Degradation of a Knight

     This painting of the Knights of the Garter proceeding from the Deanery depicts these well-honored men who were on their way to St. George’s Chapel on March 10th of 1863. It being 155 years ago to the date, I pondered today what great ceremony was about to take place on the grounds of Windsor Castle. Most likely a ceremony of installation was about to occur with all in their proper regalia. It wasn’t all pleasant, of course. Sometimes a Knight was degraded because he hadn’t kept to the statutes and the worst was of being guilty of heresy, treason or fleeing a battle. The following poem is a prime example how honor among men can be folly especially when conduct is upheld tantamount to the honor bestowed to anyone. Whoever may be exalted among men in his pride and joy can conversely be scourged unmercifully when he falters and makes a decision against his highest principles. I would conclude the following with this quote because it still holds weight. Forgiveness is always best, in any case: To err is human, to forgive, divine. – The Castle Lady

According to the second article of King Henry 8th’s statutes, the Knights of The Most Noble Order of The Garter…

On the eve of the installation in April, 1742, the following poem was read and is supposed to be written by the late Earl of Chesterfield.

As Anstis was trotting away from the Chapter,
Extremely in drink, and extremely in rapture,
Scarce able his bible and statutes to carry;
Up started the spectre of jolly King Harry
As on marched the nobles he eyed them all o’er,
When seeing such knights as he ne’er saw before,
With things on their shoulders and things at their knees,
“Ha-ha!” cried the King, “What Companions are these?
Are they such from their colours, who never have fled?   
Are they honestly born, are they honestly bred?
Have they honestly lived, without blame or disgrace?
Odds flesh! master Garter, I like not their face.”
Please your grace, quoth the ‘squire, how can we keep rules?
We must make April Knights, or else April fools.
But faith of the first I can tell you no more,
Than that he’s the son of a son of a whore.
The next, who shall censure for lewdness of life?
Has no man, but he hurt another man’s wife?
His Cordon of France was a pitiful thing;
But England affords him a much finer string.
The third of these Knights, as he changed once before,  
We have made him true blue, that he ne’er may change more;
And now cross his shoulder the collar is drawn,
That his grace may have one thing he never can pawn,
That short bit of ribbon, for man never meant,
May serve little Portland, it served little Kent;
Though stained and defiled by that nasty old bug,
What tied an old monkey may tie a young pug,
The times, Sir, are altered, and riches are all,
And honours – folks, now, take them up as they fall,
They pay, like good fellows, the charge of their string,
The King saves his money, and God Save the King.

Honi soit qui mal y pense,

The Castle Lady

Posted in A General Announcement, Amazing Stories, Life as poetry, Poetry, Proverbe du Jour | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Buckinghamshire’s Baileys and Barbicans

Stretching out fifty miles north of London and Windsor Castle’s boundaries, Buckinghamshire became a hostile area toward castles during the middle ages. Long-abandoned Norman edifices include Buckingham Castle, Castlethorpe and Bolebec. Boarstall Tower is the only medieval stone castle which displays any above-ground evidence and, even so, what remains is the result of self-evident continual reconstruction. Most of the fortified manor is gone from sight, however. Apparently, the 1770s was a good year for castle demolishment in this county but the widely-believed assumption that there were never any castles built in Bucks County is plain false. In general, until the 21st century, the county has remained largely and charmingly undeveloped and it teems with long-abandoned motte and bailey sites. Milton Keynes in north Buckinghamshire is a burgeoning metropolis amidst the blissful hush. Oxfordshire’s Chiltern Hills stretch into Buckinghamshire along the Thames Valley in the southwest, which is mostly countryside along with pretty villages and small market towns. Both counties seem to share Henley-on-Thames although Berkshire also lays claim. Buckinghamshire’s stellar architecture is at Stowe which is three miles northwest of Buckingham. This grandiose marvel is so extensive that it will soon have its own entry on this blog along with several other magnificent stately and grand homes such as Waddesdon and Cliveden. The following is what I have uncovered through dogged determination and downright digging to find what can get buried with time…

The origin of Buckingham commenced in the 7th century with an Anglo-Saxon leader by the name of Bucca. A settlement appeared at the top of a loop in the River Ouse which is present at the current location of the Hunter Street campus for University of Buckingham. Saxons and Danes struggled for power in the area for a few hundred years until King Edward the Elder encamped an army close by (ca. 914) where Buckingham Castle eventually was erected after the conquest. According to the Burgal Hidage, King Alfred had set up a system of forts over the entire West Saxon kingdom and Edward had come to restore what had already been there for a generation. In doing so, he ousted Danish Vikings who had tried to take over the area known, at the time, as southern Mercia.

Today you won’t find a trace of Buckingham Castle even though it once sat on a hill on the north side of the River Ouse, south of the grandiloquent Stowe House and Gardens. It was replaced with a parish church (St. Peter and Paul Church) which can be seen from every direction within and outside the town. Buckingham is still small, as market towns in England often are but you’ll find almost no medieval buildings although it still had them up until 1725 when a fire gutted the town. Many of the main streets were destroyed including Castle Street, Castle Hill and the north side of Market Hill. Because of this you’ll discover the town’s architecture is primarily 18th century Georgian and rebuilding after the fire took the better part of a century. By the time the castle was in the possession of the Giffard family it had already been dismantled! The motte remained, apparently, until 1777 when it was finally leveled for the churchyard. The walls which surround the churchyard green and on the end of Castle Street originally surrounded the castle. Portions of these walls were unearthed in 1877- a hundred years later! Even so, only the documentary sources of the castle’s existence from 1154-64 support the claims that the castle ever stood there! It was founded early enough to receive a prisoner in 1071 who was Herward the Wake (the leader of the Anglo-Saxon resistance against the Norman invasion) so it was built some time after the Conquest and was mentioned in the Domesday book by 1086.

Accidental 19th century discoveries show that this castle was built in stone at some point but probably not by the original holders- William de Braose and subsequently his son Giles de Braose. The latter mentioned died in 1305 after the demolishment of the castle and documents stated it to be worth nothing by that time. Apparently, it laid mostly in ruins but was still in partial use up until the late 15th century when the remains were leased to Thomas Smythe and the account books for the castle had a list of expenses for parts of the building still in operation. Buckingham’s ruins still had a ‘garret’ (perhaps the remains of a tower?), cook’s chamber and stables in 1473. Non-deliberate excavations in the ensuing centuries were revelatory but evidence has presented itself several times- basically, every time someone digs around the area- and especially the oval keep mound beneath the churchyard of Saints Peter and Paul. Mostly the finds are of the masonry of the ancient castle.

From the 10th century until the 18th the town of Buckingham was the capital of the county. Jurisdiction was moved to Aylesbury after that time but Buckingham was important enough to be granted a charter by the Crown (Queen Mary at the time) in 1554 which created a free borough with boundaries of its four bridges- Thornborough, Dudley, Chackmore and Padmury Mill. Even now it is famous as a market town with local shops that are national chains and independent but some of the markets pre-date the charters as far back as the early 15th century! Ancient Roman settlements were found in several areas around the River Ouse including the discovery of a 3rd century temple at Bourton (a suburb of Buckingham) south of the A421 which was excavated in the 1960s. Another such building was discovered at Castle Fields in the 19th century.

The building in the center of town which tries its best to look like part of a medieval castle is actually the Old Gaol (Jail) Museum and is also referred to as Lord Cobham’s Castle. Established as a museum in 1993 the roof was given a new state-of-the-art glass overhead at the turn of the century and serves as the county’s education resource center. Atop Market Hill on High Street it certainly looks impressive but was built in 1748 to stage an Assize (better known to Americans as Kangaroo Court!) Named for its builder, this Revival Medieval edifice is the main tourist attraction for Buckingham and besides being a tourist information center it contains displays on the local geology, archaeology, social history of the area and has a highly informative permanent exhibition on the county yeomanry (farmers or freeholders of land appointed to them by the gentry or royalty). Yeomanry House, the office and home of the commanding officer of the Yeomanry, was built in the early 19th century but at present it serves as an office and reception building for the University of Buckingham and has served this purpose since 1974. In this photo it is the soft pink colored building next to the late 18th century red brick Masonic Hall. Both became dilapidated by the 1960s but received interior refurbishment early in the 1980s to serve the Hunter Street university representation.

T: 01280 823020   Lord Cobham’s open Mondays-Saturday from 10-4

If you have a hankering to see something medieval at Buckingham you could check out St Rumbold’s Well on the outskirts of the town located on the south side of an old, abandoned railway track. This well was dug to tap a spring line under the crest of a north facing slope which overlooks the town. Bourton, the town I mentioned for its ancient Roman temple, is the location of a mansion that belonged to the Minshull family. During the Civil War the house was plundered by parliamentarian forces and goods valued at £2,000 (a massive fortune at that time) were taken. The house has long since disappeared without a trace. Other tourist attractions include the 15th century Chantry Chapel, also on Market Hill, which is a secondhand bookshop now, Sir George Gilbert Scott’s St. Peter & St. Paul Church and a number of picturesque Georgian streetscapes. An interesting note is that Bernie Marsden, the guitarist and songwriter for Whitesnake, was born in Buckingham, still lives locally and was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Buckingham in 2015!

There are more castle sites in the nethermost regions of the county which are rather obscure or impressive by turns. Lavendon Castle (which is farthest north and north of the modern village of the same name) inexplicably has no less than three baileys in the remaining earthworks but the motte was eventually flattened in 1944 leaving only massive ramparts along the outside of the inner and outer bailey as proof of a former castle site. That, piperolls attesting to its existence from 1086 and 12th century pottery found at the time of the removal of the motte shows that this was a substantial Norman castle in its day. A farmhouse and garden terracing built in the 17th century, known at present as Castle Farm, were located near an abbey which would date from mid-12th century. The original castle works are of John de Bidum, a baronial family who inherited their rights to the land from William de Briwerre. Lavendon became their headquarters. Records of the castle ended by 1232 but the abbey (which was suppressed during the Dissolution) was destroyed in 1536. It stood at what is now Grange Farm.

Lavendon Castle’s motte was greatly reduced and only survives as a low flat-topped plateau 80 meters in diameter and perhaps, 1.4 meters high suggesting that it was never of great height and certainly not rebuilt in stone. The rest of the site is undisturbed and is of great value as an illustration of the organization of outlying medieval landscapes. As it was a private castle there are few records but curiously, was a part of the national defense system in 1193 when Richard I was threatened by the rebellion of his brother, John. In that year it is recorded that twenty loads of wheat were paid for by the exchequer ‘to maintain Lavendon Castle’. A portion of the present site is covered over with 17th century farm buildings but an entrance can be clearly made out along the inner bailey’s southeast side so key areas of the earthworks remain intact. Historically, the castle has been associated with Henry de Clinton and the Peyvers, who were also de Briwerre’s heirs, but the defenses were most likely destroyed altogether after 1530.

South of Lavendon, about ten miles west southwest, another impressively sized earthwork, Castlethorpe, is seated by the River Tove and gives its name to the surrounding town as it is sometimes referred to as Hanslope Castle. This massive site has a deep ditch which marks the site of the original bailey but the motte appears to have been left unfinished or was leveled. The parish church, which can be seen in the photo, parts of which were Norman built, stood inside the bailey during medieval times and was most likely used as the castle chapel. Both were originally built in the 12th century. In 1215 this castle was besieged and destroyed by King John to punish Robert Mauduit, one of the barons who forced the king to sign the Magna Charta. By 1292 the site was revived when William de Beauchamp obtained a license to crenellate from Edward I whereupon he created a new bailey along the west, bounded by a straight rampart with a broad ditch in front. He added a house and garden which were walled as well and stood right by the old earthwork ruins.

Freely accessible

Wolverton Castle is only a few miles south of Hanslope and can be found at old Wolverton (the deserted medieval village which sits just northwest of the modern (19th century) town of Wolverton). Built right next to an ancient Saxon church- Holy Trinity- which was rebuilt in 1819 in the Anglo-Norman style, this motte and bailey’s earthwork remains still stand although a moat was filled in when the church was rebuilt. William the Conqueror granted the land to Manno, a Breton royal, who built a manor. His son, Manfelin, became second baron and founded a Benedictine Priory nearby. Seven barons of Wolverton followed the line until 1351 when Sir Ralph de Wolverton died without an heir and the family line became extinct.

Surprisingly, the historic village is abandoned but field patterns and outlines from ranges and two village ponds remain and can be clearly seen. Desertion of ancient Wolverton was due to reduction of strip cultivation fields to small closes by the local landlords, the Longueville family- nuptial heirs to the Wolverton estate. They converted cultivable land to pasture and by 1654, the family had completely enclosed the parish after 300 years of ownership. With the end of the feudal system, peasants lost the rights to the land and were forced to find work elsewhere. Within a century the old town was reduced to a zero population. The newer Wolverton which is a half mile to the southeast was built in the 19th century for convenience to the railway system.

Earthworks of Wolverton consist of two areas divided by a canal. The motte and bailey reside along the northern part of the deserted village and Holy Trinity church. Adjacent to the castle motte is the bailey area in which stood a variety of buildings in service to the castle. Separated by the canal, the second area to the northeast consists of earthworks surrounding the Manor Farm. Hollow trackways, a pond, building platforms and field systems can be identified and documentary records indicate that this area contains the remains of an agrarian monastic grange, the site of which is considered to be overlain by modern farm buildings. Buried remains of a Roman building were found east of Manor Cottages along with Roman and Saxon coins and metalwork. Holy Trinity Church, its surrounding churchyard, and the vicarage which lies to the south of the castle, are totally excluded from historic scheduling.

Sir John Longueville, who was proprietor in Leland’s time, died at Wolverton in 1537 at the ripe old age of 103. His descendant was created a baronet in 1638 by Charles I and the third baronet sold the manor and castle in 1712 to a popular physician, Dr. Ratcliffe, for about £40,000. The doctor bequeathed Wolverton along with other property, under trust, to the University of Oxford.

Bradwell Castle is located closest to Milton Keynes which is about five miles south and southeast of Castlethorpe. The earthwork remains of the Norman motte and bailey are within Bradwell village district while the Benedictine Priory and Abbey which is in its own small district west of Bradwell just off Vicarage Road is intact, above ground and not far away. In the old part of Bradwell the former castle site is closest to St Lawrence’s Church and survives as a sod covered low-lying earthwork. It appears to be well-excavated but was actually used to construct an air raid shelter during WWII. A relatively small bailey lies along the west side of the motte with a disappearing scarp that runs about 100 yards and ends. No attempt was made to rebuild it in stone.

Bradwell Abbey, which was established in the mid-12th century, was closed before the Dissolution in 1524 after the Black Death took the life of Prior William of Loughton. A chapel and manor continue to occupy the spot of the former site of the Abbey. Much that was medieval has been eradicated with the exception of the chapel and roads which exist as Redways (modern pedestrian walkways) or bridleways and the chapel and manor continue to occupy the area with a YHA hostel nearby. The Milton Keynes City Discovery Center has taken over the former Abbey site and holds an extensive archive about Milton Keynes as a research facility and broad education program with its focus on geography and local history.

Five miles west of Aylesbury and near the border of Oxfordshire, ten miles from the city of Oxford, Boarstall Tower’s estate, perhaps predates the Conquest! Less than a few miles west of Brill and Oakley, it sits on property that was awarded to a forester by a Saxon King. By 1312 the property was owned by Sir John de Haudlo, the Sheriff of Oxfordshire who obtained a license to crenellate the moated manor on September the twelfth. Sir John’s father was a custodian of Tonbridge Castle (in Kent) in the 13th century with which Boarstall’s gatehouse is similar in appearance. What you will see in the present day appears to be the gatehouse of a castle on the north side of the property- a mere remnant of what was to have existed before 1778. The architectural appearance of the gatehouse, however, suggests that it was rebuilt or completely restored in the 1400s when the manor was held by Edmund Rede. Instructions were left in his will, dated April 7, 1487 that he was to be buried in the chapel of the Holy Trinity on the south side altar tomb of the Boarstall Church of St. James. When the church was destroyed during the Civil War, the late 15th century tomb was also destroyed and when salvaged later, it became inconclusive about Rede’s remains.

Basically, the configuration of the tower is that of a short oblong block with a central stone gate bridge and hexagonal towers incorporated at the four corners. Boarstall’s entrance towers have the original cross slits and the turrets along the anterior are punctulated with windows and have interior circular stone staircases. The postern turrets also have ground level arched doorways and a 17th clock atop the southwest tower! Inside, on the topmost floor, is the largest chamber within the tower and may be the only part to claim over 700 years of existence- at one time the medieval solar. Boarstall’s estate is a quadrangular ground plan with a wide moat which makes it appear as if it may have been part of a small courtyard castle but there isn’t sufficient information about what was swept away in the 18th century to know for sure how the entire estate was originally built. Extensive Versailles-like gardens depicted in an antiquated drawing of 1695 and the survival of the magnificent moat, at present, are our only clues. It is certain that a large manor house once existed on the property behind the gatehouse and perhaps was the original living quarters of Boarstall. If the towered gatehouse stands alone as fortification of Boarstall then this property may be the grandest anomaly of which England can boast.

An account written by Simon Jenkins goes something like this:  The story begins in the 11th century. A ferocious boar in the king’s forest of Bernewood was trapped and killed by a wily forester named Nigel. The grateful Edward the Confessor (r. 1042-1066) gave Nigel a horn- now in the archives at Aylesbury- and land on which to build a house. Nigel’s (extended) family held the house across the entire sweep of English history, until giving it to the National Trust in 1943. Even then, the Aubrey-Fletchers rented it back and sublet it to the present custodians. The old house sat central amongst an extensive garden and walled and moated courtyard. Most of what survives is a magnificent towered gatehouse. It was improved for use as a banqueting house at the end of the 16th century, and includes an upper chamber with windows on all four sides. In a print of 1695, the tower is seen to dominate the old house behind, set in what was then a formal parterre. The property passed through a succession of daughters to the Aubreys but when a six year old Aubrey son died of food poisoning in 1777, the grief-stricken family demolished the main house. The tower was left empty and the gardens overgrown for (nearly) 150 years. Not until 1925 did an Aubrey tenant, Mrs. Jennings Bramley, modernize the property and alter the old entrance to make the present dining room. The tower is reached by a bridge over its remaining moat. The hard lines of 14th century military architecture are softened by later parapets and oriel windows notably over the doorway. The garden behind bears traces of a reported visit by Capability Brown. The interior has been spoilt with National Trust heating and health and safety regulations but the thick walls, cozy bedrooms and glimpsed views over the surrounding landscape more than compensate.

The banqueting room above is excellently preserved, with wide windows and a large fireplace. Windows carry heraldic glass and the roof offers a view of the Chiltern escarpment.

Numerous accounts of Boarstall state that the entire complex withstood two separate assaults (and a fierce struggle for possession by the Royalists and Parliamentarians) during the Civil War in 1645 when it was garrisoned by force with Royalists and did not surrender until June of 1646 after a two-month long siege headed by Fairfax. Most likely the gatehouse had to be reconstructed after that time and modern alterations include a bay (oriel) window above the outer archway and a balustrade replaced the parapet. The entire property was fortified with a low wall early in the 17th century before the Civil War and part of it still exists! The 18th century entrance bridge which crosses over the moat has been completely remodeled, not just restored, most likely by Mrs. Bramley, with two archways of brick and extended and splayed along the west and east of the outer bank of the moat.



Capability Brown, indeed, paid two visits to Boarstall at some point in the 18th century for which he was paid 15 guineas. It explains why all the parterres are missing! The tower sat empty for more than a hundred years but was eventually to be used as a banqueting pavilion in most recent years. Mrs Jennings-Bramley rented Boarstall in 1925, using a portion of the gatehouse for a music room and converted it entirely into living quarters, modifying the original carriageway which once had a portcullis and sealing off the rear archway. In 2008 the National Trust conducted an official dig during National Archaeology Week in which they found five trenches located exactly where they should have been in relation to the position of the old manor house (i.e. the manor house was moated as well). Boarstall is owned by the National Trust but it is also occupied by tenants so access to interiors must be arranged by appointment. The gardens on the property are available for public access from March to September on Wednesdays from 2-5 p.m. During your visit you should check out the elaborate and quite antiquated duck decoy. It’ll be a true educational experience!

National Trust owned since 1943  T:01280817156   tenant: 01844239339

     Bolebec Castle is a motte and bailey site overlooking the village of Whitchurch, commanding the main north-south route which follows the A413 (a short distance northeast of Waddesdon Manor) and delineated by impressively sized ramparts, enclosed by trees. It takes its name from Hugh de Bolebec II, whose illegal castle building attracted criticism from Pope Eugenius III in 1147. Even though no stone has been saved above ground the site still speaks of grandeur and, as a whole, has remained intact as earthworks. Despite total demolition in the 17th century during the Civil War, the motte comprises a purposefully-scarped natural mound approximately five meters high and was constructed by dividing a section of a natural spur to construct an elevated platform. Oval in shape with dimensions of 80 meters north to south and 60 meters east to west, the plateau ends at its northern arc by a very low internal bank. It appears the castle once included a curtain wall around the summit. Vestiges of structures can be identified through the turf covered foundations with a length of twenty-four meters toward the south side of the summit. The south eastern area is level and flat. Two possible entrances to the interior of the motte along the west and north-east are apparent and the west opening may have been the position of an original drawbridge. According to local tradition the stone keep was closest to Market Hill Close and the drawbridge was near Weir pond. The motte is surrounded by a former moat about eight meters wide but only 0.6m deep. Although now dry, except for a marshy area around a spring in the south-east quarter, this may have once been filled with water supplied by the spring. Sections of this moat are supposed to have survived as the course of Castle Lane to the north while the western arch has been destroyed. The bailey spread along the north and to a portion of the spur overtaken by the garden of Bolebec Place House. Castle Lane separates the motte from the bailey and though modified by later landscaping, it consists of a substantial earthen bank about three meters high enclosing a triangular area of level ground.

In spite of the supposed adulterine origin, Bolebec survived Henry II’s accession in 1154, which would be highly unusual because his greatest passion was destroying unlicensed castles. Because Whitchurch was granted to Walter de Bolbec by William the Conqueror in the wake of the Norman Conquest it would’ve been unlikely that any demolition would be carried out, being as how Walter was actually a distant cousin. (They shared descent from their great, great grandmother Josceline, the wife of Herbastus de Crepon.) De Vere Earls of Oxford took possession of Bolbec and rebuilt the castle in stone by 1245 similar to their Hedingham Castle in Essex becoming the stronghold of both de Bolbec and de Vere families. A village market was established at Whitchurch concurrently.

By the time of the Civil War the castle’s proximity to the Royalist capital at Oxford made it a clear candidate for reactivation and it was garrisoned for King Charles. By the end of the war it was taken over by Parliamentary forces and though this action went unrecorded, archaeological discoveries suggest that artillery was used to reduce the castle. It was subsequently slighted and the masonry was pillaged for local building repairs elsewhere. Part of the gatehouse survived until the late 18th century but it has vanished like the rest.  Freely accessible.

More motte and baileys abound as we get closer to Aylesbury. The former Cublington Castle is only six miles north of Aylesbury and is situated near the earthworks of the abandoned original church and village from the 15th century. You’ll find the earthworks of the castle on farmland with a path that is spread out along one side of the site. A motte of about a hundred feet in diameter and twenty-five feet high is quite easy to see from the footpath and it’s supposed to be the best preserved site of its kind in the county. The castle’s earthworks were constructed ca. 1100 or during the 11the century. As an extensive motte and bailey overlooking the Vale of Aylesbury its height is insufficient although the area affords some wonderful views of the Vale.

Wing Castle is just a bit further north and east of Cublington approximately eight miles and almost equidistant of Aylesbury. This town received some keen attention in the year 2000 when the BBC ran a program called Meet the Ancestors in which a recreation of the face of an Anglo-Saxon girl who’d been buried in the old graveyard of the parish church was carried out. All Saints Church at the town is the oldest continuously used religious site in England so the evidence and recreation was of particular significance to the populace of the entire country. The girl’s remains became part of the evidence indicating the site has had religious use going back well over 1300 years.
A covered-over earth motte is situated high on a natural slope above Wing on the North and West sides. Measuring thirty meters in diameter and four meters high along the southeast side and six meters high northwest, the summit has been irretrievably altered from excavation or plowing and a road now runs through the southeast edge. As a reasonable defensive position, and its situation within Wing indications are of a former castle site although no ditch or outer rampart can be distinguished. Evidence for a bailey is missing though a low scarp extending on the northeast side of the mound could be remains. An area sited to be a logical position for the bailey on level ground southeast of the motte is now occupied by housing.

Aylesbury is located right in the center of every town and major landmark in Buckinghamshire so it was apt that it became the county town. Buckingham held that distinction for many centuries but in 1529, King Henry VIII declared that the town which fostered his new marriage interest, a Boleyn, would be the new county town. Aylesbury Manor had become a property of Thomas Boleyn and so it is widely believed that the king did so in order to gain favor with the family. Certainly, it was not an unfounded action. Besides being an obvious convenience to the people of the county, Aylesbury was once the stronghold of the ancient Britons and was taken in the year 571 by Cutwulph, the brother of Ceawlin– the King of the West Saxons- where he had raised a fortress of great size. Both town and castle were obviously named for him. Excavations carried out in the town center in 1985 unearthed an Iron Age hill fort which dated from the early 4th century B.C. Some 18th century abodes still grace Castle Street near the Temple Square triangle but apparently there is no record of specifically where Aylesbury Manor existed and the Iron Age hillfort may be the only source of raw material to discover anything of that period.

During your travels in Buckinghamshire you can’t go wrong in seeking out interesting accommodation at Aylesbury and it’s quite a cool town, if I do say so myself. It’s rather offbeat and even its history, as you soak it in, backs me up on this conjecture. Their heraldic crest emblazons an Aylesbury duck and it’s a rather odd duck, at that. The Friar’s Club is where you want to go to check out rock and roll talent and just hanging about you can sense in the atmosphere the greatness that once graced the stage. It’s also where you’ll catch up with the current Market Square heroes. If you decide to stick around please check out Poletrees Farm which is at Brill on Ludgershall Road. It’s sheer, pure 15th century charm with 21st century luxury. You’ll want to visit the County Museum especially if you have kids in tow. It is located on Church Street not far from St. Mary’s Church.

South east of Aylesbury a few miles and off the A41 at Weston Turville, another motte with two bailies can be visited which is connected with Bishop Odo (the half brother of William the Conqueror) and later Henry I granted this castle to the Earl of Mellent who was later created Earl of Leicester by becoming the king’s right hand. During the reign of King John it was in possession of the family of Turville and thus- the name. (Pottery of Saxon-Norman origin was found by Renn and these shards are now in situ at the Aylesbury Museum.)  This large but low motte which most certainly had a castle of timber at one time, may not have been built in stone in the ensuing centuries. It had bailies of twin size with the southern bailey larger in circumference than the motte. The second bailey was formed along the east. Only remnants of a ditch remain on the site which means they were mostly filled in at a later time. All of this was ordered to be dismantled by Henry II in 1173 and you can be sure it was carried out but it is a subject of debate why he did so. Even though a license to fortify or refortify the site was granted to the de Moleyns in 1333 it is unlikely that these grants were ever carried out for the castle site.

At some point a manor was built separately from the original motte and bailey but very close by and the estate was divided into three because of claimants who may not have been part of the same family. This was done in the middle of the 14th century and the family of de Moleyns were recorded as owners. They were granted a license to crenellate “the site of their manor of Weston Turvill Buks” by  Edward III  in January of 1333 and in fact, John and Egidia de Moleyns left behind a very distinct outline of a moat of this castellated house. Eventually the manor was sold to the Duke of Buckingham and most recently, toward the end of the 20th century Baron Anthony de Rothschild of Waddesdon took it on.

Just north of the village of Dinton, southwest of Aylesbury off the A418 on Oxford Road and close to the village Stone, you’ll find a rather interesting and odd folly which was constructed on Saxon burial grounds and situated on a grassy hill quite near the old location of Dinton Hall. Dinton Castle was built in 1769 as an eye catcher and a way for Sir John Vanhatten to store his collection of fossils right within the limestone walls! This small structure really does look like part of the ruins of a castle from a distance but once you’re very close you can see the ammonite fossils in the Portland Limestone walls which look quite interesting and with a decorative patina. The close-up I’ve added here of the outside walls shows how beautiful it actually appears. A visit to the site reveals a two-story octagonal building with two circular adjacent towers three stories high. In the video link I’ve added you see how different the structure looks at nearly every angle.

At some later point in time it was used as a temporary meeting place for a local non-conformist religious congregation who used a temporary tarpaulin for a makeshift roof because it was built without such. Apparently, it was never intended as a dwelling place. After being neglected for quite a few years the Aylesbury Vale District Council took on the responsibility for renovating the folly and converting it into a two bedroom dwelling, only a little more than a year ago. Prior to this, it was afforded scaffolding to keep it from falling apart altogether.

In late 2012 the castle was sold to Brett O’Connor for £56,000 and under these auspices he has pledged to work with local councils and English Heritage to return this Grade II listed folly into a place where his family can stay on weekends. The auction took place on a November afternoon in Aylesbury along with other bidders. Mr. O’Connor planned to restore the building using authentic limestone from the area and estimated, at the time, that it could be completed within five years. It should be done by now but judging from the present state perhaps this successful businessman has been quite distracted by something else. The new owner planned to restore it to a three-storey building with a staircase in the east tower and fireplace on each floor.

Although there is a public footpath, remember that the castle and the land are privately owned.

Cymbeline’s Castle (which has also been called Ellesborough Castle because it’s so close to Ellesborough Church) is a prime example of an intact motte and bailey with features still quite apparent. Sitting high on a portion of a spur below Beacon Hill (the northern edge of the Chiltern escarpment) it gives a breathtaking view of Ellesborough and Little Kimble and the Vale of Aylesbury and is north of Great Kimble. A plateau on the summit reveals only dimensions of an invisible timber tower along with a smaller semicircular annex on the north side slope. Along the west side of the motte, a narrow terrace skirts the base delineating a steep gradient at the end of the spur. All encircled by a shallow and narrow ditch, dividing the motte from two baileys. On the south, the larger bailey is square measuring at forty meters and also partially enclosed by a ditch adjoined with the motte ditch. The south bailey leads into a natural defense of a steep slope leading into Velvet Lawn, a ravine which flanks the spur. A bridge that spanned the ditch and ascended the motte can be seen by a break in this bank near the northern end. The rectangular north bailey most likely was formed later and is only separated from the south with a causeway which was the last construction of the site. It also is surrounded by an obvious and broad ditch. This site is dated by pottery fragment discoveries of the 13th to 15th centuries within the baileys. In addition, Iron Age and Romano-British matter and pottery have been discovered east of the area and at the summit of the motte. Local tradition states that the Iron Age king, Cunobelinus which was Shakespeare’s Cymbeline resided in these hills.

A market town, Chesham situated in the Chiltern Hills 11 miles southeast of Aylesbury and is so named because it is nestled in the Chess Valley. Henry III granted the town a royal charter for a weekly market in 1257 and it remained at that status through hundreds of years. It was most prosperous during the 18th and 19th centuries because of the advance of the manufacturing industry and the historic architecture is primarily Victorian. The name of Chesham is Old English meaning the river-meadow of the stone castle and evidence has been found of a Roman villa nearby where grapevines were planted. Lady Ælfgifu, who was the wife of King Easwig, held an estate at Chesham in 970 which she bequeathed to Abingdon Abbey. Prior to 1066 three adjacent estates of Chesham were recorded in the Domesday book. One such manor was owned by Queen Edith, the widow of Edward the Confessor. After 1066 Edith’s estate was divided by William the Conqueror and given to his half brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and Hugh de Bolbec. Not surprisingly, given the local allegiances to John Hampden, the towns’ people largely sided with the Parliamentarians at the outbreak of the English Civil War. During 1642 the influential Parliamentarians John Pym and Earl of Warwick were headquartered in the town along with large numbers of troops. There are records of skirmishes in the area during 1643 when Prince Rupert was stationed near Aylesbury (and sent warnings to Boarstall to bolster their fortifications). Robert Dormer, 1st Earl of Carnarvon pillaged nearby towns, such as Wendover. Heading toward Chesham a company of horsemen of the Parliamentary Army from the town met them outside Great Missenden, a short distance away, where a skirmish took place ending with the Parliamentary force being driven back. From miles off the town can be easily distinguished by the spire of 12th century St. Mary’s Church, which was redesigned by George Gilbert Scott in the 19th century.

Chesham and High Wycombe dominate the southern portion of the county, where there are a few former castle sites, surprisingly close to London. One such site Little Missenden is a couple of miles west and south of Chesham off the A413 (and south of Great Missenden) Here, a medieval motte and bailey survive as earthworks. Investigations carried out without excavations in 1971 revealed reasonable sized dimensions of the motte (diameter of 27 m and height of 1.7 m) and oval-shaped south bailey measuring 35 meters east-to-west and enclosed by high ramparts. An outer ditch was found along the northwest which most likely surrounded the motte and bailey site at one time but no entrance or causeway was discernible. There is also Little Missenden Manor house which originated in the 16th century as a late medieval timber-framed hall house. In the 17th century it was extended in red brick, and retains gables and a staircase from that period. By the 18th century it was given a new façade and still exists in the village to this day.   

White Leaf Cross near Princes Risborough




The Thames Valley area is considered an AONB which simply means that it is officially designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty. This special district stretches south to the river Thames at Marlow and reaches all the way north to the highest point of the Chilterns hills at Coombe Hill which is further north than the town of Princes Risborough where the Black Prince held the manor there from the time of his 14th birthday in 1344 ‘til 1376, when he died. This is the Wycombe district, officially, and has a lot of royal connections and history. You’ll find most of the architecture Georgian and the towns of it charmingly quaint and quiet. High Wycombe is a part of this area but happens to be the largest town in Buckinghamshire. Two mottes of castles exist at High Wycombe with one on the grounds of Castle Hill house (which also happens to be the town’s museum) and Desborough Castle, located in a suburb of the town by the same name. High Wycombe’s Museum at Castle Hill house sits directly adjacent to the unnamed former castle site which is inexplicably crowned by a tiny late 18th century folly! This may have been done to show the validity of the earthwork but doing so may have been folly on someone’s part. Pun intended.   T.I.C.    5 Eden Place Tel: 01494 421892

The Desborough site, situated between Desborough and Castlefield, became a Norman ringwork, overlying a mound which could be an earlier burial mound reused later as a Saxon moot. Defenses of the ringwork enclose a small area consisting of a single rampart with a ditch and a break in the middle of the southeast side. Archaeological discoveries indicate a substantial building within the enclosure during the medieval period. More earthworks which have been altered have been found west of this site but were more likely from a much earlier time and appear to be a rampart of an Iron Age fort which was skillfully hidden, overlooking the Wye Valley. There is speculation about the possibility that Desborough was used as a siege castle during the Anarchy because an excavation in the 1980s indicates abandonment by the 12th century.

     Further south Harlequin’s Castle is a few miles north of Slough and northeast of Dorneywood Manor and Gardens in an ancient forest area known as Burnham Beeches. This shallow, courtyard-style moat exists as part of the old forest. Also known as Hartley Court and considered a medieval moated island it is quite large in size and most likely only built in timber and wood and fed by natural rainfall and source. On the site there are obvious demarcations and subdivisions in the ground surface suggesting the position of structures no longer standing. A medieval deer park existed around the area but it is strangely quiet and deserted. One can only imagine what once stood on these grounds.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Back to the Lucky Dog!

This is going to be a lucky year for me. I could use some really good luck about now and I’m going to put any that comes my way to good use. Of course, to me, good luck would be extra time on my hands to get all my castle work done and on time. An actual steady income of any amount would look like fantastic luck and an opportunity to get over to England to get my on-site inspections and photos done would be about the most fabulous luck I could hope for or ever need, I think!

      Let me explain. According to Chinese astrology this is the Year of the Dog and I happened to be born in the year of the Dog so I’m elated that things should take a turn for the best in 2018. There’s more to Chinese astrology than that but the good luck part is a basic premise that really makes me happy. There’s something to it, also, because when I look back at the horoscope years- my best years correlate with the Dog years of the past! 2006 was a very good year for me for making new friendships, good fortune ($ !), and great ideas.

      Every year each person is affected by the animal of the year (Rabbit, Horse, Monkey or Tiger..there are more!) in good or adverse ways depending on how you get along with the different animals. (There are 12 altogether in the Chinese Zodiac.) The Dog is described thus in most descriptions that you’ll find on a chart:

     Loyal and honest, you work well with others. Generous yet stubborn and often selfish. Look to the Horse or Tiger for friendship. Watch out for Dragons!

Another one says:

     Essentially Dogs are honest and noble people. They are champions of justice and see things in black and white. Dogs have lively minds and quick tongues. Dog are cynics as well as idealists with high moral standards but they are full of doubts and anxieties.

     (Sometimes, in Chinese restaurants, they have printed place mats that you can take home which give a good lowdown on all the different animals and descriptions of their characters and the animals they do or don’t get along with or those that are compatible.)

     While I don’t think either one of those descriptions is totally accurate about me, I noticed that honesty is brought up twice and it’s true that I am often honest to a fault. I have to remind myself that people have feelings and you need to adjust your words to be kind and not brutally blunt. Sometimes you have to be brutally blunt, too. Situations factor in, too.

     At any rate, this gives you an idea of how Chinese astrology works. I like anything that gives me a different perspective on the world. I don’t think it’s selfish or greedy to expect a year of good luck every twelve years, either. Everyone could use that, don’t you think ? By the way, is it possible to be generous and selfish? If I win the PCH sweepstakes I’ll have a chance to find out I dare say !

     There is a wonderful web site available to discover your animal year and how the Year of the Dog will affect your animal sign. Check out and you can find out all about the predictions and different aspects concerning your life this year. Oh, and Happy New Year !

The Castle Lady

Good Luck!

Woof-woof !

Posted in A General Announcement | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Scintillating Scilly Isles featuring Star Castle

and other Strongholds

Historically, the Scilly Isles were used by pirates and ancient mariners for clandestine respites but even before, in more ancient times, Greek and Roman literature alike referenced the Scillies in myth and legend. The Celtic people professed that this archipelago, located directly 28 miles southwest off the tip of the Cornwall coast, was a sanctuary for the Holy See of the period and King Arthur. However, the isles were primarily uninhabited until it was cited for use in planned coastal defense during the Tudor reign. Even today most of the isles are uninhabited but fortresses were built at a time when it was feared that the Spanish might use them as a base for the invasion of England. Hence, artillery fortifications were built on the islands of St Mary’s and Tresco under Edward VI (1547-1552) and some defenses were augmented even later at Elizabeth I’s request, after the attack by the Spanish Armada.

Land’s End, which is the most southwesterly point of the Cornwall coast, is a rugged cliff-lined vantage point from which to view the prettiest vacation spot that Britain can boast. The Scillies consist of five relatively large isles which are St. Mary’s, Tresco, Bryher, St. Martin’s and St. Agnes, with five lesser isles and more than a hundred smaller satellite isles that surround them like the stars in the night sky. None of the isles are more than three miles distant from one to another so island hopping is easy once you arrive. Access is primarily to St. Mary’s Airport from Land’s End, Newquay and Exeter by Skybus or sea by steamship from Penzance into St. Mary’s Harbour! As a matter of fact, St. Mary’s is the only island where you can disembark and is the only island with sufficient road networks and public highways to tour by taxi or tour bus. Most of the fortifications you’ll see are located on St. Mary’s along the southern portion of the island and there’s a lot to see and experience there- further afield.   artist renderings of Scilly Islands

St Mary’s is the largest of all the isles and its primary port is Old Town, located along the south of the island at Old Town Bay. Only scant remains (a bit of wall which has been well-photographed) of a medieval castle, built in 1244, exists in the Scillies. Referred to as Ennor Castle after the old Cornish name (which means mainland) it should not be confused by map enthusiasts with Giant’s Castle which is an interesting rock formation on the coastline not too far away. Ennor’s site can be found north of Old Town, where it had a shell keep atop a small, prominent knoll along the east side of the Lower Moors valley. You’ll find barely surviving above-ground wall rubble along the northwest side of the old castle site and that no excavations have been carried out on the foundations. The rest of the concentric wall is delineated by earthwork banks of up to four and a half meters wide along the south, both east and west. The keep walls can also be discerned within as a sub-rectangular outline in a north-east/ south-west directional pattern. According to the records, Ranulf de Blanchminster had possession of the castle in 1306 and a license to crenellate was granted to him in March of 1315. This property came under the designated lands of the newly created Duchy of Cornwall by 1337 along with the rest of the Scilly isles. Toward the end of the 16th century, Star Castle was commissioned by Elizabeth I, so Ennor was most likely abandoned when it came time for refortification or new residence because of obsolescence. Most of the stone for Ennor Castle went to rebuilding Old Town. However, enough of the walls remained as late as 1554 with which to mount cannons, so parts of the castle remained in military use for some time before its complete dismantling.

St Mary’s Isle with the Garrison ( or the Hugh) on left

Harry’s Walls in center.

      Above the northern perimeters of Hugh Town, Harry’s Walls are the remains of low, long stretches of walls built in arrowhead designs which resemble the fortress configuration of Star Castle’s walls. As unfinished bastions, the work on them started in 1551 but remained incomplete after the end of a building season. Even though the name suggests that these may have been built by Henry VIII, these few but large triangular fortifications were started when Edward VI took the throne, albeit as a child king. They were meant to guard the harbor above known as St. Mary’s Pool. These walls were supposed to be an Italian invention of which numerous other gun forts appeared to mirror in England during Henry VIII’s last years. Pendennis, a relatively short distance away in Cornwall is one of them but those walls were raised by the same architect of Star Castle. There is also Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight and Berwick’s bastions at the border between Northumberland and Scotland. However, there are other such examples that are a bit more contemporary. Antoine Deville and Sebastian Vauban’s 17th century fortresses all used angular bastions of which there are sizeable and numerous examples all over France and other European countries. Fortunately, the survival of a designer’s plan for Harry’s Walls exemplified a square fort with angular bastions at all four corners as the original plan showing off the early innovation.

     Further west along the southern portion of St Mary’s is The Garrison (aka The Hugh) which is completely enclosed along its beach coastline with walls. On the farthest north side of this peninsula, across a causeway from Hugh Town, Star Castle (Stella Mariae) has been photographed in aerials showing off its stunning appearance for more than a century now. From these, you’ll see that this late 16th century castle hotel is aptly named and was impeccably built. The outer curtain plan uses an eight-pointed star configuration, which is said to be a Cornish symbol dating all the way back to the Crusades! Star Castle was intended to command the channel along the south of the island which looks across to the Isle of St Agnes. Essentially, the square keep consists of angular buttresses with high-pitched slate roofing and is very closely surrounded by the angled outer walls leaving little room in the bailey by comparison to most concentric castles. These bastions have triangular projections from the middle of each side, imparting a very unique appearance with slight reminiscence to some of the coastal forts of Henry VIII. The keep has a dry moat to this day.

Eventually, the central keep was adapted to make residential quarters and additional use has been made of three guardhouses on the ramparts. A wood and stone entrance ramp leads to the original gateway where you’ll see the initials ‘E.R.’ along with the year date of 1593 to commemorate the castle’s completion. Originally, Star was finished within eighteen months under the guidance of Robert Adams (a mapmaker and Surveyor of the Royal Works) and commissioned by island governor of the time, Sir Francis Godolphin at an expense of 959 pounds- more than double the original estimate. While Star may not appear to have been a serious obstacle to attackers, the views it commands from its position are absolutely phenomenal. (Location, location, location!) Another century passed before the defenses here were expanded to include the above-mentioned garrison walls that enclose The Hugh. Those were completed in 1746 from plans drawn up by Master Gunner, Abraham Tovey so that the walls were well armed with gun batteries.

One could say that this castle has been a favorite of the Princes of Wales for hundreds of years. In 1646 the future King Charles II took shelter here when he retreated from the Battle of Bodmin and his temporary stay at Pendennis Castle (in Cornwall) during the Civil War. There is a suite in the castle dedicated to him. In the same year it was used as a cavalier refuge and a year or two later became the last Royalist stronghold. Three hundred years later, King Edward VIII was the designated official to lead the opening ceremony when Star Castle was opened as a hotel when he was merely the Prince of Wales. English Heritage commissioned a detailed survey of the castle sixty years later.

This Grade I listed castle has been a hotel since 1933 and offers thirty-eight rooms- nine within the castle, a garden annex with eighteen and even three single rooms in the rampart guardhouses with full modern facilities. The garden apartments are highly recommended for the ocean views. Interiors within the keep are worth a thorough tour with surprises throughout.

During the Civil War the Scilly Islands were staunchly Royalist. Sir John Grenville used the harbor at Hugh Town as a base from which to launch repeated attacks on Parliamentary shipping but this was brought to an end when Admiral Blake launched his attack and took over Star Castle. This was the castle’s only known siege. Afterward, it was used as a prison for prominent Royalist prisoners including James Hamilton, Marquis of Hamilton.  T: 01720 422317 /423342

Guests enjoy free golf, tennis courts and indoor heated swimming pool plus 2 award-winning restaurants with a bar in the old dungeon.

The Isle of Tresco has the rare distinction of being Britain’s largest privately-owned island. Back in the 1930s Augustus Smith, who was an extremely rich merchant banker, was able to purchase Tresco from the Duchy of Cornwall and is still owned by his descendants- the Dorrien-Smith family. Robert and Lucy Dorrien-Smith live in the Tresco Abbey which is located well away from the castle sites, in the southern portion of the island. It is possible to visit the Abbey Gardens which harbor ancient Benedictine Abbey remains along with sub-tropical and exotic plants- a rare bit of paradise for the English! While there, be sure to visit Valhalla Museum which has surprises you won’t want to miss. You’ll also find a wonderful gift shop with a large cafeteria when you enter the gardens.

Along the northern edge of Tresco, King Charles’ Castle and its neighboring successor, Cromwell’s Castle are both a mere mile from the harbor of New Grimsby. These both were built before Star Castle. A narrow channel separates Tresco from Bryher Isle on the west and both islands appear almost equal in size. King Charles’ Castle occupies an elevated position on the west side of Castle Down and overlooks Cromwell’s Castle near the New Grimsby harbor, right on water’s edge. Both are separated, timewise, by a hundred years as the besieged and the other never challenged by foreign troops.

During young King Edward VI’s reign, King Charles’ Castle was constructed from 1548 to 1551 to guard the narrow strait between the two islands. It is still an imposing edifice, though partially in ruins, as an oblong (cross-shaped) blockhouse built in granite stone and armed with a semi-octagonal gun battery which faces the sea and earned its name and ruinous condition after the Civil War. This former artillery fort was once two stories high and was entered on the eastern side by a guardpost with the gun battery along the front and dining and living quarters at the back. The walls are now a mere three meters in height but the structure of it is still quite clear. The exposed arched doorway retains its drawbar slot, which is unusual especially for a castle that has been so heavily besieged. This leads into a large rectangular hall with two fireplaces, one with a bread oven, and two small barracks along each end. Even though this configuration is unusual, especially for the period in which it was built, there are similar blockhouses along the River Thames in the south of England. In the same century defensive earthworks were built around the castle even though that proved to be worthless for the castle’s purpose, after all. Guns could not be positioned to fire downward into the harbor so its own defenses proved to be too vulnerable especially after the Civil War broke out. Building construction materials of King Charles’ Castle is deemed to be similar to Sandsfoot at Weymouth, Dorset- a channel seaside resort.

By the time the Civil War broke out Parliament dispatched fleets to the Scillies who had rebelled in favor of the Royalist cause. Admiral Robert Blake (yes, of Bridgwater, W. Somerset!) entered St. Helen’s Pool (a bay of smaller islands just northeast of Tresco) in 1651 and eventually stormed King Charles’ Castle which was blown up by the retreating garrison to avoid surrendering. Nevertheless, Blake took over the island.

From St. Helen’s Pool, Blake attacked the harbor of Old Grimsby, located on Tresco’s northeastern coastline the 18th of April. His plan was to use a force of men in small boats, but they landed on the wrong island and had to be recalled to the ships. The next day Blake’s soldiers landed on the beaches beneath the Old Blockhouse and fierce fighting ensued and they were driven back to their ships. Blake’s men made a further landing which was also met with unusual resistance with the guns of the blockhouse turned on the landing parties. Fifteen naval men were killed, but Blake’s ships guns had a longer range than those of the blockhouse and Old Grimsby fell.

Blake advanced inland to the northwest side of the island against Kings Charles’ Castle and by the 20th of April, Tresco was by all rights and purposes in Parliamentarian hands. After capturing Tresco’s fortifications, he used the island as a base to attack the main Royalist stronghold defended by Sir John Grenville, the Governor of the Island residing at Star Castle. King Charles’ Castle was replaced, eventually, by a much stronger gun fort known today as Cromwell’s Castle, on the other side of Tresco and was still considered serviceable in the eighteenth century.

Cromwell’s Castle, Tresco

Seated at the anchorage between the islands of Bryher and Tresco, Cromwell’s Castle is primarily a simple round tower on the edge of a rocky promontory with features making it an excellent gun fort. In the absence of crenellations are sizable openings to fire at enemies directly from the harbor. Its name tells all. This is one of the very few surviving Cromwellian fortifications in Britain and was, of course, constructed after the rout executed by Admiral Blake along with his naval force, which was formidable. (Parliament was concerned about the Dutch forces, which were hostile to England at that time.) In fact, Blake himself built the castle and named it after Oliver Cromwell most likely out of respect or something like that.

As late as 1715 the engineer Christian Lilly described the castle as, “Standing at the Foot of a Steep hill much higher than its Top and is a Huge Mass of Masonry consisting of  a Round Tower two Storys high, with a Platform for six Gunns upon it and a Battery before it for Six more at the Watters Edge.” It remains primarily as it was built, comprising of two stories and measuring 50 feet high, 20 feet in circumference with the walls 13 feet thick and sporting six gun ports. Entry was originally at first floor level with an external stair along the south side. During the War of Jenkins’ Ear, a skirmish between Britain and Spain, improvements to defense design included a large gun-platform for a battery of six guns along the southwest of the tower. The entrance from the outside was most likely altered at that time.

Outworks from these two forts including the Old Blockhouse (once known as Dover Fort and built before King Charles’ and Cromwell’s) stretch eastward across the Castle Down near Old Grimsby where a large bastion of uncertain date is set amid prehistoric cairns and field systems. By 1922 most of these sites passed into the ownership of the Ministry of Works at which time archaeological excavations were carried out (in 1954). Items found were pottery, a 16th (or 17th) century bronze buckle and two coins of Henry VIII and Edward VI. All these Tresco sites are protected by English Heritage and therefore open to the public.

One of the grandest surprises of an overnight stay in the Scillies is the beautiful Bishop Rock lighthouse that is situated farthest southwest of the islands. It was built by James Walker, became fully operational by 1858 and was converted to being automated most recently. There is a helicopter landing pad on the roof and it’s almost romantic at night when you look out across the expanse of the isles and their rocky coastlines. Priceless !

Les murs ont des oreilles !

The Castle Lady

Posted in History, Travel | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

To My Mother

Each birthday is a precious gift

            bestowed by Heaven above,

                            Reminding us of God’s concern

His kindness and His love!

Miss you everyday more and more…

Your daughter,


Posted in Lest we forget, Poetry | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

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

Posted in History, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2018 Already !

The Castle Lady

Posted in A General Announcement | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

What are you doing New Year’s Eve?


London is wonderful!





The night life is incredible for this occasion and the

fireworks will be out of this world…

      absolutely mind blowing and beautiful !

“Big Ben at midnight surrounded by fireworks London, UK”

Tower Bridge near the Tower of London


Have a wonderful time !



Posted in A General Announcement, Entertainment, Travel | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

‘Tis the Season


Image | Posted on by | Tagged | Leave a comment

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas…

by Clement Clarke Moore (born July 15, 1779; died July 10, 1863)


‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,

In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,

While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;

And Mamma in her kerchief and I, in my cap,

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.

Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon, on the breast of the new-fallen snow,

Gave a luster of midday to objects below;

When, what to my wandering eyes should appear,

But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,

I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,

And he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen!

On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!

To the top of the porch, to the top of the wall!

Now, dash away, dash away, dash away, all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,

When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,

So, up to the housetop the coursers they flew,

With the sleigh full of toys- and St. Nicholas, too.

And then in a twinkling I heard on the roof

The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.

As I drew in my head and was turning around,

Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot,

And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes how they twinkled! His dimples how merry!

His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,

And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,

And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;

He had a broad face and a little round belly

That shook, when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump-a right jolly old elf;

And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.

A wink of his eye, and a twist of his head,

Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,

And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,

And laying his finger aside of his nose,

And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,

And away they all flew like the down of a thistle;

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!”

Have a merry Christmas,

from The Castle Lady

Posted in Amazing Stories, Poetry | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment