St Leonard’s Tower, Kent…

St Leonard’s Tower is located in the Kent town of West Malling and takes its name from a chapel that stood nearby.

It is not clear who built the tower, it is thought that it was either constructed by Bishop Gundulf between 1077 and 1108, or by Bishop Odo of Bayeux. Odo was the half brother of William I (the Conqueror) and held lands in West Malling. Odo was also Earl of Kent between 1067 and 1088.

Thought to have been constructed as a tower keep, the exact function of the building has also attracted some debate. It has been suggested that the tower is in fact the tower of the former St Leonard’s chapel that stood nearby.

St Leonard’s Tower is thought to stand to very nearly its original height to this very day. The tower originally had three floors, with two floors above the basement and the original entrance being on the first floor would have been accessed via a wooden staircase, as was common with tower keeps of the period. A later entrance was added at basement level.

Today St Leonard’s Tower is managed by English Heritage and is visitable during reasonable daylight hours.

St Leonard's Tower
St Leonard’s Tower

Great Yarmouth Castle and Town Wall, Norfolk…

Great Yarmouth Castle was constructed sometime during the medieval period, probably during the 12th Century. It was constructed out of stone and had four turrets and was likely a tower keep.

From the mid 16th Century, the castle was given to the town and was used as a gaol. During this period, it is thought it underwent some repairs on several occasions. By 1620 the castle was being dismantled. First the upper storey was removed, the stone was used in enclosing a gun platform, known as the Mount. In 1621, the rest of the castle was dismantled.

Great Yarmouth Castle is likely to have had a close association with the town’s wall. Though the castle is likely to have predated the construction of the town wall by over a century, the two would have no doubt been crucial had the town ever been attacked.

The town was granted permission in 1261 by Henry III to construct the town wall, though construction didn’t begin until 1284, during the reign of Edward I. It took until the end of the following century for the wall to be completed.

The town wall enclosed an area between the river rivers Bure and Yare. Constructed out of flint, brick, basal stone, and Caen stone from France, the wall enclosed an area of 538,232 square metres. A moat was also dug around the wall to offer an extra level of protection. The wall had 10 gates and 16 towers.

During the 16th Century, in the reign of Henry VIII, the Duke of Norfolk was instructed by the king to put the town’s defences into order. At this time the wall was improved, a rampart was constructed against the internal side of the wall and was continually improved during the mid-to-late 16th Century, ultimately being completed in 1587. Gun placements were also added at this time.

During the Civil War (1642-1651), the town was refortified. At this time, the moat was re-excavated. During the conflict, Yarmouth had declared for Parliament and the towers and gatehouses along the wall were used to house prisoners.

By the late 18th Century, the wall had ceased any defensive use. The moat had also been filled in.

Today, nothing of Great Yarmouth Castle can be evidenced, though large stone foundations and a floor were found during building work in the mid 1960s which are thought to be associated with the castle.

Large sections of Great Yarmouth Town Wall and 11 of its towers survive to this day and can be seen in the town.

Great Yarmouth Town Wall
Great Yarmouth Town Wall

Great Yarmouth Town Wall
Great Yarmouth Town Wall

Great Yarmouth Town Wall
Great Yarmouth Town Wall

Lewes Castle (Bray Castle), East Sussex…

Lewes Castle in the East Sussex town of Lewes was began in 1069 on the orders of William de Warenne I, Earl of Surrey. William de Warenne also held other estates such as at Castle Acre in Norfolk, where he also built a castle (Castle Acre Castle), in Surrey and in Yorkshire.

The first castle at Lewes is thought to have been constructed out of wood, as were many other castles during the period and it followed a traditional motte and bailey design. The first motte at to be built at Lewes is called Brack Mount and can be observed across the bailey from a second higher that was added some 30 years later. Having two mottes makes Lewes Castle fairly unique, the only other castle in the England to have two mottes is Lincoln Castle in Lincolnshire.

Once the second motte had been constructed, a shell keep was constructed on top of it built out of flint and the bailey between the two mottes was enclosed by a curtain wall also constructed out of flint and a gatehouse was added. A dry motte was also constructed around the castle bailey.

In the 13th and 14th Centuries, the castle’s defences were improved. Some new towers and a barbican were added at the castle. In 1264, during the Second Barons War (1264-1267), some of the king’s knights stayed at the castle the night before the Battle of Lewes at the castle. The Battle of Lewes was one of the major battles during the War, and during it both the king, Henry III, and his son, Edward, were captured by the barons.

In 1347, the last of the Earls de Warenne died, the castle then passed by marriage to Richard Fitalan, Earl of Arundel.

Lewes Castle was also attacked during the Peasants Revolt of 1381.

Today, the castle is owned by the Sussex Archaeological Society and is open to the public.

Lewes Castle Motte and Shell Keep
Lewes Castle Motte and Shell Keep
Lewes Castle Barbican
Lewes Castle Barbican
Lewes Castle Barbican and Norman Gateway
Lewes Castle Barbican and Gateway

Rye Castle (Ypres Tower), East Sussex…

Rye Castle, or Ypres Tower as it is also known, is located in the East Sussex town of Rye. It is not entirely clear when the castle was built. Though it may have been constructed in 1249 as part of the town’s defences against French raids, which were common place at the time as England was at War with France. The castle has also been known as Baddings Tower.

It is thought Peter de Savoy who was granted permission by Henry III to construct a castle at Rye may be behind the construction of the castle. Though it has also been suggested that the castle in fact dates from the 14th Century and was constructed as part of the town’s new defences which were built at that time.

During the medieval period, Rye was an atient town of the cinque ports on the south coast of England who were responsible for providing ships to the king in order to defend the country. In return the towns received many freedoms of self government. During the 14th Century, Edward III granted permission for the defences of Rye to be upgraded. A new curtain wall for the town was built, and Rye Castle formed part of these new defences, and the castle may alternatively date from this period as mentioned. Once these new defences were complete Rye became a full cinque port rather than an antient town.

Rye was attacked during the period on many occasions, but by the end of the 14th Century the castle was no longer used to defend the town. Over the course of about 60 years until 1430, the castle was used as a prison and as the town hall. In 1430, the castle was sold to Jean de Ypres, which is where the castle gets its alternative name from – Ypres Tower.

In the early 16th Century, the local council purchased the tower back and used it as a prison. Over the next 500 or so years, the defences at Rye were improved or decommissioned depending on the threat from the continent. The castle was also continually used as a prison until 1865, when it was decided it should only be used for short-term confinement. This use was discontinued in 1891.

The castle was also partially used as a soup kitchen from 1870 until 1895, it also functioned as the town mortuary with this use continuing until 1959 (the mortuary was based in the castle basement)..

In 1954, the castle opened to the public as a museum with exhibits on the ground and first floors.

Today, the castle still houses part of the museum and is open to the public.

Rye Castle
Rye Castle

Guildford Castle, Surrey…

Guildford Castle in Surrey is thought to have been built on the orders of William I (the Conqueror), sometime shortly after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.

The early castle would have been constructed out of wood, with a great tower erected on the motte, and a surrounding enclosure or bailey with a wooden palisade and ditch to protect it. The bailey may have been divided into two, with an inner and outer bailey.

Early in the 12th Century, a shell keep was erected on the motte, replacing the earlier wooden structure. In about 1130, the shell keep was partially built over with a great tower being added. Both of these structures were constructed out of Bargate sandstone. It is thought the tower was built to provide accommodation for the king.

Rooms on the first floor included a chapel, a main chamber, a latrine and a wardrobe chamber. Not long afterwards, a second floor was added. New apartments for the king were added to the castle later in the 12th Century in the bailey. Other buildings were also constructed, including a chapel.

The castle was significantly improved during the reign of Henry III. Accommodation for the queen was improved, with a large new windows being added and marble columns. Work continued on improving the castle during Henry’s reign, with new accommodation being added for his son, Edward.

Guildford Castle was mainly a royal residence, but did play part in the several conflicts as a fortress. Most notably during the First Barons War (1215-1217), when the castle was taken without a fight by the forces of the rebel Barons in 1216. It was also used as a point for Edward I to assemble his forces for his foreign campaigns.

During the Second Barons War (1264-1267), there was also no fighting at the castle.

Toward the end of the 14th Century, Guildford Castle had fallen into a state of disrepair. Royalty instead frequented a nearby hunting lodge that was under development from the 1360s. The castle was instead used as the county gaol. This use continued until early in the 16th Century.

Over the next several hundred years, some alterations were made to the castle, though it would eventually become unroofed, some of its grounds used for farming and other uses until 1885 when the Guildford Council purchased the castle.

In 1888, the castle grounds were opened to the public as a park, with the walls and the keep having undergone restoration. Major works were also conducted in 2003-2004 to conserve the keep. It was re-roofed and a new floor was added at first-floor level.

Today, the castle keep is owned by Guildford Borough Council and is open to the public regularly. The castle grounds are open all year.

Guildford Castle Keep
Guildford Castle Keep
Guildford Castle Keep
Guildford Castle Keep
Guildford Castle Keep
Guildford Castle Keep