Castles Abbeys

Medieval Buildings

Various Pictures Three

This Month I shall again feature some pictures of buildings I have photographed over the last year.

If you require any further information on any of these sites, mail me and ask, I shall answer all I can.

In common with the other medieval castles in Sussex, Hastings Castle is again totally different in style, and completes the set nicely. It's a type of castle known as a promontory or cliff-top castle, achieved by constructing a wall and ditch across the neck of an inaccessible part of the sandstone cliff top.

After William the Conqueror's landing at Pevensey in 1066, he sent his half-brother, Odo, Bishop of Bayeux, to Hastings where he erected one of the two prefabricated motte and bailey castles the Normans had carried with them from Normandy. It is not absolutely certain if the castle Odo built is where the present castle ruins now stand, although there is a mound next to the ruins, which is believed by many to be the site of the original.

After William's victory over King Harold at Battle, he divided the county of Sussex into six 'Rapes', with Hastings being the most eastern of these and, for a time, the most important. The castle was granted first to Humphrey de Tilliol, brother-in-law of Hugh de Grantmaisnil, but he returned to Normandy in 1070 and it was then awarded to Robert, Count of Eu, together with the entire Rape of Hastings.


The building of Hastings Castle in the Bayeux Tapestry

Robert soon replaced the original wooden fortification with stone, and he also established a collegiate church within the castle, which remained in use until the reign of Henry VIII, long after the castle ceased to be of importance. Thomas Becket was at one time Dean of the Church, which although within the castle precincts, managed to remain separate from it.

The castles ownership stayed with the Counts of Eu for five generations, except for brief interludes when it was under the control of the King. William Rufus seized it on one occasion, as did Henry II and his son, King John, who also ordered its destruction in 1216 for fear of it falling into the hands of the French.

Hastings Castle was never attacked by a military force, although it was the target of many uprisings by the local population. By 1330 it had fallen into a state of disrepair, and the Dean of the Church asked the king for money to repair some of the walls, reported to have fallen into the sea. It's ownership was then given to the church, as it's use as a military stronghold ceased to exist, although it did return to the Crown for a brief spell after the town of Hastings and the castle church were plundered by the French in 1339.

Over the years the castle was granted to various overlords until it was purchased by Lord Hastings in the 15th century. The Pelham family took it over in 1591, and it remained with the Pelham's until 1951, when it was bought by Hastings Corporation and opened as a public park.

Leeds Castle in Kent was once described by Lord Conway as "the loveliest castle in the world." Whilst that claim could be open to debate, it is certainly a lovely building and well worth a visit. Originally a Saxon royal manor built in AD. 857, the first castle built here after the Norman conquest was an earthwork enclosure with a wooden palisade. It was converted to stone around 1119 by Robert Crevecoeur, with two towers along the perimeter wall being added. This building work has now completely vanished and the only traces are some Norman arches in the vaulting, which were rediscovered in the early 1900's.

In 1139 the Empress Matilda invaded England to claim the throne from King Stephen. She was aided by Robert, Earl of Gloucester, who held Leeds Castle, but the county of Kent was mostly loyal to Stephen, and following a minor siege, Stephen took control of the castle. 

The Castle remained with the Crown through much of the next century, and in 1278 it came into the possession of Edward I. He rebuilt much of the castle and enlarged it considerably, adding an outer stone curtain wall around the edge of the larger island, with flanking towers and a water-gate at the south-east. The gatehouse was also strengthened, with its barbican and drawbridge, it's the most fortress-like feature of the castle, as much of the rest is more like a comfortable fortified residence.

Leeds soon became known as a 'Ladies Castle', its royal residents included Eleanor and Margaret, the wives of Edward I, Philippa of Hainault, wife of Edward III, Catherine de Valois, wife of Henry V, Catherine of Aragon, wife of Henry VIII, and Elizabeth I, who was imprisoned here for a while. The castle is best known today as a residence for Henry VIII, who spent vast sums of money on an extensive rebuilding programme. It was from Leeds that Henry set off for his momentous meeting at the Fields of the Cloth of Gold with Francis I of France in 1520 - an event recalled today in the magnificent paintings in the castle Banqueting Hall.

Leeds has been constantly inhabited and rebuilt since then. Most of the castle today is the result of nineteenth-century reconstruction with many additions.  In 1926 Leeds was bought by the Hon. Mrs. Wilson-Filmer, known as Lady Baillie. She immediately began a restoration programme that took her over 30 years to complete, leaving it as it stands today. 

Wymondham Abbey in Norfolk was founded in 1107 by William D'Albini, a close friend of Henry I, who married Henry's wife, Adeliza of Louvain, after Henry's death. D'Albini was a great builder and his other credits include Castle Rising Castle and the magnificent keep and curtain wall of Arundel Castle, both also featured on this site.

Soon after it was built, Wymondham was placed under the care of St. Alban's Abbey as a Priory, and only became an Abbey in its own right in 1448, less than a century before it was dissolved by King Henry VIII. At the Dissolution, the monastic buildings were demolished, together with the Quire of the church. Today only the Nave, Aisles, and the West and Central Towers remain, which means it is now only about half of its original size.


Although a great deal of the Abbey has disappeared, there is still much to see inside. The twelfth-century Nave is a scaled-down version of the Nave of Norwich cathedral, and like Norwich was built of stone imported from Normandy over 800 years ago. Impressive too is the fifteenth century Nave roof, which has over seventy carved angels set seventy feet above the floor. Wymondham today is a family church, and it's dedicated congregation do a marvelous job in maintaining its beauty.

Henry VI was only 19 when he laid the first stone of King's College Chapel Cambridge in 1441, although then it was called the 'College roial of Oure Lady and Seynt Nicholas'. Henry made detailed instructions for Eton and King's College, although at both sites his main concern was the chapel. He went to great lengths to ensure that King's would be without equal in size and beauty and no other college had a chapel built on such a scale. The foundation stone was laid on 25 July 1446, by the King; and was the first building of his plan for a great court at Cambridge. The Chapel was to form the north side of the court, although it was the only part of the plan completed.

In 1455, the Wars of the Roses started when Edward, Duke of York, challenged Henry's right to the throne. For the first 11 years of this great unrest, building continued under Henry's patronage, but in 1461, Henry was captured and taken prisoner. On hearing the news of the king's imprisonment, the workmen packed up tools and left the site, leaving an incomplete building, with some parts open to the elements.

Work began again through the patronage of Richard III, who gave instructions that; 'the building should go on with all possible dispatch' and to 'press workmen and all possible hands, provide materials and imprison anyone who opposed or delayed'. By the end of Richard's reign, the first six bays of the Chapel had reached their full height and the first five bays were roofed with oak and lead, although after his death at Bosworth, building work again virtually ceased.

 Work began again in 1508 on a much grander scale than before, and although Henry VII died in 1509, the terms of his will ensured that money was provided to 'perfourme and end al the warkes that is not yet doon in the said chirche', by 1512 the shell was finished and roofed. Henry VII's executors gave a further £5000 to pay for vaulting, and by 1515 the main structure was complete. This work, and most of the glazing of the windows, was done during the reign of his son, Henry VIII, who was responsible for the screen and the Chapel's woodwork. In 1547, when Henry VIII died, just over a hundred years after the laying of the foundation stone, King's College Chapel was complete and recognised as one of Europe's finest, late medieval buildings.

The rest of the Chapel's history is fairly uneventful, it escaped the ravages of the Civil War and plans were again drawn up in the 18th century for another Grand Court to surround the chapel. Again, only one building was completed, the Fellows' building, designed by James Gibbs, but in the next hundred years the court was finally finished by the building of the William Wilkin's Gothic pinnacled gatehouse and stone screen in 1824-28.


Spofforth Castle in North Yorkshire was given by William the Conqueror to William de Percy shortly after the conquest, although nothing remains of the original structure Percy built on this site. What you see of Spofforth today is not really a castle, but a fortified manor, and the earliest parts of the present building date from the thirteenth century, although the Percy family had continually built on this site. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the building was enlarged considerably, and gothic tracery can still be seen at the top of the windows in the great hall.

It soon becomes clear to the visitor that part of the building has been built into the rock face which backs onto the site, making it quite unique, with the undercroft being several feet below the surface of the ground outside. On what is now the ground floor, the evidence of the vaulted roof remains at the bottom of the surviving pillars, and the stone frames of some of the vast windows can still clearly be seen, which would have illuminated the Great Hall which stood above. The castle was last inhabited around 1604 and was reduced to ruins during the Civil War.

Today it stands tucked away in the corner of the village green, giving it a lovely peaceful setting. It is now under the management of English Heritage, has no custodian and is free to enter.

Last but not least, the castle at Warwick



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