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.