Sleepy Surrey’s Strongholds

Surrey’s charming countryside is surrounded by larger and more encroaching counties than itself- being Hampshire on the west, the Sussex counties along the southern border, Kent on the east and London and Berkshire northeast and northwest, respectively, with Windsor Castle between them as a part of Berkshire. Heathrow and Gatwick Airports, which primarily serve Greater London, are posted opposite each other on Surrey’s north and south borders. Here, the birth of English (and American) democracy came about with the forced signing of the Magna Charta by King John at Runnymede meadow, only four miles from Windsor Castle, in 1213- over 800 years ago! (You’ll find a memorial pavilion at the highest point here which was erected in 1957!) More castles abound in this small county than one might imagine (nine in all) and over the many centuries, a large number of stately homes and royal palaces which includes one of Henry VIII’s most famous residences, Hampton Court Palace at East Molesey. Peaceful villages appear oblivious to modern traffic but the bustle of nearby London has begun to supersede the pace of life here with motorways that crisscross the county in every direction. Somehow, the rural backwaters of the county hold onto a rather pastoral hush and sandy heaths stretch across much of the landscape which attracts walkers from the aforementioned counties or even further distances. Lethargic tourists may prefer to enjoy the spectacular view from the Hog’s Back, a long ridge running over the North Downs past Guildford, the county’s Georgian capital and home to an impressive keep of a Norman castle- constructed shortly after the Battle of Hastings. The Hog’s Back road is essentially the A31, which originally lead from Winchester through Farnham into Guildford’s High Street and from there into London.

By the 20th century Surrey began to fill up with the affluent from all walks of life and some kindred spirits in the form of rock and pop stars, actors, sports figures and the landed royalty- not to mention former South American dictator, Pinochet. How it came to be referred to as the Stockbroker Belt is a bit of curiosity in and of itself but it is definitely unique in many respects and this is just another indication of what you may expect during a visit. The only thing missing will be- nope, they even have likenesses of the Cheshire Cat in Guildford’s gardens. Expect any and every thing…

After installation of the extended railway systems, barriers between Surrey’s chalky soil, heavily forested North Downs and London were breached and blurred until what was once the poorest county in the south, overall, became an area of rare beauty and rich estates with superlative natural views. This has occurred over many centuries and the result is prime real estate in Wey Valley along the west and havens which nest in secret landscapes along the Weald. Americans may think of West Virginia while traveling through this magnificent green and sandy patch of south England were it not for the numerous reminders of castles interspersed throughout the county. Once you are south of the North Downs these sites are prolific enough to take notice. The rare beauty of this area abounding in heath and hills is topped by Leith Hill in the North Downs and is the highest point in southern England.

The Guildford corridor made way for the bishops of Winchester to build Farnham Castle in the far western reach of the county. It had a magnificent keep built around a shell keep (which still stands although greatly reduced), mural towers (rebuilt during the restoration) and posh interiors in the bishop’s quarters- courtesy of Henry of Blois. Guildford Castle- only ten miles east of Farnham- is intact enough to view much of the exterior remains of the tower keep. Abinger Motte, seated between Dorking and Guildford, north of the Surrey Hills, is remarkable for its location and former size. Northeast of Dorking, seated on a natural sandstone spur overlooking the River Mole, late 14th century Betchworth Castle’s impressive ruins still stand. Only four miles away, Reigate Castle has nothing visible above ground except for a pyramid which hides an underground sallyport but the size of the park-like location, marvelously showcased with markers and barriers, is definitely worth visiting and viewing. Even further east, Bletchingley Castle occupies a ridge south of the village of the same name with stunning views of the Weald. South of Reigate, Thunderfield Castle’s remains are a bit of a mystery with evidence of a simple ringwork but there is a large bailey further to the north. An easternmost site just outside the Kent border along the River Eden, Starborough Castle, once vied with Bodiam Castle for its courtyard configuration and towers with some unique features for such a castle,- alas!- is now gone since the Civil War. Walton-on-the-hill foundations, just south of Wimbledon Stadium, is the closest early medieval earth ringwork to London and was replaced in stone by the 14th century.

At Surrey’s marvelous capital, Guildford Castle’s site overlooks the River Wey in an elevated defensive position. Records of this castle were non-existent until 1173, at which time it was garrisoned against Prince Henry’s supporters but it would be surprising if no castle had been founded here during or immediately after the Norman invasion (i.e. late 11th century). After all, Guildford was once a Saxon burgh guarding a gap in the North Downs and was on the route called the Pilgrim’s Way which was sacked- along with other towns- when William the Conqueror led his army through from Canterbury. At that time it was the only town in Surrey. During Henry II’s reign his accounts show little expense to account for the keep, which is quite substantial, so some form of it may have existed already. Both King John and Henry III often came here to hunt and the castle was, by then, considered to be one of the most luxurious palaces in England thanks to Henry III who loved lavish living. Its decline as a royal residence resulted after the Plantagenet kings came into power and thereafter served primarily as a court house and jail- an all too familiar story for many royal castles.

Guildford’s only obvious survival is that very same keep which is a square Norman tower of standard size in local Bargate stone and sits on the side edge of a large motte created atop a natural chalk spur. Conservation work carried out from 2003-2004 revealed the original crenellations of the tower and can now be seen from quite a distance although the infill remains. As a whole the entire site is quite well kept up, even though it was stripped of roofing as late as 1630. The additional ruins have not fared any where near as well as the tower but some are visible- imparting an apt example of later enlargement, particularly during the Tudor period, with enlarged windows. Patches of herringbone masonry speak of Roman origins and without evidence of a barbican entrance- supports suppositions that the original keep was built quite early. Henry I is the most likely king to have undertaken the task, however, later heightening fortification of the Norman tower has been attributed to King Stephen. If the latter is true then Guildford’s tower, although stripped, may be the only known structure with his undertakings to survive! Unusually, there is scant but obvious evidence of the ruinous shell keep around the base of the motte summit and on the first floor entrance of the tower a mural chapel still exists and is reached through a passage where prisoners’ graffiti carvings cover the walls. By 1381 the castle was a clearing house for prisoners taken during the Peasants’ Revolt.

An outer bailey exists which retains some of its original wall with a wonderful 13th century archway. The keep underwent major conservation work in 2003 when interior floors and ceilings were restored and now houses a museum about the castle’s history and development. The restored garden and grounds of the inner bailey are an added attraction and make up for its reduced size with exceptional beauty when in full bloom. Henry III’s palace remains are two sides of a domestic structure in close proximity along with the main gatehouse. A small portion of the curtain wall remains may be visited in Castle Cliffe Gardens.

Focusing on the tower keep, much can be seen outside and inside. Defense was tantamount and apparent with a ground and first floor entrance configured to only be accessed from the first floor and private apartments were reserved for the King and his Queen even though, later, better apartments were built for him within the bailey. The second level once contributed to its former great height at 70 feet, roofed with lead and the entire structure was whitewashed. A fire greatly damaged the Great Hall in 1254 but building and additions continued on the site for some time as Henry purchased more of the surrounding land to extend the bailies and made provision for Henry III’s son Edward I, who was a mere seven years old when the work was carried out. Those remains can also be seen in Castle Cliffe Gardens.

Very little warfare was carried out at Guildford Castle but it was continually fortified and refortified. One instance was during the revolt of Henry II’s sons in 1173-74 when the French Prince Louis took possession of the castle on the ninth of July in 1216 during the Baron’s war against King John. It was ignored during Simon de Montfort’s uprising after 1260 and it came to be used as a prison when Prince Edward captured a rebel named Adam Gurdon taken at the battle at Alton. From that point on, clear into the 14th century, Guildford was used as a prison of war by the Kings of England governing Surrey and Sussex but not after 1487 when Sussex citizens petitioned parliament to have their prisoners moved to Lewes.

Further afield, Guildford’s bailies encompassed Castle Street, South Hill and Racks Close almost parallel with Quarry Street but further east with a palisade to divide the inner bailey from the outer. Quadrangular by form and definition, its curtain walls were 10 feet in thickness at the foundations but splayed so that the upper portions of wall were slimmer. If you tour the area, you will see very few remains to prove curtain walls ever existed. The gate at Quarry Street is a 13th century build as well but this was, of course, not the original gate and the previous Tunsgate location no longer exists. By the 14th century a new royal hunting lodge had been built on the other side of the Wey and was updated and enlarged after the 1360s. Much of Guildford Castle’s royal apartments and additions within the two bailies were built of stone but with more modern conveniences such as brick windows and fireplaces.

By 1544 John Daborne became the groundskeeper and he and his family remained in this position for the remainder of the 16th century. In 1611 the estate was granted to Francis Carter by James I and much of the surrounding land was used for farming and rented out to others in the ensuing centuries. The house at Castle Arch is attributed as an addition made either by Francis Carter or his son. The Duke of Norfolk purchased the entire estate in 1820 which eventually came into the possession of Lord Grantley of Wonersh by 1885. Grantley essentially sold the property to the town of Guildford and dignitaries corporately known as the Guildford Corporation. Thereafter, both tower and walls remaining were restored and opened to the public as pleasure gardens coinciding with Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee from the previous year in 1888. Since that time the gardens have been an extremely popular visiting and daytrip venue with a seemingly endless variety of colorful bedding and floral arrangements around the keep. A constant theme which prevails is Lewis Carroll’s characters in Through the Looking Glass because he lived nearby in The Chestnuts which was his sister’s house. His stay there lasted from 1868 until his death in 1898. 

Back in 2003 a major renovation project started on the keep which was complete from its foundations to the newly revealed original crenellations on the top. During the year-long process a new floor was put in on the first level along with a new roof, a visitor center was installed which is available to the public from April to September along with a model of the castle as it appeared circa 1300. You can view much of Surrey from the tower roof which is accessible by a staircase specifically restored for this purpose. The castle is open April-September daily, Saturday and Sunday only during October, November and March. Closed during December-February but the grounds are available for visits year round. A small gift shop is available on the ground floor of the keep and info panels help you trace the tower’s history up to present day.

University of Guildford

check out: A Guidebook on Guildford by F. Holling

    Guildford Museum, a charming and attractive historic set of buildings on the castle grounds, was once an old gatehouse of the castle. There are exhibitions free to visit which include a variety of changing exhibitions and permanent collections with some objects dating from prehistoric times. Local history and archaeology are covered as well as a unique needlework collection.

Just up Tunsgate Road to High Street you’ll find Guildhall with its interesting medieval overhanging clock which gives guided tours from spring to the end of summer and further east, up the cobbled part of the street at 155, Guildford House Gallery (t- 01483 444740) which is a 17th century Restoration townhouse with the original interior plasterwork. At ground floor level the façade is actually a shop front as a tourist information center but features of the exterior and interior will amaze visitors with the authentic restoration attributed to John Martyr, once a mayor of Guildford. Originally built by a lawyer by the name of John Child in 1660 this house was converted to a museum mid-20th century but the museum artifacts- paintings and portrait gallery, photo exhibitions and craftwork- are eclipsed by the incredible array of windows including an original oriel and a beautiful staircase with wood carvings. You’ll find wonderful ceiling plasterwork in the Powell Room located on the first floor with the panels divided by ornamental beams. You may also want to check out The Undercroft which dates from the end of the 13th century. This stone vaulted semi-basement is thought to have been a merchant’s shop selling wine or expensive cloths or silk…

From Guildford, if you head for the westernmost part of Surrey directly from the A287 for ten miles, you’ll find Farnham Castle (which borders Hampshire) a half mile north, high above the town center at Castle Hill in Farnham Park. At its highest point you can view and photograph the North Downs! Until 1927, Farnham was a popular stopping point between London and Winchester but by 1933 it was placed under guardianship by the state and was no longer occupied by the bishops. As a former seat of the Bishops of Winchester (gifted to the church by Saxon King Caedwalla over 800 years ago!) it remains a possession of the English Church Commissioners to this day under the care of English Heritage. King Stephen’s brother, Bishop Henri de Blois, first exploited this defensive position during the Anarchy when he fortified all his residences including Farnham in 1138 but he fled the country upon Henry II’s accession and his castles were dismantled. Farnham’s keep and defenses were rebuilt after the bishop’s return in 1158 and restoration continued throughout the last thirteen years of his life. The original square keep was most certainly pulled down by Henry II by 1155 but the remaining shell keep you will see was put up upon de Blois’ return and work was continued, most likely after his death, by his successors, Richard Toclive and Godfrey de Lucy. What remains of the early castle reveals a late Norman structure but the numerous alterations of the site in its entirety have created an obvious incohesive appearance. Not surprisingly, it makes the castle look more interesting from many angles.

Defended very much like a concentric castle, Farnham was surrounded by an outer curtain and quite a bit of the original wall remains although its height is greatly reduced and appears to have been rebuilt even so. Ruins of the square mural curtain towers are still in evidence. Equally as formidable, the surrounding ditch, square mural towers, gatehouse and large shell keep with its expansive triangular bailey and massively thick walls are still quite impressive although much of the interior portions are also quite ruinous. Enough remains of the shell keep for you to be able to see the castle’s former glory in both its early incarnation and the later one.

In the present day you may tour or view the castle which consists primarily of the shell keep with its pilaster buttresses still intact and the foundations of three greatly reduced square towers which still project from the line of the curtain. The 13th century gatehouse of the shell keep, also truncated and ruinous, still shows flanking towers and inside you’ll discover Farnham’s greatest curiosity. Once inside the shell keep interior grounds you’ll find a structure built upon a square platform which was the area of the large square tower erected by Henry de Blois. After the tower was pulled down, earth was piled up against it to emulate the motte. Then the shell keep was erected around the motte and the gap between was filled in presumably to hide all evidence of the original formidable square tower! This, of course, was battered during the Civil War by parliamentary troops.

When you enter the grounds at Farnham you will be greeted with the 15th century rebuilt palatial residential south range. Buildings have always occupied this area, away from the keep, but these brick buildings were commissioned by Bishop William of Waynflete who came into power under Edward III. His additions include the entrance tower, Fox’s Tower (with its corner turrets and castellated parapet) and enlarged porch which includes a stair entrance and screens passage between the great hall and kitchen. Bishop Morley reduced the hall’s size later but evidence remains of the walled-in original Norman arcade of buildings further increasing the interesting architectural appearance. You’ll see the original Norman chapel with its arcade and chancel arch facing the outer bailey and along the east, the restored and altered private apartments surround a small courtyard. These Grade I and II listed buildings can easily be distinguished from the early medieval remains of the bishops’ ancient residence.

The 15th century range continues to be in use and can be toured and is also let for weddings and events, corporate or otherwise. An international business college for a period of time, so much of Farnham’s former palace remains, with sumptuous interiors, that it was ripe for its current popularity for group visitors and revelers. Restoration after the Civil War was carried out by Bishop George Morley and those interiors can still be viewed today. Viewings avail a two-storied great hall in Carolean style which features two balconies with an Episcopal fireplace and flanking consoles- all remodeled during the Restoration. The grand staircase leading to the second floor is by Grinling Gibbons and Morley’s upstairs 17th century chapel has magnificent plasterwork!

T-01252 721194

Just outside Farnham on Reeds Road, a living museum at Tilford called the Rural Life Museum depicts 18th century village life up to the 1960s. Comprising ten acres of gardens, an extensive arboretum and woodlands with reconstructed buildings which include a chapel, village hall and cricket pavilion, the museum displays showcase old-world crafts and trades such as wheelwrighting (repair and replacements of wooden wheels used on carts, etc.). This collection is deemed the finest in England. For the children, the historic playground provides educational entertainment and a well-preserved narrow gauge light railway operates on Sundays. The arboretum has over a hundred species of trees from around the world. T-01252 795571

A mere two miles southeast you can experience Waverley Abbey’s  12th century ruins. This is the very first monastery founded in Britain by the reforming Cistercian religious order. These ruins look so good that it’s a must see for medievalists and romantics alike and has been used as backdrop for films. A small order of French monks settled here in 1128, purposely choosing this quietist of spots by the River Wey. Cistercian settlements in England are rare so this is a chance to see a 13th century vaulted refectory and much more. Admission is free to the public.

East of Guildford you’ll find Abinger Common which looks out east on Dorking and Leith Hill just north of the town. This area was once host to a Norman motte with a castle which covered most of the common. Excavations carried out by Dr. Brian Hope-Taylor in 1949 revealed post holes of two successive but independent towers which surrounded a palisade. This site is located just above an existing Grade II listed church, St. James, a 12th century survival up to WWII, when it was heavily bombed and later, restored in 1950 by Frederick Etchells. Both were most likely built by William Fitz Ansculf ca. 1100 but Abinger Castle was never built in stone and archaeological finds are of a wooden tower house which stood upon stilts, a ground floor of timber left open between the corner posts and a fight platform above it. It has been a subject of conjecture that a gateway along the southwest existed between the gap of the palisade posts. Vestiges of a bridge which connected the bailey with the base of the motte were also revealed.

Records show that the castle was rebuilt in 1140 but by 1153 it was completely destroyed. Along the Roughs, Charles Darwin once studied the activities of worms near a designated play area for children with a log castle folly built just for them. E.M. Forster’s inherited home in Piney Copse Woods is a few minutes walk distance from this site at West Hackhurst. Mere yards away from the medieval wood castle a 17th century manor house, Abinger Manor, was built to the south of the motte and recorded in the Domesday Book. Surrey landowner and writer John Evelyn, rebuilt the home between 1872 and 1873, reusing old materials on a new design by Alfred Waterhouse.

Further southeast Betchworth Castle, a long mile east of Dorking and just outside the Betchworth village, stands on a stone spur high above the western bank of the Mole River in rather picturesque ruins but not as Norman castle. Although documentation is non-existent it is supposed that there was an 11th century earthwork fortress on the site founded by Richard Fitz Gilbert according to the Domesday Survey. Through the centuries it was licensed for crenellation twice. In 1379, Sir John Fitzalan who was Earl Marshal of England (Arundel), had built a castle in stone and subsequently obtained his license for Betchworth from Richard II who was crowned the same year that building commenced in 1377. Later, Fitzalan’s fortified house allegedly received alterations mid-15th century under Sir Thomas Browne who happened to be the treasurer of the Royal Household of King Henry IV and Sheriff of Kent. Whatever was changed or refortified remains to be seen. Association of the Browne family ended by 1690 with the death of Sir Adam Browne who was a second Baronet.

What you can view in the present day are crumbling ruins of a once fortified medieval stone house with formerly tall projecting corner towers and fine stonework- even though in dangerously ruinous condition- along the northeastern side. On the southwest side most of the remains are below foundation level. The entire site is surrounded by iron fencing so no interior visits may be made but much of the remaining edifice is basically gutted so there is much to see on the site, regardless. Actually, most of what you’ll see was rebuilt in the 18th century and parts demolished for stone to be used elsewhere by the time it was in possession of William Fenwick in 1791. Even Sir John Soane, who was hired by the owner Henry Peters, had a go at Betchworth by 1799 which explains its relatively modern appearance. Even so, more demolition and remodeling continued after that and in 1911 an historian said the only medieval feature left was the arch of a fireplace. Along the east side a landscaped garden terrace which survives rather nicely is definitely worth a visit, as well.

Private land.

Only five miles east (A23- A242 junction) Reigate Castle’s site can be found in the center of the town of the same name, just off High Street and seated in what is now a public park. The town below was built after the castle and even though there was a settlement from Saxon times you won’t find much that dates from medieval times. Reigate’s Old Town Hall, which dates from 1708 is located in a prominent position at one end of High Street near the original market place. Most of the town is a Conservation Area, however, which features specialist shops including crafts, antiques, furniture and clothing. There are also gourmet restaurants, cafes and pubs.

The castle is attributed to William de Warenne, the 2nd Earl of Surrey after the Conquest in 1150. He built the castle and the town so the inscription dated 1777 at the gatehouse entry commemorates his legacy (in Latin and English) a reconstruction by Richard Barnes with the old stones. Reigate, named after de Warenne’s nearby deer park (Roe-Gate), was rebuilt in stone in the next century by the Warenne line which, though quite powerful, ended in 1347. The castle faced down a Roundhead siege in the same century and was ruinous again by 1441 but strong enough to make it through the Civil War, even though heavily slighted in 1648. Little original masonry survives today and even the gatehouse is a folly. Nevertheless, it’s quite an impressive site with some surprising vestiges and a lot of speculation surrounding them.

Because Reigate was a Warenne castle it had similarities and has been compared to Conisbrough and Sandal castles- both of which I’ve covered in my Yorkshire entries way back in 2006. This castle site has been made visitor friendly so it doesn’t look exactly like a typical motte and bailey site but what is there astounds. For one, there was a 13th century Augustinian Priory a mere jaunt away from the castle site- which is quite unusual. On site, you won’t find anything left of the curtain wall which surrounded two bailies but a small stone pyramid sits in the center of the oval motte, cordoned off complete with markers, and is supposed to have been an underground sallyport (by most accounts) which goes level with the bottom of the accompanying ditch. During its heyday the castle’s ditches were all dry with no moats but centuries later the outer bailey ditch was filled with water. Mind you, this was well after the Civil War! Reigate’s stone didn’t hold up, apparently but it was continually refortified until the Civil War when it was garrisoned first by Royalists and then by parliamentary forces.

Construction of Reigate started with the motte from a scarped, natural mound which was accompanied with a dry ditch and wooden buildings and defenses. After it was reconstructed in the 12th or 13th century, everything was rebuilt in stone with the inner bailey extended to the north and the outer ward extended to the east. The pyramid that remains in the center is actually referred to as the Barons Cave and is Britain’s oldest as one of Reigate’s few surviving medieval structures. Public tours of it are available on specified days and are very educational just to view. Its original purpose is yet to be determined and the age of it is not known for certain but a written account that dates from 1586 describes it as “an extraordinary passage with a vaulted roof hewn with great labor out of the soft stone.” My own conclusion is that it may be the most exquisitely built sallyport in the history of sallyports or castles! It is certain that it did not exist before the 14th century. An additional road tunnel was built on the site and pedestrianized by 1823. Like many caves there are carvings, depictions and curiosities to be seen on a tour but the art showed up late in the 17th century and it has also been tunneled even later by sand diggers who carved quite a few alcoves into it. Tours of the cave began by late 19th century and the Wealden Cave and Mine Society have worked on and restored areas of the cave since 1991. Most likely the reason that no professional excavation has been carried out at Reigate Castle is because of the compromise to the historical integrity of the site.

French King Louis took possession of Reigate (along with quite a few other castles along the south of England) in 1216 on a foray from Kent to Winchester and consequently the castle was put into the hands of Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel after1347. He retained possession for fifty years as Lord of the Manor and when the Howards married into the Arundel family they took possession. The castle continued to be occupied until the 16th century, although Henry VIII granted Reigate’s Augustian Priory officially to Lord William Howard during the Dissolution. It would have saved the priory had they not, in turn, converted the 13th century survival into a Palladian mansion for his family by 1779!

The Priory has since housed Reigate Priory School and Reigate Priory Museum from the 20th century with the museum’s collection of local history and artifacts of domestic nature and period costumes- all displayed in realistic settings. Both reside in Priory Park, 200 acres below the North Downs with a lake, beautiful gardens and woodlands with public recreational facilities. Overlooking the town is Reigate Hill, owned by the National Trust, resplendent with walkways and spectacular views over the Weald and South Downs. Reigate Fort, atop this view is one of thirteen mobilization centers established during the late 19th century to protect London from invasion. Nearby Gatton Park and Hall occupies 250 acres of formal gardens created by Capability Lancelot Brown in the 1760s. Comprised of lawns, woodlands, ponds and a large lake- the Japanese portion of Gatton Park was added by Sir Jeremiah Coleman. Gatton Park is also home to the Royal Alexandra and Albert School but the grounds are open to the public on the first Sunday of each month and weddings are booked in the ballroom during holidays and vacations. Reigate Heath is 130 acres of sandy heath land along the eastern portion and has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest- a local nature reserve, officially. Beside the clubhouse of Reigate Heath Golf Club you’ll find the recently restored Reigate Heath Windmill which is also known as the Heath Church,- the only windmill in the world also consecrated as a church! The wooden windmill dates from 1765 and in 1880 the brick roundhouse of the disused post mill was converted into a small chapel where services are still carried out. From the hill where the windmill stands there are views of the North Downs, including the chalk face at Betchworth.

Site is freely accessible during daylight hours and the caves are by a guided tour, May – September, for a nominal fee. Car parks exist nearby.

Four miles east, on the A25 road to the east of Redhill and west of Godstone, a medieval conservation area occupies a large escarpment of the Greensand Ridge and Way, consecutively. Bletchingley Castle occupies part of the ridge to the south of the village of Bletchingley just off Castle Street and commands a beautiful view across the Weald. A great Tudor house at Place Farm once formed the gatehouse of Bletchingley Place and was once occupied by Anne of Cleves after her marriage to Henry VIII was annulled.

Bletchingley was granted to Richard Fitz Gilbert who was founder of the powerful de Clare family in the 11th century. Earthwork remains are most likely his work which consists of two baileys with a ring motte between them- a typical Norman castle configuration. No stonework is visible above ground but excavations have revealed the foundations of a 12th – 13th century hall-keep in the form of a rectangular tower on the side of an escarpment. The entire castle was destroyed by Henry III after Gilbert de Clare sided with Simon de Montfort during the Barons War after 1260. John Aubrey wrote that one piece of wall (about) five feet thick remained in 1697. Another historian, Manning, said that the foundations of the wall were visible above ground in the 19th century. Excavations carried out revealed features such as a northwest sited barbican, an undercroft which reached to heights of 2.5 meters and a northeast causeway three meters wide which was the original access to the keep. It was referred to in the Domesday Book as Blachingelei.

A church in the town, (see above) St Mary the Virgin is just north of the crossroads and four monuments in the churchyard are listed Grade II- all tombs. The church retains an 11th century tower of ironstone rubble with ashlar dressings, a north arcade and southern sited chancel chapel which was built originally in the 13th century and altered and rebuilt in the 15th century. The castle can be viewed from a public footpath which runs in front of the motte from an area called Castle Square. With the overgrowth is easier to view in winter. A 19th century Victorian home by the name Castle Hill was built on the estate by heirs in the 19th century quite separate from the castle. It has its own Stable House and Garden Cottage nearby but is not part of the original castle site. Permission must be granted to use the public footpath.  Private land.

Thunderfield Castle’s site is six miles south of Reigate and just east of Horley off Haroldsea Drive at the junction of the A23 and the B2036 locally known as Balcombe Road. It is just north of Gatwick Airport. This early 12th century ringwork and bailey was later modified to a fortified manor house centuries later. Thunderfield was also founded by the de Clare family and once had two moats surrounding an oval plateau (flattened motte) with a large bailey. Along the north a small D-shaped inner barbican guarded its entrance. A Victorian era system of pipes and valves were installed for a running supply of water which overrode the ditches and moats. Another barbican, built later, has been mistaken for a motte because it is seated much higher than the rest of the site and its early 13th century outer ditch and small bailey extend outside the barbican. In 1936 excavations revealed a hearth of a bloomery (an iron smelter used for decorative ironworks) along with medieval pottery covering three centuries from the 13-15th centuries! Tree overgrowth is also a problem here so best to be viewed during winter.

Parking by the side of the road

Three miles east of Lingfield, across the border from Hever Castle in Kent, Starborough Castle at Edenbridge was a quadrangular castle licensed in 1341 to Sir Reginald de Cobham. As a courtyard castle, it was rectangular in shape and had four round towers which were topped with domes but it was irregular and to my mind, quite attractive even though not symmetrical. In the present day the magnificent surrounding moat still exists and its finest surviving feature.

After his involvement in the Hundred Years War against the French, de Cobham became a knight of the garter and Lord High admiral. His son later joined the battle at Agincourt and was entrusted with the captured Duke of Orleans who became Louis XII of France in 1498. He incarcerated the duke at Starborough who was a prisoner at the castle for nearly 20 years before being ransomed!

The year was 1477 when the eldest son and heir of the Burgh family was betrothed at the age of 13 to marry Anne Cobham who was only 9 years old at the time! Arranged marriages were not unusual during the Middle Ages even though those engaged were often quite young. Edward Burgh was knighted by Henry VII a decade later after the Battle of Stoke Field and Starborough Castle became his estate, Anne became his bride and both were set for life. At its height, Starborough had excellent hunting grounds along with the highest standards of accommodation for the day and was close to London and the court- to say nothing of all the important neighbors. Burghs continued to occupy the castle until it was sold to Thomas, Lord Richardson in 1634 by the last heirs of the Burgh family- four sisters-who were the only family left to inherit after the early death of their brother Robert, the 6th Lord Burgh in 1602. He was only 8 years of age at the time.

After Reigate was seized by Parliament, Starborough was demolished as well and remains of the castle are only stumps of towers few of which have been partially rebuilt or replaced. The original Starborough manor was built by Sir James Burrow in 1754 along the northeast corner of the castle island using materials from the old castle. By 1793 Sir Thomas Turton purchased the castle from the trustees of Robert Burrow, nephew and heir of Sir James, who had also built a new mansion on the site of the ruined castle, as well as the Gothicized pavilion on the moated island. Sir Thomas was made a baronet three years later and served as a Member of Parliament for Southwark, London from 1806 to 1812. Turton cleaned up the moat, preserving its original layout and piped in water from a spring on a neighboring farm. He later sold the estate in 1812 to William Bruce Smith and Burrow’s 18th century house was torn down. Yet another new mansion was put up near the lake by John Tonge circa 1870. After it was sold to James Moore the pavilion was allowed to ruin and the last known owner was R.V. Toynbee in 1933. Starborough is privately owned and still surrounded by that lovely moat.

While you’re at the historic village of Lingfield take a stroll around and take in the medieval church and the punishment cage built in 1773. The local favorite is the British Wildlife Centre which is just down the road. Some restaurants to try are Old Cage pub which dates from 1592 and there is also The Wiremill, an award-winning pub set in a wonderful lakeside location.

     To see Walton on the Hill Castle’s earthworks you’ll want to head back to Reigate and turn north toward Leatherhead until you reach Tadworth. A flat-topped mound on the grounds of Walton Place, once a 13th century manor house, was suggested at one time to be a tumulus or moot hill, measuring 35 by 32 yards and less than 12 feet high with traces of a ditch. However, later, stone foundations were discovered on the mound and along the south, evidence of a moat. In the most recent excavation survey it was positively identified as a motte with unusual surroundings built after the Conquest.

Later alterations of this site included infilling of the ditch all around except for the south and southeast slopes, all of which were steep. Most of the stone discovered is missing but not used for the 17th century manor house which was first owned by Richard de Tonbridge and later by Gilbert de Clare, both of whom were extensive castle builders. The manor house was first a 14th century replacement for lodgings but the castle site was not entirely abandoned- evidenced by the infillings of the ditch. Along the northern side of the motte the ditch slope is especially steep where the mound was altered to aid construction of an access road to Walton Place. By the time it was owned by the Carew family early in the 17th century the manor house was entirely rebuilt and the castle site may have been reworked to form a prospect from which to view formal gardens. An owner of the manor in more recent times, Mr. W.R. Malcolm, stated that hewn stones had been found in shallow excavations carried out on the motte. No actual systematic exploration had been carried out at that time but his report reiterated those before him. Although no more details can be found on this elusive castle it is certain that if a motte and bailey did exist at one time on this flattened motte it would be the closest of such an edifice to London.        Until next time, 

The Castle Lady


About Evelyn

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One Response to Sleepy Surrey’s Strongholds

  1. Roselee Clunie says:

    Thanks for all your efforts that you have put in this. very interesting information.


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