This spectacular 14th century moated castle in East Sussex looks every bit the medieval fortress it was built to be. Yet at the same time, Bodiam was built as a residence with the comfort of its residents in mind.

The building of the castle took place in the latter part of the 14th century when in 1385 Sir Edward Dalyngrigge – an influential knight of Sussex – decided to put to use some of the booty he had amassed fighting in France and build the castle on an elevated position overlooking the River Rother – ostensibly to help repel any French who dared to invade (a very real threat – it was only eight years before that Rye had been burned to the ground, see our earlier entry here) – but no doubt also to enhance his own status.

Having obtained royal permission to “crenellate”, Sir Edward, who had obtained the Manor of Bodiam through his wife, set about the construction of the castle which featured rather simple defences including a moat and single perimeter wall studded with four corner round towers and a massive gatehouse (which still contains an original wooden portcullis).

The castle remained in the family until the Wars of the Roses when Sir Thomas Lewknor surrendered the castle to Yorkist forces having himself being attainted for treason by King Richard III for his support of the Lancastrian cause.

But the castle returned to the family after the accession of King Henry VII, eventually passing into the hands of the Earls of Thanet before, in 1644, it was sold to one Nathaniel Powell, a supporter of the Parliamentarian forces in the Civil War, so the then owner – Sir John Tufton, the second earl and a Royalist – could pay fines levied upon him by Parliament.

It is believed that it was after this that the castle was substantially dismantled and by the mid-eighteenth century it was depicted as an ivy-clad ruin.

It then passed through numerous private hands before undergoing some restoration in the 19th and early 20th centuries and was eventually purchased by Lord Curzon, former Viceroy of India, in 1916. He oversaw extensive restoration work before, on his death in 1925, the property passed into the care of the National Trust. They have since continued the work.

The castle these days is a shell of its former self, but with the outer walls and towers largely intact, is one of the most picturesque in the south of England. And there’s enough of the interior layout remaining to give a good sense of how it once operated as a house and fortress.

 

There’s also a tea-room and gift shop on site and the Trust regularly hold events there including this and next weekend’s hawking events and the upcoming ‘medieval Christmas’.

Bodiam Castle can be a little hard to reach without a car although you can a train to a nearby station and catch a taxi from there. You can also take a steam train from Tenterden to Bodiam but this only runs on limited days (see the Kent and East Sussex Railway website – www.kesr.org.uk – for more).

WHERE: Bodiam Castle, Bodiam, near Robertsbridge, East Sussex; WHEN: 11am to 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday (times can change, so check before heading out); COST: £7 an adult/£3.50 a child/£18.60 a family (includes gift aid donation); WEBSITE: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/bodiam-castle/.
PICTURE: Matthew Antrobus/National Trust

Daytripper – Rye

August 31, 2012

This beautifully preserved medieval town on the East Sussex coast is really worth more than a daytrip – it’s a terrific place to spend a weekend! 

The history of this fortified township – which was once on the coast but now sits some two miles back from open water thanks to the silting up of the harbour – stretches back to at least Saxon times.

But it was in the Middle Ages that, thanks to its position relative to France, it flourished as a port and was eventually given the distinction of being a member of the Cinque Ports Federation (the federation originally included the ports of Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich and was later expanded to include Rye and Winchelsea).

However, the proximity to France also meant the town had an interesting relationship with the French who conducted repeated raids including in 1339 when 52 houses and a mill were burned, and in 1377 when the town was almost completely burnt to the ground and the invaders made off with the bells of St Mary’s Church (dating from 1150, the church is certainly well worth a visit, particularly for the stunning views from the bell tower roof).

Key surviving fortifications including the 14th century The Ypres Tower (originally called Baddings Tower, this 40 foot high structure – pictured right – with three round towers is now home to half the Rye Castle Museum – the other half being in East Street) and Landgate (this was built as part of a series of walls and gates constructed after the devastating 1377 raid) were built to counter this threat and when the French raided again in 1449, they were successfully resisted.

Rye’s location – it now sits at the confluence of the Rother, Tillingham and Brede Rivers – also meant that since its earliest days, it was popular with smugglers despite government efforts to stop them (they did eventually succeed in the early 19th century thanks to customs law reforms and the establishment of a national coastguard service). Among the most famous to frequent the town was the Hawkhurst Gang, who used the Mermaid Inn in the beautiful cobbled Mermaid Street (pictured, below) as one of their bases in the area in the early 18th century (the gang was eventually captured and executed in 1749). The inn apparently may date back as far as the 12th century and has a fascinating history.

Aside from the many Tudor and Georgian homes, notable buildings include the Old Grammar School in High Street (founded in 1636), the Town Hall in Lion Street (1742) and the red brick fronted Lamb House in West Street – once home to authors Henry James and EF Benson and now owned by the National Trust. There’s also a model of the town (complete with sound and light show which gives a great overview of the town’s history) at the Rye Heritage Centre located in an old sail loft on Rye Strand Quay – a good place to visit for information and details of walks and tour options.

Not far from Rye can be seen Camber Castle, a round artillery fort (essentially a glorified gun platform) built by King Henry VIII. It’s now managed by English Heritage and can be visited on tours.

Rye is located about an hour’s journey by car from the M25 and can be reached by train from Charing Cross, London Bridge or Waterloo East or from St Pancras (via Ashford International).

Daytripper – Battle Abbey

October 12, 2010

In the first of an occasional series featuring daytrip destinations from London, we’re taking a look at Battle Abbey in East Sussex, site of the country-defining Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Last weekend, the clash of weapons could once more be heard on the field below the abbey ruins as about 350 re-enactors gathered as they do every year close to the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings on 14th October and fought it out all over again (pictured above). Yes, King Harold and the English army were defeated (again!), but there’s always hope for next year!

And while you’ll now have to wait a year to see the re-enactment played out once more, given its location only an hour-and-a-half from London by train, the abbey ruins and battlefield site are a great site for a daytrip.

The abbey itself was built soon after the Battle of Hastings on what was then known as Senlac Hill and although it has been suggested Duke William of Normandy (aka William the Conqueror or William the Bastard) made a vow before the battle to build the abbey should God grant him victory, it is believed he ordered the abbey’s construction as both a memorial to the dead and a public act of penance.

The building work began within a few years of the fight with the high altar to be placed on the site where King Harold had fallen. The church was used from about 1076 onwards but was officially consecrated in 1094 in the presence of King William himself.

Quickly becoming one of the country’s wealthiest religious houses (thanks largely to gifts from the king), it housed monks of the Benedictine order until, in the mid-1500s, the monks left as part of Henry VIII’s suppression of religious houses and the property was granted to the king’s friend Sir Anthony Browne.

His descendant, the sixth Viscount Montague, later sold it to the Webster family in 1721 and it remained a family home and later also housed a school (the Battle Abbey School which still occupies part of the site).  In 1976, it was bought by the government with the aid of funds from Americans.

Not too much now remains of the original abbey – some ground floor chambers once used by novices still stand in what was the dormitory range (and feature incredible vaulted ceilings), the west range around the cloister still stands (now in use as part of Battle Abbey School) and the foundations of the chapter house are still there.

The church itself is no longer existant but the site of the high altar, where King Harold died, is now marked with a memorial stone which, when we visited was laden with memorial wreathes.

Of particular significance is the Great Gatehouse – the current structure dates from 1338 and is said to be one of the finest monastic gateways still surviving in Britain. It now contains an exhibition on the abbey’s history. There’s also a cafe on the site.

Below the abbey lies the rest of the battlefield site and while remains from the battle have never been found, English Heritage provide audio guides on which events from the day are reconstructed as you follow a path around the field.

The surrounding market town of Battle – dominated by the abbey gatehouse – is also well worth a look – it’s attractions include Yesterday’s World, a museum in a 15th century Wealden Hall House which contains memorabilia about life in the Victoria era through to the 1970s. The town also lies on the 1066 Country Walk, which runs from Pevensey to Rye and retraces the steps of King William’s army after they landed in England.

WHERE: High Street, Battle, East Sussex (trains run from Charing Cross to Battle station); WHEN: 10am to 4pm to March 31st (open to 6pm from April to September) ; COST: Free for English Heritage members or £7 adults/£6 concessions/£3.50 children/£17.50 a family ; WEBSITE: www.english-heritage.org.uk/1066