Cambridge Castle, Cambridgeshire…

Cambridge Castle in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire was began soon after the Norman conquest on the orders of William I (the Conqueror).  Picot of Cambridge, the Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, undertook the works on William’s orders. It is recorded in the Domesday Book that 27 houses were demolished to make way for the castle.

After his campaign to put down a rebellion in the city of York in 1068, William decided to build the castle in Cambridge to ensure his control of the strategically important old Roman route from London to York, which ran through Cambridge, and to prevent a rebellion by the local populace.

The castle was constructed to a traditional motte and bailey design out of wood. The motte of the castle can still be seen to this day, with the bailey now having disappeared under under nearby buildings. At some point in the 12 Century the castle was rebuilt in stone.

The castle would continue to be held by the crown until 1143, when during the Anarchy, it was attacked by Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex, who was a leading figure in a revolt against the rule of King Stephen. Geoffrey raided Cambridge and temporarily captured the castle. King Stephen launched a counteroffensive and recaptured the castle. As a result, King Stephen constructed a chain of castle to protect Cambridge and control the local area. These castles include Burwell Castle, Lidgate Castle, Rampton Castle, Swavesey Castle and Caxton Castle.

After the Anarchy, Henry II implemented a castleguard system at the castle where nobles were granted lands around the castle in exchange for providing forces to man it. During this period the castle was well maintained. Building works at the castle were undertaken prior to the First Barons War (1215-1217), though these changes didn’t improve the fortifications themselves and instead focused on developing residential buildings.

During the war, the castle at Cambridge fell under the control of the rebel barons, supported by the forces of Prince Louis of France in 1216. The castle at Cambridge was returned to the control of the crown after the war had ended as part of the Treaty of Lambeth between Prince Louis and Henry III.

During the period between the First Baron’s War and the Second Barons War, the castle was maintained to a basic standard. Cambridge Castle came under siege in 1266, during the Second Barons War (1264-1267). The castle successfully held out and was relieved by King Henry’s forces.

After Henry II’s death in 1272, Edward I acceded to the English throne. In 1283, Edward ordered the castle at Cambridge to be rebuilt. It is during this period that extensive building works at Cambridge Castle were undertaken. The layout and orientation of the bailey were altered, with the bailey remodelled to be roughly rectangular in shape and oriented north-south. Other works that were completed during this time include the construction of a curtain wall with towers, a gatehouse with barbican, a great hall, a chapel and a round tower keep on the motte. Though some of the works that were planned were never completed.

From about 1327 onward, the castle steadily began to deteriorate with little monies being spent on its upkeep. By 1441, the castle was in a bad state of repair. Over the next hundred or so years, stone from the castle was removed and used to construct some of the colleges and a chapel in Cambridge. Other stone was taken to build a manor house in a nearby village.

By 1604, the castle was in a poor state with only the gatehouse remaining as the only building occupied.  During the English Civil War in 1643 the castle was refortified by Parliament, with major works being undertaken to strengthen and repair the bailey defences. Bastions and earthworks were constructed, with 15 houses being cleared and a barracks building being constructed on the site of the old great hall. These new defences were slighted in 1647 to put them beyond use.

Over the following centuries, what remained of the castle steadily deteriorated, with some of the structure and earthworks being removed in the late 18th and early in the 19th centuries. The only remaining building was the gatehouse, though this too would be removed too in the the early 1842, having been used as the county goal for much of its life.

Today, only the remnants of some of the earthworks and the motte remain. The motte is on land owned by Cambridgeshire County Council and is open to the public.

Cambridge Castle Motte
Cambridge Castle Motte

Yarmouth Castle, IOW…

Yarmouth Castle in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight isn’t your traditional Norman castle with a motte and bailey, stone tower keep, etc. It is in fact an artillery or devices fort built on the orders of Henry VIII that was completed in 1547 after Henry’s death. Its design reflects the evolution through the medieval period of the design and construction of fortifications.

The development of the castle at Yarmouth and other Herician castles was a direct result of England’s political isolation at the time and the threat of possible French invasion. Other devices or Henrician castles built during this time include Calshot Castle, Hurst Castle, Deal Castle, Sandown Castle and East Cowes Castle.

The castle at Yarmouth was initially square in shape, measuring roughly 30 metres across arranged around a central courtyard. Unlike earlier devices forts which had circular bastions, Yarmouth Castle was constructed with an Italianate ‘arrowhead’ bastion on its south-east corner to protect it from attack on land. The castle was equipped with 15 different types of size of gun and cannon which fired from embrasures along the seaward side of the castle. A moat protected the castle on the landward side.

The castle was constructed under the oversight of Richard Worsley, the captain of the island, by George Mills. Upon completion completion of the castle, George Mills was paid £1,000 for his work and to discharge soldiers that had been guarding the site. It has been suggested the castle was constructed from stone taken from nearby Quarr Abbey.

It was initially manned by a small team of soldiers under the command of Richard Udall, who lived at the castle. In 1558, Elizabeth I acceded the English throne. She made peace with France and and thus the threat of invasion by France diminished. Instead the threat of invasion by Spain loomed large. Richard Worsley was reappointed as captain of the island, having been removed from his position by Queen Mary I when she came to the thrown in 1553.

Worsley undertook extensive alterations to the castle. The courtyard was half-filled in to make a platform capable of holding eight guns. The master gunner’s house is also thought to have been constructed at this time. In 1586 the castle was said to be in poor condition.  Repairs were made to the castle in 1587, with £50 being spent on these. Other repairs were made the following year after the threat of invasion by the Spanish Armada had passed.

Yarmouth Castle would undergo several phases of redevelopment and repair between the reign of Elizabeth I and the English Civil War. Two corner buttresses were added along the seaward side of the castle in 1609, in 1632 the parapet was raised in height and a store was added to serve the gun platform.

During the English Civil War, the castle was initially held by the Royalists but soon passed into the control of Parliament who maintained control of the castle for the rest of the Civil War. In 1660, the monarchy was restored in England, with Charles II acceding to the throne. Upon his accession, Charles demobilised most of the army and in 1661 ordered the garrison at Yarmouth to quit the castle with four days notice. Charles did offer the townspeople of Yarmouth the option of covering the costs of the castle themselves, though at this time they declined, with the artillery being sent to Cowes Castle. In 1666, Charles suggested this again, the townspeople changed their minds and a small garrison was appointed to the castle, paid for by the people of Yarmouth.

In 1670, the crown took back control of the castle under the oversight of Sir Robert Holmes, captain of the island. Some of the guns were returned to the castle from Cowes and works were undertaken to improve the castle, such as a new battery being added on the nearby quay and the moat and other earthworks being removed.

The castle continued to be in use during the 18th Century. In the early part of the 19th Century, toward the end of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1813, alterations were made to the layout of the parapet and rails were laid down for four naval guns.

In 1855, during the Crimean War, the threat of invasion returned. Due to this renewed threat, extensive repairs were made to Yarmouth Castle. New guns were installed at the castle and a regular army unit garrisoned it.

In 1885, the decision was taken to withdraw the guns and the garrison from the castle. The castle would continued to be used by the authorities with its management passing to the Office of Works in 1913, when substantial repairs were made. The castle would see service during both world wars and was used by the military up until 1950 when its military use ceased.

Today, the castle is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public.

Yarmouth Castle
Yarmouth Castle
Yarmouth Castle, Gun Placements
Yarmouth Castle, Gun Placements

Caxton Castle (Caxton Moats), Cambridgeshire…

Caxton Castle in Cambridgeshire is also known locally as ‘The Moats’. This interesting site consists of three moated enclosures that have an uncertain date. Pottery finds recovered from the site include Roman, St Neots (AD 900-1200) and 13th Century wares. Signs of Saxon and Norman occupation of the site have also been found.

It has been suggested that the site at Caxton resembles the construction of Burwell Castle near Cambridge and that it was one of King Stephen’s castles that was constructed during a period of civil war known as ‘the Anarchy’.  The layout of the site at Caxton has been compared to Burwell Castle, also in Cambridgeshire, which is known to have built by King Stephen during the Anarchy.

It has also been suggested that the site was the location of the home of the de Scalers family who were given the manor by William I (the Conqueror).

Out of the three enclosures at Caxton, the most significant in stature is located to the north-west of the others and consists of an island that is roughly 75 metres by 45 metres and is surrounded by a moat. The moat measures roughly 18 metres in width and 2.5 metres in depth. The enclosure is oriented east-west. At either end of the island there is a raised area.

The other moated enclosures lie to the south and the east, as well as other earthworks for fishponds, a rabbit warren and other signs of occupation.

Caxton Castle (The Moats) is on private land but is viewable from a public footpath that runs alongside.

Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats
Earthworks at Caxton Moats