Castle of the Week 54 – Goodrich Castle

Goodrich castle in Herefordshire is sited on a high rocky spur over the right bank of the River Wye, commanding a crossing of the river. The area was known as the Welsh Marches, an area on the border of Wales. It is protected partly by a natural steep slope and valley, and partly by a dry moat cut out of the rock.

Goodrich was originally an early motte and bailey construction but, as was the case with most of this type of castle, it was relatively small and was used primarily as a military fortification. The development of Goodrich from a fortified site into a home and administrative centre can be approximately dated between 1160 and 1270 and reflects the phases of castle building and improvement that can be seen here.

Godric Castle, named after a local landowner, Godric Mappeston, is first mentioned in a document dated 1101-02. The first stone building was the keep, built between 1160 and 1170. Relatively small in size, having three floors of a basic design, it is thought that the chapel and main hall being sited away from the keep is an indication that the owners at the time were relatively poor nobility. William Fitz Baderon, lord of Monmouth, could not afford to build such facilities into his castle in the initial outlay cost.

The keep stood on its own for some time. In the late 13th century, when the castle was held by William de Valence, half cousin of Henry III, and his son Aymer, it was substantially renovated in a style more common with the Edwardian castles of Wales. It was converted into a substantial quadrangle with massive cylindrical towers on three corners and a vast gatehouse-tower on the fourth corner. The red sandstone was taken from the dry moat and contrasts with the imported grey ashlar used to build the keep. The cylindrical towers were raised on square bases with spurs that clamped the towers to the rock. This design was to limit the possibility of taking the towers down by mining. Within the quadrangle the Great Hall was built and the chapel was incorporated into the gatehouse.

Extending from the gatehouse is a sloping causeway and bridge which crosses over the moat into the barbican, similar in design to that found at the Tower of London. The barbican arrangement was a formidable defence, combined with the massive main gatehouse and forced the attacker to cross two bridges before assailing the main gate. The barbican and main gatehouse were certainly the main defence of the castle and reflected an arrangement thought to be highly effective in terms of withstanding any attempted siege.

Aymer de Valance died in 1324 and the castle passed into the hands of the Talbot family who were to become the Shrewsbury earls.

The castle passed through different families and was largely disused by the time of the English Civil War. It was briefly used as a garrison by the Parliamentary forces in 1643 and later by Royalist forces in 1645. Attacked by the roundheads in 1645, the castle was mined on the river side by June of that year. The garrison inside Goodrich surrendered, even though they still had sufficient supplies, but the King had given up by this point and explosions from the mines were imminent. In common with other castles, it was partly demolished to prevent it being used defensively again and gradually the splendour of Goodrich fell into disrepair.

Write-up and download courtesy of Sulis. Pictures courtesy of Castles of Wales and Jeffrey Thomas.


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