Orford Castle, Suffolk…

Orford Castle in Suffolk is a royal castle that was began on the orders of Henry II in 1165 in order to ensure his control of the region. The castle was completed in 1173.

The design of the castle at the time was unique, with its central circular tower and three attached towers that project out from the circular tower’s main body. The keep’s central tower rises 27 metres and is 15 metres across.

The design of the keep is based on the one root of two ratio that is often found in English churches of the period. The castle is constructed of Caen stone, Northamptonshire limestone, coralline stone. Much of the stonework internally is ashlar, finely cut, dressed masonry.

Internally, the castle was designed so that the most important rooms caught the sun first thing in the morning, internals doors and carefully placed windows were added for draught proofing. The roof above the upper hall would have oringinally been domed, with a steeple. Orford Castle’s design has attracted much attention, as it combines features of earlier fortresses with those of later fortifications, though this theory has been discounted by some historians, instead with them suggesting the design was more a case of political symbolism.

The castle would have had originally a curtain wall with flanking towers and probably a fortified gatehouse. The construction of the castle is recorded as having cost £1,413, which equates roughly to 10% of royal revenue at the time. It is believed that construction was conducted by master mason Alnoth, though this cannot be corroborated.

Orford Castle seems to have declined in importance after the collapse of the rebellion of 1173-1174 and the death of Henry II. During the First Barons War (1215-1217) the castle was captured by the forces of Prince Louis of France in 1216. The castle was later returned to the control of the crown under the Treaty of Lambeth.

Henry III and Edward I appointed several different governors of the castle over the course of their reigns. In 1336, the castle was granted to Robert de Ufford, 1st Earl of Suffolk. At this point the castle effectively ceased to be a a royal castle.

The castle would pass between several different notable families over the coming centuries. The importance of Orford as a harbour declined as the harbour silted up, making access for trade more difficult. This resulted in the importance of Orford Castle as a centre of local government declining.

By the 18th Century, Orford Castle was in poor condition. Only part of the bailey wall survived and much of the upper floors of the keep had decayed. In 1754, the Seymour-Conway family purchased the castle. In 1834, Francis Seymour-Conway undertook some conservation work on the castle. As part of these works, a new roof and upper floors were installed. These new upper floors were furnished so that they could be used as an apartment for guests.

By the mid 19th Century, all of the bailey wall had vanished. Most of the stone had been taken to use in local buildings, which is very common with many castles.

Sir Arthur Churchman purchased Orford Castle in 1930 and gifted it to the Orford Town Trust in 1930. Between 1930 and 1962 when Orford Castle came into the ownership of the Ministry of Works, the castle was used as a radar station during the Second World War.

Today, only the keep remains and extensive earthworks from where the curtain walls were robbed out. The castle is now managed by English Heritage and open to the public.

Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep
Orford Castle Keep

Weeting Castle, Norfolk…

Weeting Castle is a medieval manor house located in Weeting near Brandon in Norfolk. It was built around 1180 by Hugh de Plais, a tenant of William de Warenne, Earl of Surrey, who had his regional caput (administrative centre) at nearby Castle Acre. The de Plais family would occupy Weeting Castle until the 14th Century when it passed to the Howards, Earls of Norfolk. The castle would later be abandoned.

Evidence of earlier occupation on the site has been found, most notably three ditches with finds of Saxo-Norman origin and burnt daub. It is thought a Saxon settlement occupied the site prior to the castle.

Weeting Castle’s design is similar to that of a hall in the outer bailey at Castle Acre Castle and is thought to have been heavily influenced by the design of the building.

The manor house was built of a flint rubble with stone dressing construction. The ruins of the building define a building rectangular in shape. It consisted of a hall, which would have been used to entertain important guests and for holding important events. At the other end of the hall, was a three-story chamber block. On the ground floor of the chamber block was a storage area with a vaulted ceiling, on the first floor was a suite of private chambers with an adjoining latrine block. This block contained three cubicles.

At the other end of the hall was a service block. This contained a buttery and pantry. A passage from the service block lead out onto a courtyard. A freestanding kitchen also fronted onto this courtyard and catered for the manor house’s needs. A wall separated this courtyard from the grounds of the manor house.

The ruins of the manor house sit on an island that is sub-rectangular in shape that is surrounded by a moat that was added in the 13th Century as a decorative feature.

Today, Weeting Castle is managed by English Heritage and is open to the public during reasonable daylight hours.

Weeting Castle Ruins
Weeting Castle Ruins
Weeting Castle Ruins
Weeting Castle Ruins
Weeting Castle Ruins
Weeting Castle Ruins
Weeting Castle Moat
Weeting Castle Moat

Bedford Castle, Bedfordshire…

Bedford Castle in the county town of Bedford is thought to have been constructed on the orders of King Henry I between 1100 and 1130. Although Bedford Castle was a royal castle, it was entrusted to the custody of the Beauchamp family. Early in the 12 Century, the castle is recorded as being in the custody of Simon de Beauchamp. The castle was constructed to a standard motte and bailey design.

In 1135, a period of civil war broke out known as the Anarchy. During this period of civil strife, Simon de Beauchamp died (1137). The castle would in the following years fall under seige on several occasions during the conflict with control of it passing between the supporters of the Empress Matilda and King Stephen. Toward of the end of conflict, the castle is recorded as being under the control of Miles de Beauchamp.

During the First Baron War (1215-1217), Bedford Castle was seized by the forces of King John led by Falkes de Breaute. In return for his loyalty, King John granted Falkes Bedford Castle. After taking Bedford Castle, Falkes would go on take control of three other major castles – they were Carisbrooke, Christchurch and Plympton castles.

After the First Barons War ended, Falkes made Bedford Castle his caput or administrative centre for his estates. It was under Falkes control that the castle was greatly expanded, with a new keep, inner and outer baileys, with other fortifications such as a stone-lined palisade being added.

In 1224, King Henry III decided that control of Bedford Castle should be returned to the control of the Beauchamp family. Attempts were made to negotiate an agreement for this to happen, though these were unsuccessful. The king decided there was no alternative but to lay seige to the castle. The castle initially held out against attempts to take it, but eventually the sheer military might that King Henry directed at the castle proved unstoppable. In all, it had taken eight weeks for the king to take the castle, using 2,000 men, seige engines and pure brute force.

After the seige, King Henry ordered the castle to be demolished. The Beauchamp family instead of residing in the castle keep, built a manor house in what had been the inner bailey of the castle. Much of the stone from the castle was utilised in paving local roads, rebuilding a church and for possibly building the first stone bridge in Bedford.

By 1361, not much was left of the castle aside for the motte and some remnants of its walls. At the start of the English Civil War (1642-1651), Bedford Castle was refortified with a wooden fort being built on the site. After the war had ended, the bailey of the castle was first used as a bowling green and then as land to build residential buildings. The last vestiges of the castle masonry were removed during this period.

Today, the motte of Bedford Castle is all that remains. The motte is located in a public park and is accessible during reasonable daylight hours.

Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte
Bedford Castle Motte