Clavering Castle (Robert’s Castle), Essex…

Clavering Castle in Essex was one of the first castles that was built in England. Being a pre-conquest castle, Clavering Castle is significant in that it is one of only four possible castles built in England prior to 1066.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Robert castle’, it was began by Robert FitzWimarc, who was a Norman kinsman of Edward  the Confessor. Robert came to England with Edward when he returned from exile in Normandy in 1041. Believed to have been of Norman-Breton heritage, Robert would go on to serve both Edward and his Norman successor, William the Conqueror. He is also notable as he appeared in the Bayeux Tapestry as being present at Edward’s death.

Clavering Castle is not of the usual motte and bailey design that is so often associated with Norman castles. It is instead a ringwork. Its defences would have consisted of a fortified enclosure (usually circular), that would have been surrounded by an earthen bank topped with either a wooden palisade or at a later point a stone wall. A deep ditch would have then surrounded this bank and palisade/wall.

There are no physical remains at Clavering other than some substantial earthworks. The earthworks at Clavering consist of enclosure which is 150m in diameter east-west by 100m north-south, that is roughly rectangular in shape. There are some remnants of the surrounding ditch which are waterfilled. In the interior of the enclosure, there are earthworks associated with buildings that would have formed part of the castle and later robber trenches from where stonework has been robbed away for building use locally. Many of the earthworks that are visible are thought to date from the 12th Century and to overlay the earlier ringwork remnants.

There are some later earthworks on the site of the castle from a watermill. It is also believed that the site of the castle may have been used during the Iron Age as a fort.

Clavering Castle is on private land but is viewable from a public footpath.

Clavering Castle Earthworks
Clavering Castle Earthworks
Clavering Castle Earthworks
Clavering Castle Earthworks
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Great Canfield Castle, Essex…

Great Canfield Castle in Essex is a motte and bailey castle once likely owned by the De Veres, Earls of Oxford. The castle was recorded in the Domesday Books as being the property of Aubrey de Vere in 1086.

Located directly next to the village church in Great Canfield, the castle consists of a large motte that is heavily covered in trees. The motte has been estimated as being 48ft high and 280ft in diameter on its east-west axis.

To the south of the motte is a horseshoe-shaped bailey. Both the bailey and the motte are surrounded by moats that were fed from a nearby small stream and the River Roding. The moats are now  dry and some of the bailey moat has been destroyed by ploughing. Much of the bailey ramparts survive.

The castle at Great Canfield is most likely to have been of timber construction as there hasn’t been any masonry remnants found.

It has been suggested that Great Canfield is the site of a possible pre-conquest (pre-1066) castle, though it is more likely the castle at nearby Clavering is in fact this castle.

The castle is on private land and is not accessible. You can view the motte from the side of the road.

Great Canfield Castle Motte
Great Canfield Castle Motte

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

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

Walden Castle, Essex

It is unclear who specifically built Walden Castle, though it is widely attributed to being constructed on the order of Geoffrey de Mandeville, the Earl of Essex during the Anarchy between 1141-1143. De Mandeville was captured by King Stephen in 1143 and ordered to relinquish control of his castles. He initially agreed to this but then on the intervention of the Empress Matilda and being offered the castle at Bishop Stortford, rebelled against King Stephen, leading a major insurrection against King Stephen in the East of England.

De Mandeville never regained control of the castle having relinquished it to the king. He died in 1144 having attacked Burwell Castle in Cambridgeshire and being mortally wounded.

The castle at Saffron Walden is believed to have never been completed and King Henry II ordered that the castle be torn down in 1157.

Only the stone walls of the keep remain with much of the stone being robbed away.

The castle is located directly next door to the Saffron Walden Museum in the centre of Saffron Walden.

Walden Castle Keep
Walden Castle Keep
Walden Castle Keep
Walden Castle Keep
Walden Castle Keep
Walden Castle Keep

Colchester Castle, Essex..

Colchester Castle is the largest stone keep ever built in Britain and is the largest remaining in Europe. It is built on the site of the earlier Roman temple dedicated to Claudius (AD 54-60).

Construction of the castle was began on the order of William the Conqueror and it was designed by Gundulf, Archbishop of Rochester. Building began between 1069 and 1076 under the supervision of Eudo Dapifer, who was later to become the steward of the castle upon its completion. The castle was completed by around 1100, construction had been delayed due to the threat of Viking invasion.

Over the centuries the castle has been used for many purposes, including as a prison and by grain merchants. The castle is now home to a local museum charting the history of the local area.

Colchester Castle.
Colchester Castle.
Colchester Castle.
Colchester Castle.