Heavenly Hills, Dales and Castles of Eastern Hertfordshire

HertfordLocated along the eastern border, the town of Hertford contained two burhs founded in 911 by King Edward the Elder (England’s second king). Hertford Castle was raised, in 1066, beside the River Lea and bequeathed to Peter de Valoignes, the High Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire by William I. Today it is located in the Town Centre and entrances to the park are located next to the Castle Hall and in West Street. In general form, Hertford Castle originally resembled Berkhamsted- a motte and bailey once surrounded by a double moat, with palisades as barriers. The earthworks of the castle do not compare well considering the motte is much smaller, the moats have been filled in and are not easily deciphered. Hertford, similarly to Berkhamsted, also escaped damage during the first Civil War even though Hertford supported Matilda. This paid off well to Hertford because building of the castle continued later, according to Royal pipe rolls, which state that, from 1171 to 1174, construction continued under Henry II’s direction raising the curtain walls and giving the castle a rectangular courtyard appearance. An octagonal tower along the south was a later medieval addition, as well.
Hertford_Castle_SpeedsPlanBy the end of the 12th century, after Henry II’s reign, Hertford declined in royal favor for some time. Same as Berkhamsted, Hertford endured its only recorded siege in 1216 taken during Louis’ campaign to topple the English throne. Edward III used the castle to imprison his mother, the indomitable Queen Isabella, but he was, in fact, born and raised there! Later, he granted it to her. During the Hundred Years War he also used the dungeons to imprison David II of Scotland and John II of France. Even Richard II was kept here for awhile, along with 18 peasants before he was deposed to Pontefract. The castle enjoyed a revival when the House of York began to struggle to seize the crown after Edward IV was crowned. Construction on his brick gatehouse was started in 1461 and was finished by 1465. This oblong building features shallow angle turrets and just below parapet level you’ll see decorative machicolations, mullioned windows with arched frames and an arcade entrance. Occupation of the gatehouse continued long after the rest of the castle had been abandoned.
Hertford_Castle_Gatehouse_tnAs a matter of fact, through the centuries the castle has enjoyed several revivals but the most enduring was that of Edward IV’s brick gatehouse. Before that Henry II had reconstructed the entire castle in stone during the second half of the 12th century and Richard I employed his regent William Longchamp to refortify the castle when his vassal Robert Valoignes, Peter’s son, had taken control over the daily life of the castle. King John ousted an heir to Robert, his son-in-law Robert FitzWalter and his entourage but was later reappointed to govern thereafter and it remained a strict stronghold to the crown from that time on. The last major overhaul came in 1360 when John of Gaunt was granted the castle and it was his chief country home through most of his life.
During the Wars of the Roses Hertford became a popular castle to bequeath to the queens of England which included Princess Katherine of France, Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville. As much a jail as a residence, it may have been a way of controlling the women of the crown. Henry VI spent a good part of his early childhood at Hertford. Just before the Tudor period was ushered in Richard III granted the castle to one of his strongest supporters, that of the Duke of Buckingham and by the time Henry VIII came into power it was basically a civilian palace, private residence and the gatehouse was the primary residence. Queen Elizabeth was a frequent visitor most likely because she spent most of her childhood in Hertford Castle and Hatfield House- which is seated exactly at the midway point between Berkhamsted and Hertford Castles.
Hertford_CastleBy the beginning of the 17th century it was no longer considered a royal residence and was neglected by both James I and Charles I but granted to William Cecil, 2nd Earl of Salisbury who had built Hatfield House by this time. Even though it was heavily ruined, surprisingly, it was leased to a Sir William Harrington of Hertingfordbury Park. Sir William set about restoration and then reassigned the lease to Sir William Cowper who was a customs collector for the port of London. A list of Cowper’s heirs gained this inheritance for a number of years until 1790 when it was enlarged with a south wing to the gatehouse and converted into a neo-Gothic mansion by the Earl of Hillsborough. This entailed the walling up of the original gateways and the addition of a porch in front. Additional restorations uncovered timber roof beams and partitions on the upper floors. After that time it was considered a Royal Tudor Palace and a private residence. The 18th century façade you will see currently actually dates from the 16th century with new parapets and brick battlements to give it a pristine look which is almost uncanny. Only Hertford’s walls remain as a five-sided enclosure and were reconstructed, in portions. It is easy to discern the original walls from the reconstruction upon close examination. The new gateway and lodge were built by the Marquis of Downshire at the beginning of the 19th century and soon after became the home of the East India Company College and through the years an emergency hospital was established by Reverend Thomas Lloyd, who was a strong charity supporter in Hertford.
HertfordCastleWalls_panoramioWork was carried on by a corporation formed in 1911 leasing the gatehouse from the Marquess of Salisbury and housed the administration adding gardens to the public areas and a north wing was added to the gatehouse upon which the Salisbury estate finally granted the entire complex to the town. It now houses the offices of the town council.
Hertford Museum at 18 Bull Plain, a short distance away, offers free admission during normal business hours, Besides being an historic 17th century house with a reconstructed 18th fascia, it is filled with Hertford’s history on displays. There is also a beautiful knot garden on the grounds and a fascinating gift shop as well.    T-01992 582686
1812 drawing of Hertford castle by George Shepherd, published by John Harris in The Beauties of England and Wales

www.hertford.net/events/castle/php Free admission with parking in St. Andrew St.
Hertford Town Council at The Castle, Hertford, SG14 1HR
Tel: 01992 552885 E-mail: town.clerk@hertford.gov.uk Web: www.neton8.co.uk
Tourist information center at 10 Market Place

Rye_House_Gatehouse_ggrph_RobertEdwardsOn the banks of the River Lea, one mile northeast of Hoddesdon along the Essex border, Rye House is often remembered for the Rye House Plot of 1683- a bungled attempt to assassinate Charles II. A short distance southeast of Hertford, the remains of Rye House speak of better days and are reminiscent of Kirby Muxloe in Leicestershire and Tattershall in Lincolnshire- both of which I have covered on this blog.. Sir Andrew Ogard, a former soldier during the French wars, was granted a license to crenellate the house in 1443. Most likely it was reconstructed as a courtyard quadrangle with most of the edifice destroyed by the 18th century. The 16th century two-storied gatehouse and former moat are all that is left but it was built in fashionable brick, save for the stone archway, and shows a passion for display with its decorative corbels, slight battlements, twin oriel windows and a diaper pattern along the walls in bands of blue brick. In its heyday it most likely hearkened to Scottish baronial castles in style and most likely was never built for defense of any kind however, it is considered to be the finest medieval moated site in Hertfordshire and what remains is in quite good condition. Discovery of documents relating to this fortified manor house has kept its historical significance intact.
Rye_House_1777_Forster1Entrance to the castle is provided by a causeway on the south flanked by two re-erected late medieval chimneys which have been listed separately as scheduled monuments in and of themselves. The moat enclosure is quite large in circumference joined to the river on the east by a broad flume (artificial trench). It is also fed by the river along the north with a smaller flume. As a grade 1 listed scheduled monument, the surviving gatehouse has been kept very nicely and is located on the east side of the island most likely reached by an earlier bridge than the existing one. Some former walls remain in ruins to the west south of the gatehouse and some recent restoration has taken place without the aid of excavations. Rye_House_Plot_1823In 1868 a man by the name of Henry Teale developed a pleasure garden on the site including the moat into a part of the ornamental works and he was also responsible for replacing the chimneys, as well.

Hertfordshire blog by Chris Reynolds features old black and white photo of Rye House

BishStort_castle_causewayAbout ten miles east, off the M11, Waytemore Castle overlooks the River Stort along the eastern border at Bishop’s Stortford right in the middle of town. William I established the castle to command the river crossing and later granted it to Maurice, his Chaplain and Chancellor by 1086 but it is speculated to be much older with its origins going back as far as Edmund the Elder ( ca. 901). It is assumed that King John made improvements during his reign since most of the ruins may date from the first decade of the 13th century and documents indicate that the owner of the castle was given a license to crenellate by the mid-14th century. This castle somehow missed being listed in the Domesday Book but Bishop William bought the Saxon manor of Stortford which ultimately became a property of the Holy See of London. By 1060 the castle became a popular retreat of the bishops, hence the name, but by the 15th century they transferred to the palace at Much Hadham not far away. Afterwards, abandoned as a residence by the 17th century, Waytemore achieved notoriety as a jail for nonconformists and was pulled down after the Civil War.
Waytemore_castle_moatEarthworks delineate the position of the bailey and the motte is large and oddly rectangular in shape except for one rounded side along the north. At the summit are the low and bare foundations of a 12th century flint Norman curtain with a square tower keep close to the entrance. Human remains, in the form of bones, have been discovered more than any other type of artifact. Roman bricks and coins were also found so a settlement here by the Romans is also possible. Waytemore has never been conclusively excavated as a result but its use as a post-medieval prison may be a contributory factor. The motte is of incredible size and worth a visit as the site is easily accessible in parkland known today as the Castle Gardens. There you will see several modern war memorials amid a wonderful network of pathways and gardens
Waytemore_1821_motte_&_townAlong the southern side of the motte a gatehouse and steps led down to a barbican and a drawbridge existed crossing from the inner moat to the bailey. Four acres around the property are now bereft but once was laid out with stables, storehouses, a blacksmith and quarters for the castle garrison. A sizable outer moat also existed and was enclosed by a curtain with two gatehouses- one for the garrison and the other leading down to the causeway which has changed through the centuries but still exists.
To see what remains of the stronghold now it is difficult to imagine how important this particular castle was through several epochs in English history. For one, although this castle was always the official seat of the Bishop of London it became a pawn in the political struggle for the crown between Princess Maud (or better known historically as Matilda) and Henry I’s nephew Stephen who usurped his cousin’s crown with all the barons of England’s approval. Known in history books as the Anarchy, the two continued to wage war over the ultimate reign of England. Robert of Gloucester’s support gave Matilda the confidence to return from exile in France to reclaim her throne and because there became two rival factions the first civil war began.
Matilda’s first bid for power began with a bargain struck with Geoffrey de Mandeville II. She promised him the castle at Stortford but only if he would help her fight King Stephen. If he didn’t accept, she planned to destroy the castle. It put him in a tough position because he owned property at Thorley and Saffron Walden and if Stortford became hostile territory it would make it difficult for him to travel back and forth between them. The bishop of London at that time was Robert de Sigillo and he supported King Stephen so he refused to release the castle to Matilda. By 1141 she took charge of England and Stephen was imprisoned at Lincoln Castle. She was never crowned and within a year Stephen took the throne by force again.

BishStort_Waytemorecastle_causewayDuring King John’s reign the castle was ‘dismantled’ and rebuilt under the curious circumstance of an ongoing quarrel between him and the Pope after 1205. For a period of time John freed the manor and town from Church ownership and it became a royal stronghold. After 1214 when he rebuilt the castle at his expense, it became the seat of the Bishop of London once again. After King John signed the Magna Charta in 1215 he visited the town on the 29th of March 1216, but died later that year presumably in battle. Sometime during the reign of John’s successor, Edward III, the castle was restored and repaired again adding leaded lights to the windows and wrought stone for doorways under the direction of Ralph de Stratford, the current Bishop of London. The castle was also crenellated and the chapel of St Paul was built within the castle bailey. Priests brought there were to pray regularly for the souls of Queen Philippa and the bishop. When the bishop and priests abandoned the castle in the 15th century its purpose diminished and fell into disrepair rapidly. Interestingly, dues were still paid on it even by the time of Elizabeth I’s reign but it was merely a prison by then and eventually the entire castle was completely demolished after confiscations by the commonwealth in 1649.

BeningtoNRuins_ggrph_uk_JeffTomlinsonIf you head north on the A1 toward Bedfordshire you’ll find the remains of Benington Castle about four miles east of Stevenage. A red brick Georgian manor known in the present day as Benington Lordship, was built within the elevated enclosure of what began as a Norman castle. Its true origins go back to Saxon times and was founded by the King of Mercia. The ruins you will see were built early in the 12th century and may have been seen as an adulterine castle by Henry II and King Stephen during the Anarchy but is attributed as the work of Peter de Valoignes in the early stages and Roger de Valoignes’ stone fortifications of 1136 which included a stone tower atop the motte. It managed to survive Henry II’s decree of demolition in 1177 because it was back in full use by 1192. Destruction came upon this interesting stronghold by 1212 during King John’s time when Robert fitz Walter rebelled against the crown.
Benington_map3In the present, the earthworks and ruins are a beautiful backdrop for lush, rich hilltop gardens enveloping some of the ruins which linger along the east and north of the motte. The site has a lovely intimate atmosphere filled with herbaceous borders, old roses and graced with lakes and a nursery. The estate offers tea on the veranda of the manor along with facilities for fashion shoots and filming! A twin-towered gatehouse and a summerhouse with surprisingly good curtain walls lead into the enclosure. These are follies built in 1832 by George Proctor making the estate fashionable, once again, after a devastating fire which occurred in 1700. Also within the enclosure are the low foundations of a rather small square keep which was renovated in medieval renaissance with neo-Norman arched entryways. It is located within the village, off Town Lane near the A505-A602 and parking is available on the premises.benington





Walkern_Old_RectoryThe remains of Walkern Bury castle are located a short distance north east of Stevenage. Attributed to Hamo St. Clare, it was built during the Anarchy when King Stephen reigned. This land was central to the St Clare barony of Hertfordshire and he was a follower of Geoffrey de Mandeville, 1st Earl of Essex- both major participants in this fierce civil war and so Walkern was definitely part of a group of unlicensed castles which were considered adulterine along with Anstey, Pirton, Great Wymondley and Therfield. They are all located within the northeastern area of Hertfordshire and were meant to protect manorial property at that time. Nearly all of them were abandoned by the second half of the 12th century under Henry II’s guidance and demolition.
??????????????????????Walkern may be better described as a ringwork which sits on a small spur along the northern slope of Bassus Green. You’ll find an oval ditch and inner bank which most likely had a timber palisade in the day. The natural knoll measures about 130 by 100 along the interior portion and a narrow causeway can still be seen which joins at the south end and corresponds to a hole along the internal bank.

???????????????????????????????What remains of this castle was actually the earliest form of medieval fortifications in England which pre-dated the invasions. You can read more about these in my tutorials on castles that I put up in 2008. Comparatively speaking, there are few in the country with only 200 recorded examples which are distinguished normally from later earthworks because of the absence of a bailey or two. Less than half of these ringworks also have baileys which indicates that they were rebuilt as motte and baileys at a later date. Walkern is a part of those few and is an intact example of such. Its archaeological evidence is invaluable as a subject for further research. A World Heritage Site committee were given a tour of the castle site in 2013.
owners: Mr. and Mrs. CHA Bott T- 01438 869668

therfield_stmarychyd_buryhall_bkgrnd (2)Therfield Castle’s remains, seated ten miles north of Walkern, appears to have been left unfinished and in the Domesday book Therfield was referred to as the possession of the Abbey of Ramsey, most likely because of the church built there and the village which surrounds it. However, evidence of the earliest human occupation can be found in the meadow situated west and northwest of the churchyard and known as Tuthill Close. You’ll find ditches that appear to have been moats and a mound which is referred to in ordnance surveys as the Castle Mound. There was also a larger enclosure to the south according to the written local records of Reginald Foster, a local teacher. H.C. Andrews, in a paper entitled “Therfield and it’s Castle”, reaffirms that a strong fortified post, over-looking the Icknield Way most likely was an early castle. He drew a comparison between Therfield and Pirton and his conversation with a visiting antiquarian suggested that digging might unearth definite traces of Iron Age man. Others who have excavated and investigated many iron age remains doubt the accuracy of these conclusions. In fact, no underlying structures were found during excavations conducted here in 1958. Neolithic round barrows are fairly common in the general area but no such records exist to support the idea of such simple structures in the village although barrows have been cited on Therfield Heath which is a mile north of the village.
One discovery during the 1958 survey was a timber-revetted clay rampart and unfortunately in 1960 the earthworks in the bailey were leveled, leaving only the wet ditches and low ramparts in the field boundaries to reveal its original layout. If you visit you will find what remains in the village center off of Church Lane by the water tower. It is very close on the north side of the 13th century churchyard and rectory grounds. One section of the old moat is still referred to as Tuthill Moat and contains a large amount of water. Most likely Therfield Castle was 12th century built during the Anarchy and the fortress was heavily slighted before the 13th century after the accession of Henry II. It would have been considered an adulterine castle, of course. Not far away is…

Anstey_british-hist_fig4 Anstey Castle, an impressive-sized late 11th or early 12th century motte and bailey castle. It is unlikely it was ever rebuilt in stone and that is why it is unconscionable that it is compared to Berkhamsted. With an extremely wide but low motte (30 ft high) and a wet moat, this former glory exists on the grounds of an ancient church and Ermine Street near the river Quin, four and a half miles northeast of Buntingford.
In the Domesday Book, Eustace, Count (or Earl) of Boulogne is listed as the owner who received the manor after the Norman Conquest. His sub-tenants adopted the name which was the usual custom and so Nicholas de Anstey strengthened the castle against King John during the Magna Carta war but was compelled in 1218 to destroy his additions once peace returned. This was by order of King John but may have been carried out by Henry III by 1225. Documentation of this castle ceased in 1377.
AnsteyCastlesite_Lorraine_KeithBowdlerSituated on the south end of a broad spur the remains are adjacent to a Norman church, St. George’s. No traces of masonry survive, though at least one stone building may have existed because trace amounts of trapezoidal uncut flint were found atop the motte at the beginning of the 20th century during an excavation carried out by R.T. Andrews. To the northeast of the motte is an L-shaped bailey which surrounded a rampart along the northwest and east with a barbican. There is another mound along the bailey and east of the motte which is square shaped and landscaped but with no amount of height or width that would make it a part of the original. It is considered a later ornamental addition. The motte survived the onslaught of an American bomber which crashed into it in 1944!
Visible from a churchyard.


ArburyBanks_SEArbury Banks, a very high hill fort southwest of Ashwell was possibly constructed during the late Bronze Age ca. 1,000- 700 BC. Far north on the border with Cambridgeshire, it is one of a series of six similar hill forts along the northern part of the Chilterns including Wilbury Hill Camp which is southwest of Letchworth, further west. Excavations which were carried out in the 1850s traced Arbury Banks’ horseshoe-shaped ramparts identifying two opposed north and south entrances. In addition, further evidence disclosed several enclosures inside the fort. The area may have been a possible location for the Battle of Watling Street, where a small Roman band destroyed Boudicca’s army.

Hell hath no fury like…


The Castle Lady


About Evelyn

The Castle Lady Official web site: www.ilovecastles.com other blogs: ilovecastles.blogspot.com evelynsrockpages.blogspot.com evelyns-nailsforlife.blogspot.com
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One Response to Heavenly Hills, Dales and Castles of Eastern Hertfordshire

  1. anon says:

    I couldn’t resist commenting. Exceptionally well written!


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