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Bungay Castle

A Grade I Listed Building in Bungay, Suffolk

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Latitude: 52.456 / 52°27'21"N

Longitude: 1.4359 / 1°26'9"E

OS Eastings: 633539

OS Northings: 289775

OS Grid: TM335897

Mapcode National: GBR WL2.3T8

Mapcode Global: VHM6G.TJZM

Plus Code: 9F43FC4P+99

Entry Name: Bungay Castle

Listing Date: 9 May 1949

Last Amended: 18 September 2018

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1034404

English Heritage Legacy ID: 409866

Location: Bungay, East Suffolk, Suffolk, NR35

County: Suffolk

Civil Parish: Bungay

Built-Up Area: Bungay

Traditional County: Suffolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Suffolk

Church of England Parish: Bungay Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: St.Edmundsbury and Ipswich

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The remains of an early medieval castle including its keep, gatehouse, curtain wall and the substantial remnants of the castle's inner bailey wall. The upstanding historic fabric forms the centrepiece of a more extensive historic landscape encompassing the castle site's defensive earthworks and the area enclosed by these defences, sections of which are designated as scheduled monuments.


The surviving fabric of a medieval castle, the site thought to have first been fortified around 1070, and consolidated with the construction of a stone keep around 1175. The site was further developed with the addition of curtain walls, a walled inner bailey and a series of defensive ditches. Bungay Castle now survives as an extensive ruin, comprising the substantial remains of the C12 keep built by Hugh Bigod and the C13 curtain wall added by Roger Bigod, together with the fragmentary remains of the wall which originally enclosed the inner bailey to the west of the keep and curtain wall.

The castle, curtain walls and inner bailey walls now mainly consist of flint rubble core material, bound in lime mortar, with almost all former dressed stone or flint facing material now lost, apart from the retained ashlar work to the base of the gatehouse towers. There have been extensive repairs to the inner bailey wall immediately to the west of the castle remains, some of considerable age, using facing brickwork in some instances. In the northern section of the inner bailey wall enclosure, some areas of walling have collapsed and become detached from the main masonry body, and have settled below the line of the outer face of the wall in the area of the former ditch, now occupied by buildings forming the southern side of Earsham Street.

The core element of the castle site is the square base of the keep. Attached to the south wall are the remains of the forebuilding. Surrounding the keep are the curtain walls, which are roughly octagonal on plan, and which incorporate the twin semi-circular towers of a gatehouse to the west of the keep. The inner bailey extended from the castle’s curtain wall and enclosed a roughly rectangular area to the west of the castle. Beyond the perimeter of this inner bailey area, and loosely conforming to its shape, was a wide ditch which is believed to have completely encircled the castle site. The inner bailey wall extended from the castle curtain wall approximately adjacent to the north-west angle of the castle keep, continuing westwards then abruptly turning southwards, then eastwards, then finally turning north-eastwards to reconnect with the curtain wall a short distance from the southern tower of the castle gatehouse. The final short length of inner bailey wall once incorporated a gateway to the south south–west of the keep and curtain wall, thought to be the second of a series of four entrances to the castle site, this one at the crossing of the inner ditch leading into the inner bailey

Bungay Castle now survives as an extensive ruin, comprising the substantial remains of the C12 keep built by Hugh Bigod and the C13 curtain wall added by Roger Bigod, together with the fragmentary remains of the wall which originally enclosed the inner bailey to the west of the keep and curtain wall. The remains of the keep are square on plan, with the surviving fabric of the castle forebuilding extending from the western section of its south elevation. The keep is thought to have been around 22 metres square, whilst the attached forebuilding was around 12 metres in length and extended around 6 metres from the face of the keep. At the base of the south-west corner of the keep is an opening formed as the entry to a tunnel intended to undermine this corner of the keep. It was excavated around 1174 when the castle was besieged by Henry II as a consequence of Hugh Bigod’s rebellion. In the north wall of the keep is a red-brick arched doorway which gives access to what was the basement floor of the keep, where the massively thick base sections of the keep walls are exposed to view.

Surrounding the keep are the substantial remains of the castle curtain wall. These survive at varying heights, and form a roughly octagonal enclosure, with a gatehouse on the western side and with the remains of the inner bailey walls extending from the north-west and south-west angles. The walls, like the keep, are now bereft of their facing materials, with the exception of the base sections of the twin gatehouse towers, which retain ashlar limestone masonry set below a moulded string course. The towers are semi-circular on plan and approximately 6.5 metres in diameter, each rising from a square base and open to the rear. Excavations carried out in 1934-1935 revealed the remains of a drawbridge pit, now retained in its excavated form, located between the gatehouse towers, to the rear of the ditch in front of the gatehouse. This is thought to have been spanned by a counter-poised bridge which could be raised to prevent access to the keep.

To the west of the remains of the keep and its curtain walls are the surviving sections of the inner bailey wall, the second of four defensive lines surrounding the castle keep, the other three being the curtain wall, the ditch beyond the inner bailey and the ditch around the outer bailey. The most substantial surviving sections of the inner bailey wall are located in the southern and western edges of the site. Smaller sections of the wall survive on the northern side of the enclosure, some forming parts of standing buildings. As with the castle remains, what survives of the wall is the core material of mortar-bound flint rubble together with some areas of brick-faced repair. The wall survives as a series of substantial lengths of varying height, interrupted by breaches where there appear to be no surface remains.

The wall extends westwards from its junction with the castle curtain wall at grid reference TM 33541 89794, and defines parts of, or the whole of, the ends of gardens to houses fronting Earsham Street, beginning at Castle House, (No 15, listed Grade II. List entry 1276102), then continuing in the gardens of Nos 17,19 and 21. At grid reference TM 33529 89796 it becomes a rear retaining wall to Keepers Cottage beyond which, between grid references TM 33521 89797 and TM 33499 89796 there is no visible original surface fabric. This section forms the retaining garden wall to No 31 Earsham Street (Listed Grade II, List entry 1234448), and original fabric is concealed by later facing materials. Further west, a small detached section of the wall lies on sloping ground to the east of No 35a Earsham Street, which itself incorporates a further wall section as an internal partition extending the full length of the building.  Between grid references TM 33482 33465 and TM 33465 89790 there is again no visible surface fabric, but earthworks show the continuation of the line and the wall then reappears as a low retaining wall on land to the rear of No 43 Earsham Street, No 49 Earsham Street (listed Grade II, List entry 1276102) and Nos 51 and 55 Earsham Street (listed Grade II List entry 1234506). At map reference TM 33454 89785, the wall forms part of an outbuilding to the rear of No 55 Earsham Street, and at grid reference TM 33447 89781 returns southwards, forming a retaining boundary wall between the former Iron Works, now known as Cameron House, to the west and No 47 Earsham Street to the east. The wall continues southwards, forming a retaining wall at the western boundary to the garden of No 47 Earsham Street and the rear wall of the outbuilding to the east of No 4 Castle Lane. In this section, parts of the wall survive to a height in excess of 3 metres. Between grid references TM 33453 89753 and TM 33486 89713 there is no visible surface fabric, as the line of the wall survives to the east of Castle Lane as a steep earthwork up to 5 metres in height, within the current scheduled area. The wall re-appears at grid reference TM 33486 89713 as a wide raised bank in which the wall's rubble core survives as a standing structure up to approximately 1.5m high and approximately 45 metres in length. The wall then extends eastwards towards the castle curtain wall, finally ending at grid reference TM 33538 89734.


Prior to the Norman Conquest, the land of which Bungay Castle stands formed part of estates held by Stigand, Anglo-Saxon archbishop of Canterbury. Post-Conquest, it was first held by William of Noyers, then, in 1103, the site was bestowed by Henry l on Roger Bigod, beginning a tumultuous phase of ownership by the Bigod family. The first development of the castle site is thought to have been initiated by William de Noyers, with the construction of a motte and bailey with a timber hall and defensive palisade set within surrounding ditches, and it was not until 1140 that more permanent structures in the form of stone fortifications appear on the site, begun by Hugh Bigod, the youngest son of Roger Bigods’s heir, William.

Hugh Bigod had rebelled against King Stephen in 1136, but following negotiations, he was granted the title of Earl of Norfolk and was permitted to retain Bungay Castle and the much larger Framlingham Castle. Hugh rebelled against Stephen once more in support of Henry I’s daughter Matilda, and following the accession of Henry II, was deprived of both Bungay and Framlingham castles. These were not restored to him until 1163, despite his having been allowed to retain the title of Earl of Norfolk, but the restoration triggered a major phase of development at Bungay with the construction of a massive stone keep on the castle mound established by William de Noyers. This is thought to have begun around 1165 and took a decade to complete. In 1173, Bigod once more rebelled against the monarch in support of Henry II’s son, the Earl of Leicester. Despite Leicester’s defeat at the battle of Fordham St Genevieve, Bigod continued his campaign against the king, who subsequently laid siege to Bungay Castle. Bigod capitulated before serious damage to the castle, and Bungay survived the king’s requirement that both Bungay and Framlingham castles be destroyed, Bigod being required to pay a huge fine of a thousand marks in order to retain Bungay.

Both Bungay and Framlingham castles were restored to Hugh Bigod’s son Roger following the payment of a further fine of a thousand marks, but there was no further development at Bungay until 1294 when a descendant of Hugh’s son Roger, also Roger, as the 5th Earl of Norfolk, was granted a licence to crenellate the castle, after more than a century of neglect following Hugh Bigod’s capitulation in 1174. It is thought that the gatehouse, the curtain wall surrounding the keep and the inner bailey wall date to this period, together with a reduction in the height of the keep, and the renewal of its external masonry.

Upon Roger’s death in 1297, as there was no direct heir to the Bigod estate, they reverted to Crown ownership, and thereafter to a succession of owners until being described in 1382 as ‘old and ruinous and worth nothing a year’. In 1483 it was acquired by the Duke of Norfolk, and for most of the next five centuries remained part of the Norfolk estate. Little or no maintenance or repair took place for over two centuries, the decline of the site being recorded in a series of illustrations of the site in 1746 (Joshua Kirby), 1748 (Joshua Kirby), 1800 (unknown) and 1827 (Henry Davy). A number of these illustrations show the castle gatehouse with a dwelling located between the gatehouse towers, the 1748 engraved print also depicting other small dwellings built against the curtain wall to the south-east of the towers. Further damage occurred after 1766 when the site was sold to Robert Mickleborough who quarried the keep and curtain walling for road building materials. A more benign ownership followed in 1792 when Daniel Bonhote purchased the site, which was subsequently popularised by the two-volume novel ‘Bungay Castle’ published by his wife, the novelist Elizabeth Bonhote. The site was sold back to the Duke of Norfolk around 1800, and little further repair to, or interest in, the site took place until the C20, apart from the removal, in 1841, of the dwellings built on the site.

In 1934, the Bungay Town Trust leased the site from the Norfolk Estates, when archaeological excavation and repair works were carried out, supervised by the architect and archaeologist Hugh Braun, until 1935. Responsibility for the castle remains later passed from the Bungay Town Trust to the Bungay Castle Trust, and the site was gifted to the town by the Duke of Norfolk in 1987. In 1999, the Trust acquired land to the west of the castle remains which previously had formed the castle’s inner bailey.

Bungay Castle was first scheduled in 1915 and was subsequently listed at Grade I in May 1949. Such was its importance that it was one of the first sites to have been protected under the provisions of the 1913 Ancient Monuments Consolidation and Amendment Act, the pioneering legislation which laid the foundations for the legal structure by means of which all aspects of Britain's rich and varied historic environment are protected and managed. The area of protection was extended in 1982 to include the earthwork remains of the western inner bailey wall and Castle Hills, to the south of the standing remains of the Castle, were scheduled in their own right in 1925.

Reasons for Listing

The substantial remains of Bungay Castle in Suffolk, an early medieval fortress dating from the early decades following the Norman Conquest, and further developed and enlarged over the next two centuries, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

Historic interest:

* as the substantial and clearly legible remains of an early medieval castle which underwent continuous development over two centuries, all phases of which are represented in the surviving historic fabric;

* on account of the close and continuous association of the site with the Bigod family, members of which held both Bungay and Framlingham castles in Suffolk, and who were granted the title of Earl of Norfolk. The association survived into the modern era, with the gifting of the castle site to the townspeople of Bungay in 1987.

Architectural interest:

* as an example of early medieval military architecture, retaining evidence of key elements of development, from the motte and bailey form of the early castle to the advanced and permanent arrangement of a stone keep set within curtain walls with mural towers and a gatehouse, and an inner bailey enclosed within a continuous masonry wall.

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