Farnham Castle in the Surrey town of Farnham was built in 1138 on the orders of Henry of Blois, the Bishop of Winchester. The castle would be the home of the Bishops of Winchester for over 800 years.
The original castle consisted of a great tower or keep with a motte and bailey (fortified enclosure). This keep had walls some three meters thick, the base of which can be seen at the castle to this day as well as an associated well.
The castle motte was constructed around the base of the keep, with it being formed out of chalk and clay. The likely reason the keep was constructed in this way with the motte being added later may be to provide defence against mining and attacks from battering rams. The keep was probably three to four storeys in height above ground.
At the same time that Farnham was built, Henry also had castles constructed at Downton, Merdon, Waltham and Taunton, though it has been suggested construction on these castles started earlier.
After the Anarchy (1134-1154), a period of civil war where the English throne was under dispute between Bishop Henry’s brother, King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, the daughter of Henry I, Henry II, Matilda’s son who had inherited the crown after Stephen’s death in 1154, ordered a large number of castles to be destroyed. It is thought that the first keep at Farnham is one of the castle’s he ordered destroyed.
Sometime after the keep was destroyed, work was started on a new shell keep, which can be seen at the castle to this day. The exact date that construction of this new keep started isn’t known, however, it was definitely in existence by the time Bishop Peter de Roches (1205-1230) started his accounts in 1208.
The shell keep is unusual in that it was constructed around the base of the motte and not on top of the motte such as at other castle like Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. The keep also had five towers around its base circumference, with only the gatehouse retaining its original height. Though it was altered on several occasions. There are also remains of a drawbridge pit and other remnants of castle defences.
In the 13th Century, the keep contained minimal buildings, with buildings for the garrison, including weapons stores, lodgings and a well. Over the coming centuries building work took place, with buildings being added to the castle.
The castle was the official residence of Henry Beaufort who was Bishop of Winchester in the 15th Century (1404-1447). Henry is famous as he was the one to have oversaw the trial of Joan of Arc, the heroine of France, in 1414.
During the English Civil War (1642-1651), the castle was of some strategic importance. For most of the Civil War it was held by Parliamentary forces, except on brief period in November 1642. It was later retaken by Parliamentary forces, and one if the keeps towers was destroyed to put the keep beyond use. It was further slighted in 1648 to make its defence even more impractical.
During the Second World War (1939-1945), the castle was the base of the of an army unit that dealt with developing means of camouflage and deception.
Today, the castle is open to the public daily.