at the base and an approximate height of 27 ft. from the bottom of the ditch. Ruins of a 12th century polygonal shell-keep- two large fragments- lie north and southwest. A fragment of walling is a fireplace-recess with a segmental back of ashlar stone and a round flue. A cross-wall still exists with two round drain-holes piercing the outer wall and an ashlar-faced oven, on the southwest with the springing of an arch across the front, seated in the angle of a cross-wall with another drain-hole.
Kilpeck’s motte is surrounded by a ditch which separates it from the kidney-shaped inner bailey. Earthwork defenses show an outer bank on the west and the bailey also has an outer ditch with remains of a rampart north and south. Slight traces of a causeway lead to the motte and a gap in the rampart is flanked by a small mound which may have covered up the remains of a gatehouse. The grounds show evidence of a very strong counterscarp bank with a stream and weir on the west.
The church is particularly noteworthy as one of the finest in Europe of Romanesque architectural features. The figures on the chancel-arch and arched doorway are very remarkable with grotesque carvings and moldings characteristic of a school of Anglo-Norman sculptors who worked in the area. The pre-Conquest fragment at the northeast angle of the nave is one of the few surviving fragments of that period in the county. Among the fittings, the 12th century font and the 17th century gallery are worth a look as it has been surmised by experts that the inside of the castle may have been fitted with such decoration for its interior at one time. Other buildings include a priory, house barn along with more earthworks and these are southeast of the church.
Free to the public on public land.
Many castles both English and Welsh exist along the corridor of Golden Valley near Abbey Dore. Longtown Castle faces down Grosmont, Skenfrith and White Castles which occupy the Welsh side of the border and Longtown along with Ewyas Harold and Goodrich put up a good counter defense against these awesome Welsh Castles on the English side. The castle was also refortified during Glyndwr’s rebellion in 1402 after it had been allowed to decay during the 14th century and it took a heavy beating during the war against the Welsh resistance.
Starting out as a rectangular double bailey around a large motte, which is still impressive at present, it was built in stone by the de Laceys in the late part of the 12th century. Later it was crowned with the cylindrical great tower of sandstone on a battered plinth with four and a half meter (15 feet) thick walls. The tower is still impressive and rather unique with three projecting lobes which seat 120 degrees from each other on a cylindrical plan. The lobes appear to act as buttresses, one once equipped with a spiral staircase which collapsed leaving the tower split.
Before the Welsh Marches this castle was the scene of bitter fighting between the Fitzmiles, Earls of Hereford, Talbots and the de Laceys during the Anarchy which was during the reign of King Stephen. Gilbert de Lacey finally won out and his second son, Hugh was officially recorded as holding the district in 1166. Twenty years later Hugh was killed in Ireland and it was found later that two castles existed in the district in the Royal Pipe Rolls, Pont Hendre and the recently built Longtown which was described as new. Hugh’s son Walter was granted Longtown and most likely did the masonry building for not just the castle ( circa 1216-1231) but also the town. He became Sheriff of Herefordshire and built the circular curtain wall around the bailey, which he divided with a cross-wall and added a gateway flanked by two D-shaped turrets. The keep tower was two-stories high when completed. Unfortunately, he died in debt to the Crown in 1241 after a very active and varied career. Longtown has the distinction of a surviving rectangular stone enclosure which was a fortification constructed by Harold Godwinson in 1056- the same Harold who became King Harold II, killed at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 by the invading Normans and William the Conqueror.
Further south, on spur in the Golden Valley near Pontrilas and Longtown Castle, Ewyas Harold Castle is another pre-Conquest castle which was also refortified at the beginning of the 15th century during Glyndwr’s revolt. It was primarily an 11th century motte castle with a stone shell tower and a kidney-shaped bailey, referred to in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for 1052 and listed in the Domesday book as Castellum Ewias.
A previous castle was built by Osbern Pentecost in 1066 and was also a motte and bailey which overlooked the Dulas Brook. The original castle was most likely destroyed on order by Earl Godwin or could have been destroyed in a Welsh raid. After the Norman invasion a castle was completed by William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford in 1086 and a priory was founded, as well, within the bailey by 1100. He constructed a shell keep on the 70 feet high motte along with a twin towered gatehouse and then placed Alfred of Marlborough as lord of the castle. By the 12th century a stone keep replaced the wooden keep on the motte and after the castle passed through several hands in the 12th and 13th centuries it had fallen into decay.
William Beauchamp, Lord Abergavenny, refortified the castle during the Welsh rebellion led by Glyndwr but no record was ever recorded of it being attacked. By 1538 the castle was reported to be completely ruinous and no stonework can be seen above ground or on the premises. It was most likely ignored during the Civil War.
The other Pembridge Castle just northwest of Welsh Newton and seven miles west of Goodrich is also known as Newland Castle most likely because the earliest portion, a 13th century four-storey circular tower on the western corner, predates most of the building which was reconstructed during the mid to late 18th century. This was built for Ralph de Pembridge about 1219 by Matilda de St. Valery. The rectangular configuration with round corner towers is surrounded by a wet moat and was recreated to its original 13th century appearance by Henry Scudamore in 1715, during his occupation of the castle as a resident. Ironically, he was apparently a descendant of the Colonel who laid siege to it during the Civil War. This siege lasted for two weeks and when it was finally captured it had sustained quite a bit of damage.
Owned by the Mortimers until 1387, the two-storey gatehouse was added around 1400 during their occupation along with the remainder of the castle which included a separate hall block and a chapel. The only exception is the original tower built by Ralph de Pembridge, who was originally from Pembridge Village in the north of Herefordshire. Empty for two hundred years it was bought and repaired in the 20th century by Dr. Hedley Bartlett and is now occupied as a private residence.
Bollitree Castle is actually a Tudor folly added to a Queen Anne mansion in the 18th century which has always received a lot of local interest. It is certainly curious but also strangely a wonderful addition to the entire structure. The most recent owner, a Ms Penelope Johnson lived for ten years at the house, up until 2008, and kept the grade 1 listed Gothic-style stable block busy in her business of breeding horses. Visitors can enter by the castle gate where battlemented and turreted walls are reflected in the specially built moat. If you like what you see and have deep pockets you can move in for £2.5 million !
Well, you could have. Fact is, the place went up for sale in March of 2008 and then it was sold before the end of the year to Richard Hammond, Top Gear presenter and car collector extraordinaire. He has proposed to tear down the formerly prized stable block to build a five-bay garage for his collection. (If it is of any consolation, Mr Hammond has the destructive bent of Evel Knievel as he was seriously injured in September of 2006 when he crashed in a jet powered car while filming a segment of Top Gear.)
The earliest recorded owner of the property was Richard Ap Meryk who was a customs officer to King Henry VII who sponsored explorer John Cabot on his trip to North America where he discovered Newfoundland. The ship carried the Meryk family crest which is emblazoned with stars and stripes. It is thought to be the origin of the American flag.
In 1776, Walter Meyrick, a Parliamentarian who fought against Charles I in the Civil War, left what was known as Bollitree House to his nephew, Thomas Hopkins-Merrick from Pencoyd. Thomas added the battlements and moat because he was in love with a Spanish girl who refused to live in wet and draughty old England. She apparently wanted to live in a gentrified castle but she spurned him, anyway. After his death it was reported that his ghost haunts the lawn on which he built a lake and ha-ha, both of which can be visited today. People who have lived nearby say their earliest memories of Weston-under-Penyard was going to the pond moat to feed the ducks.
At Bridstow, Wilton Castle, which is five miles northeast of Goodrich Castle, is owned privately but one may book appointments to visit and tour this beautiful property which is very much a medieval castle albeit much has been changed, added to and embellished over the centuries. The old ruins are still accessible and can be viewed. Dating from the time of King Stephen’s reign (1135-1154), Wilton was built of local sandstone near the River Wye in a strategic position overlooking the town of Ross-on-Wye where an Anglo-Saxon road crossed over into Wales. The original lords were the de Longchamps who held this position for three generations and a large portion of the original castle ruins survive from the early years of this family’s tenure.
Much of the stone ruins at Wilton today, however, are of the 13th and 14th century and the remaining curtain walls are of an irregular quadrilateral configuration and show signs of towers at each angle with an additional mural tower along the east wall. The de Greys were lords during this time keeping tenure the longest- three hundred years ! By the 16th century an unusual practice of rebuilding in and around the castle had started in the form of an Elizabethan manor house built from some of the stone of the crumbling castle and elsewhere.
By the time of the Civil War, Sir John Brydges, a relative to the de Greys, became the owner of the castle and he remained neutral but the buildings were still attacked by the Parliamentarians to prevent the possibility of a garrison being organized there. In order to do this they simply set the new home on fire ! Thereafter, it was abandoned up until 1755. An interesting purchase of the estate was made between private owners and Guys Hospital of London in 1731 setting them up as trustees of the entire property. They built a new house there in the 19th century and then sold the castle- first to a financier, Charles Clore in 1961 and he, in turn, sold the castle and property in 2002 to Mr and Mrs Parslow who have done an incredible amount of restoration of the entire grounds which includes the ruins.
It is open to the public for weddings and events and the gardens are exemplary enough to make a day long visit.
Tel- 01989 565759 sue
With loving affection for castle lovers everywhere…
The Castle Lady