Mount Bures Castle, Essex…

There is some debate as to the origin of Mount Bures Castle in Essex. It has been suggested that the castle motte was originally a barrow that was adapted by the Normans as a motte and bailey castle, or that it was built by Roger of Poitou who had been given the manor of Mount Bures soon after the Norman conquest.

Additionally, the castle has been attributed to the civil war known as the Anarchy that occurred during the 12th Century between the forces of King Stephen and the Empress Matilda.

The motte at Mount Bures has been estimated to be 33 feet above the current ground level as recently as 1977, though in 1763 the motte was estimated to be 80ft in height. It is likely the motte has suffered significant subsidence over the centuries caused by burrowing animals. A fence has now been erected to prevent further damage to the motte,

A dry ditch surrounds the motte and it has been suggested that the bailey of the castle may have been on the site occupied currently by the parish church, though there is no evidence to support this from the 2011 excavations .

During the 2011 excavations no evidence was found on the summit of the motte to suggest any substantial buildings were ever present on it. Instead, it has been suggested that any building that was on the summit was likely to have been constructed out of wood and would have resembled a watchtower. There was little evidence to suggest that the castle was constantly inhabited.

Mount Bures Castle is located in the village of Mount Bures in Essex. Access to the motte at Mount Bures is free and the site is located directly next door to the village church.

Moat and Motte, Mount Bures Castle
Moat and Motte, Mount Bures Castle
Motte Mount Bures Castle
Motte Mount Bures Castle
Bottom of the Moat, Mount Bures Castle
Bottom of the Moat, Mount Bures Castle
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Chrishall Castle (Park Wood), Essex..

Chrishall Castle is a ringwork located in Park Wood in the village of Chrishall in the north-west of Essex. It seems likely the castle would have been constructed of wood.

The ringwork is 85m east-west by 90m north-south in diameter and is surrounded by a moat which is mostly dry, though the west side does hold water. The interior of the ringwork is level, though there are denuded ramparts which could have possibly enclosed the whole site.

The site of Chrishall Castle is very overgrown. The castle is on private land and can only be viewed from a footpath which runs alongside the site. The castles lies 70 metres north-east of the village church in Park Wood.

Chrishall Castle Moat and Edge of Ringwork Platform
Chrishall Castle Moat and Edge of Ringwork Platform
Chrishall Castle Moat and Edge of Ringwork Platform
Chrishall Castle Moat and Edge of Ringwork Platform

Pleshey Castle, Essex…

Pleshey Castle in the Essex of village of Pleshey has one of the largest mottes in the whole of the UK. Whilst none of the stonework of this once substantial fortress still exists, the substantial earthworks that do survive to this day elude somewhat to the status and significance of this site.

Built by the de Mandeville family, Geoffrey de Mandeville (not to be confused with his grandson of the same name who was made Earl of Essex by King Stephen), was given substantial estates in Essex in appreciation for his service to William I at the Battle of Hastings where he was a leading commander in William’s forces.

De Mandeville chose Pleshey as the site of his centre of operations and administration (his caput). The castle at Pleshey was originally built in wood and is likely to have consisted of a motte and two baileys. There would have been a wooden tower on the motte with a palisade and the baileys would have been enclosed by a moat and rampart with palisade.

In the 12th Century the castle at Pleshey was upgraded and rebuilt in stone, though it is unclear exactly when. During the Anarchy, Geoffrey de Mandeville (grandson of the castle’s founder) was created Earl of Essex by King Stephen in 1140. Later, having been promised new property by the Empress Matilda if he revolted against Stephen’s rule, Geoffrey lead a rebellion against King Stephen in both Essex and Cambridgeshire. In 1143, King Stephen was successful in persuading the garrison at Pleshey to surrender the castle.

Having surrendered the castle to King Stephen, it wasn’t until after the king’s death in 1156 that the de Mandevilles regained the castle. However, this new tenure was short-lived. In 1158, King Henry II ordered that the de Mandeviles castles at both Saffron Walden and Pleshey be dismantled as part of the king’s programme to ensure that many of the castles built or used during the Anarchy were put beyond use.

During the 1170s, Geoffrey’s brother William was allowed to refortify the site. In the course of the following century, the castle at Pleshey was besieged, most notably by King John in 1215 and surrendered to Prince Louis of France in 1216. On William’s death, the castle passed to the de Bohun family through Maud, William’s sister’s marriage to Henry de Bohun, 1st Earl of Hereford.

The castle became the caput for the de Bohuns and would continue in their ownership until 1629 when Robert Clarke purchased the castle and demolished most of its buildings in order to build a house nearby with the materials.

It is possible to view the castle motte at Pleshey from the specially created viewing area in the centre of the village. If you wish to view the inside of the earthworks and climb the motte, it is possible to do so. Though this is strictly on an appointment-only basis.

Pleshey Castle Motte
Pleshey Castle Motte
Pleshey Castle Motte and Bailey
Pleshey Castle Motte and Bailey
Pleshey Castle Motte, Bailey and Bailey Rampart
Pleshey Castle Motte, Bailey and Bailey Rampart
Pleshey Castle Motte Moat
Pleshey Castle Motte Moat
Pleshey Castle Bailey Rampart and Moat
Pleshey Castle Bailey Rampart and Moat

Therfield Castle, Hertfordshire…

Therfield Castle is a probable adulterine motte and bailey castle located in the Hertfordshire village of Therfield, close to the town of Royston. Therfield Castle is also known as Tuthill.

Pottery evidence recovered from the site suggests a date of 1135-1154 for the castle’s construction, which correlates with the suggestion of Therfield Castle dating from the Anarchy.

No buildings or masonary remnants of the castle remain, only the earthworks survive. The motte, which is surrounded by a ditch which has suffered some damage, is 14 metres in diameter at its base and 8 metres in diameter at its top. It is 1.5 metres in height. The ditch that surrounds the motte is 5 metres wide at its widest and 1 metre deep. The centre of the motte has suffered some damage as it was excavated by treasure hunters in 1920.

The bailey lies to the south of the motte. During archaeological investigations into this part of the castle evidence was found of occupation of the site prior to the castle being built. A date of 1050-1100 has been suggested for this occupation.

At the time of the castle’s construction the land that it stands on was owned by Ralph of Therfield, who had purchased the land from Ramsey Abbey who owned the manor.

The castle itself was never completed, as was the case with a lot of other contemporary adulterine castles. It seems reasonable to suggest the castle was abandoned or slighted on the accession of Henry II to the throne.

Therfield Castle sits 50 metres north-west of the village’s church and can be viewed from the road.

Therfield Castle Bailey
Therfield Castle Bailey
Therfield Castle Motte and Ditch
Therfield Castle Motte and Ditch

Bishop Stortford (Waytemore) Castle, Hertfordshire

There has been some dispute as to when the castle at Bishop Stortford was begun, there have been some suggestions that the motte was a Celtic barrow that was reused, that it was originally a Saxon burgh (a fortified enclosure), or that it was began by the Normans. Whatever the truth is, it is certain the castle at Bishop Stortford (also known as Waytemore Castle) would have been constructed soon after the Norman conquest in wood and then over time replaced by a stone structure.

It is the believed that the keep at Bishop Stortford Castle wasn’t built until after 1135 and the layout of the castle would have been the traditional Norman motte and bailey configuration. Bishop Stortford Castle functioned as a fortress, prison and private residence for the lord of the manor (the Bishop of London).

Notable events in the history of the castle are during the Anarchy (1135-1154) the castle was promised to Geoffrey de Mandeville, Earl of Essex by the Empress Matilda if he would assist her against King Stephen. De Mandeville agreed to this and readily joined forces with Matilda. Another notable even came in the late 12 Century when King John was in dispute with the Pope over who should be the Archbishop of Canterbury. The dispute resulted in the castle being dismantled but later being rebuilt.

The ruins of the castle that can be seen on the motte to this day are of the castle that was rebuilt by King John after his dispute with the Pope ended in 1214. The castle at Bishop Stortford continued in use until the English Civil War when on Partliament’s victory it was pulled down as it had deterioted quite significantly.

Bishop Stortford Castle is located in Castle Park in Bishop Stortford and is very close to the town centre with its associated ample parking.

The Motte, Bishop Stortford Castle
The Motte, Bishop Stortford Castle
The Motte, Bishop Stortford Castle
The Motte, Bishop Stortford Castle
Defences, Bishop Stortford Castle
Defences, Bishop Stortford Castle

Anstey Castle, Hertfordshire…

Anstey Castle is a traditional motte and bailey Norman castle and is located in the village of Anstey in Hertfordshire. The castle is thought to have been built soon after the Norman conquest by Eustace, Count of Boulogne who was given the manor.

The castle was leased to Eustace’s subtenants who took the name de Anstey, which they adopted from the name of the village. Nicholas de Anstey strengthened the castle during the Barons Wars in order to defend against attacks by King John’s forces but was subsequently forced to destroy these additions once peace returned.

Soon after this, it would seem the castle at Anstey passed to the crown. It is widely documented that Henry VIII granted the castle at Anstey to three of his wives (Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Jayne Seymour). The castle then passed into private hands.

There are no remnants of the actual castle itself left, except for the motte, a wet ditch that surrounds the motte and the earthworks of the bailey. It is believed the construction of the castle would have originally been out of wood and that it was rebuilt in stone later. It has been suggested that stone from the castle was used in the construction of the local church which sits in front of the castle motte to this day.

Anstey Castle can be accessed via a footpath besides the church.

Anstey Castle Motte and Moat
Anstey Castle Motte and Moat
Anstey Castle Motte and Moat
Anstey Castle Motte and Moat