Castle of the Week 35 – Bodiam Castle

Bodiam Castle stands on the borders of Kent and Sussex in south-east England. It was originally built as an extremely fortified manor house and is a symmetrical square stone castle surrounded by an artificial lake fed by underground springs.

There was a Saxon hall on the site, but the castle of today was built by Sir Edward Dalyngrygge. He was a veteran of Edward III’s wars with France and one of the most powerful men in Sussex who, in 1385, was given permission to fortify his house against a possible French invasion. He chose to build the castle rather than make alterations to his house.

There is a four-storey round tower on each corner and a rectangular tower midway along each wall. The southern tower, used as a postern gate, originally had a drawbridge. Opposite to that, the tower in the northern wall is the Gatehouse with twin rectangular towers. This is still the access into the castle today through the Octagon & Barbican before reaching the Gatehouse. The Gatehouse had 3 portcullises and double doors and in the gap between the doors were machicolations. The Barbican was originally a two-storey gatehouse, but only a small part remains. There was no keep so the gatehouse was used for defence of the bailey and all the castle’s rooms were built into the walls. Originally the approach to the castle was by a maze of bridges and paths which came out at an angle to the gatehouse leaving attackers exposed. Despite all the defences, however, the only two times that it was attacked, it surrendered rapidly as the walls were too thin to withstand an artillery bombardment.

It was built at a time when the aristocracy were looking for a castle that could be comfortable and homely as well as a protection for them and also as a sign of their wealth and standing. There would have been at least 100 people living there, as there were three storeys of rooms in the walls and a fourth storey in the towers.

It remained in the family until 1483 when it went to the Lewknors by marriage. They were Lancastrians and the castle was briefly besieged. The family gave up without a struggle so no damage was done ready for their return at the end of the Wars of the Roses.

By the time of the Civil War, the castle was owned by the Earl of Thanet, a staunch Royalist. However in 1644 (in the middle of the war) he sold it to Sir Nathaniel Powel, a Parliamentarian. The interior was gutted after the War and, after surrendering, the castle was left to deteriorate for nearly 300 years except for a brief period in the 18th century when a small cottage was built inside. Stone was pilfered and it turned into an ivy covered ruin.

In 1815, a local squire and MP, John Fuller, bought the castle for £3,000 to save it from being dismantled. In 1864 his grandson sold it for £5,000 to Lord Ashcombe who made many vital repairs.

Lord Curzon fell in love with the castle in 1905 and was eventually able to buy it in 1916. He undertook a grand programme of research and restoration and restored the outer walls back to their medieval appearance. Inside, however, there are only remnants of fireplaces and doorways. The grounds have been landscaped as they think it would have been when first built. On his death in 1925 he left the castle to The National Trust who now own the castle and open it to the public.

Write-up provided by GillB. Pictures courtesy of Jayhawk and Castles of the World


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