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Hedingham Castle

A Grade I Listed Building in Castle Hedingham, Essex

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Latitude: 51.9925 / 51°59'32"N

Longitude: 0.6014 / 0°36'5"E

OS Eastings: 578704

OS Northings: 235866

OS Grid: TL787358

Mapcode National: GBR QHY.2VL

Mapcode Global: VHJHZ.C5SW

Plus Code: 9F32XJR2+XH

Entry Name: Hedingham Castle

Listing Date: 7 August 1952

Last Amended: 5 April 2016

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1122959

English Heritage Legacy ID: 114521

Location: Castle Hedingham, Braintree, Essex, CO9

County: Essex

District: Braintree

Civil Parish: Castle Hedingham

Traditional County: Essex

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Essex

Church of England Parish: Castle Hedingham St Nicholas

Church of England Diocese: Chelmsford

Tagged with: Castle Historic house museum

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Castle Hedingham


Castle Keep built in the mid-C12.


Castle Keep built in the mid-C12.

MATERIALS: flint rubble faced throughout with ashlared Barnack stone. Lead roof.

PLAN: the Keep stands on the castle mound or ringwork and has a square plan measuring approximately 17.5m by 16m.

EXTERIOR: the four-storey Keep has two remaining turrets at the north-west and south-east corners. The walls have a battered base below the chamfered plinth which continues around the wide, flat corner pilaster buttresses, with smaller flat central pilasters springing from the plinth. Putlog holes remain in all the walls. There are two large openings at basement level on the north-east side which have C20 double-leaf doors. The rectangular fore-building on the north-west side survives as flint rubble to basement height. The stone steps approaching the entrance door have recently been rebuilt with the addition of a modern banister. A modern platform has also been built over the dungeon in the forebuilding to provide access to the main first-floor entrance. The entrance doorway is a semi-circular arch of two orders, the plain inner order with portcullis groove, and the outer with chevron ornament. The jambs have attached shafts with moulded and carved bases and scalloped capitals with moulded abaci. Over the archway are keying channels for the former roofs of the forebuilding and staircase porch.

Each elevation has a similar window range. The basement has two narrow loops with chamfered jambs and very deep internal splays. The second storey is lit by two narrow windows with moulded semi-circular heads, shafted jambs with moulded bases, scalloped capitals and chamfered abaci, except for the west front which has only one window. The third storey has a similar lower range of windows and a wider upper range of two pairs of coupled windows with similar detail. The central piers have been rebuilt in brick except for those on the south-east side, one of which has been rebuilt in stone whilst the other retains its original shafted form. The top storey has two elaborate windows with shafted jambs, moulded bases, scalloped capitals, moulded abaci and semi-circular arches of two orders, the outer with carved chevrons, the inner curved and plain. The angle pilaster buttresses have loops on the lower three storeys and a small semi-circular headed window on the fourth storey. The south and east walls of the north-west turret have plain windows with semi-circular heads, whilst the north wall has a later rough opening. The north wall of the south-east turret has a similar original window, whilst there are later windows to the other walls of C19 or C20 brick. On the west front the basement windows are blocked by the forebuilding.

INTERIOR: in the north-east corner a garderobe runs the full height of the Keep, and the spiral staircase occupies the north-west corner. This has a central stone newel 0.53m in diameter and steps that are 1.57m wide, originally stone but now brick. The basement, which was probably used just for storage, is plain and the stair turret entrance has been renewed with brick. All the floors date to the first half of the C20. The pinkish tinge to the internal stone on the upper floors is due to calcination after the fire.

The first floor or Lower Hall has a plain segmental arch spanning east to west, the central portion rebuilt, with moulded abaci to the plain pilaster jambs. The semi-circular arched entrance doorway has shafted jambs with moulded and carved bases, and scalloped capitals with moulded abaci. There is a long hole for a draw bar in the south jamb. All the window recesses have moulded semi-circular arches and shafted jambs with scalloped capitals and moulded bases. In the north-east corner within the thickness of the wall there is an entrance passage with groined vaulting to the garderobe. The fireplace in the centre of the south wall consists of a segmental recess which has shafted jambs with moulded bases, scalloped capitals and moulded abaci ornamented with billet pattern. The semi-circular arch is moulded and enriched with chevron ornament. There are small barrel-vaulted chambers within the walls which are entered through doorways in the window recesses. The doorways have plain or rebated jambs and semi-circular arches.

The second floor or Upper Hall is two storeys high but was originally open to the roof. From east to west it is spanned by what is probably the largest Norman arch in Europe. The semi-circular, richly moulded arch springs from shafted pilasters which have moulded and beaded bases, and scalloped capitals with moulded abaci. All the semi-circular arched window recesses are enriched with zig-zag moulding and have angle shafts with moulded bases and scalloped capitals, some enriched with bead ornament. The abaci of the capitals continue as a string course along the south wall and over the arch of the fireplace. In the centre of the south wall is another original fireplace similar to that on the first floor but with slightly different capital detail. The entrance archway from the stair turret has continuous roll moulding. In the north-east, south-east and south-west angles of the room are shafts with moulded bases and scalloped capitals, which originally supported ceiling wall plates. Some corbels also remain. There is a small recess next to the garderobe in the north-east corner with a groined vault to the entrance passage. There are similar chambers in the thickness of the wall as those to the first floor.

At about half way up, the Upper Hall is surrounded by a gallery formed as a continuous passage in the thickness of the walls. The south gallery entrance has double shafted jambs continued in a semi-circular arch, the shafts of the jambs enriched with spiral bands of bead ornament. The north gallery entrance has shafted jambs with moulded bases, scalloped capitals and moulded abaci. On each side, opening into the Hall are two arches, similar in detail to the north entrance. The passages have barrel-vaults intersecting at the angles.

On the top floor the semi-circular window recesses are plain. They retain holes for the original shutter hinges and the shutter slots in the soffits. There is a recess in the centre of each wall with a plain semi-circular head and a smaller recess at the north end of the east wall. The north-east, south-east and south-west angles have small chambers in the wall thickness which are entered from the window recesses as on the other floors.


Hedingham Castle is a large earthen ringwork castle with two baileys built probably in the late C11 by Aubrey De Vere on land granted to him after the Conquest. Aubrey was one of William the Conqueror’s most important knights as well as being the husband of his half-sister Beatrice. It is not known precisely when the Great Keep was built but on stylistic grounds it is likely to have been constructed between c.1125 and c.1160. Aubrey De Vere III was created Earl of Oxford by Queen Matilda in 1142, and it is thought that the Keep may have been built to celebrate his elevation and to provide a suitably impressive setting for ceremonial occasions. A recent study has demonstrated that it was not built to provide accommodation for the lord as in the original arrangement there were no sleeping chambers, kitchen, service rooms or oratory. The second and third floors instead provided two large and impressive reception rooms. The same study has also argued convincingly that the original Keep was three storied with a pyramidal roof, and later alterations involved the creation of a fourth storey out of the battlements and the addition of a forebuilding (Dixon and Marshall, 1993). The Keep was probably built within the ringwork of the existing earthwork castle; and other buildings would also have existed but no sign of these remain today. In the early C13 continuous disagreements between King John and his barons led to civil war; and in 1215 the barons, among whom was Robert, the 3rd Earl, took up arms against the king and invited the French dauphin to assume the throne of England. King John laid siege to Hedingham Castle and took it, although it was recaptured shortly afterwards by French soldiers. This is the only recorded military action at the castle.

Little is known of the castle in the following 200 or so years until the accession in 1461 of John, the 13th Earl. As a Lancastrian he fought at the Battle of Bosworth, and his lands (which had been confiscated by Edward IV) were returned to him by Henry VII, along with the hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain and many new titles and honours. The 13th Earl was responsible for a great rebuilding programme at Hedingham Castle in or around 1496 which included the Great Brick Tower and the bridge. The latter still stands today. The results of the rebuilding programme can be seen on a survey by Israel Armyse, dated 1592, and on an unattributed survey of the early C17. These show that within the old ringwork stood the Keep, a stone gatehouse, the Great Brick Tower, a brick turret, chapel, hall and pantries, kitchens, stone lodgings and a well. Armyse’s survey also records a curtain wall around two sides of the mound. The stone buildings were presumably survivors from an earlier period of the castle, possibly contemporary with the Keep. In the inner bailey were various ancillary buildings including a granary, stables, barnyard and brewhouse. In the ditch between the ringwork and inner bailey were a tennis court and archery butts, to the north and south of the bridge respectively, although the bridge itself is not shown on either survey.

The condition of the castle between the later C16 and early C18 is far from clear but the sources indicate several instances of destruction and, by inference, rebuilding. It appears that after the visit by Elizabeth I in 1561 the 17th Earl had ‘committed great waste upon the castle hill, and, by warrant from him, most of the buildings, except the Keep, were razed to the ground’. In the Dutch War of 1666 the castle must have been in reasonable condition to warrant the destruction carried out in order to prevent Dutch prisoners being kept there. Aubrey, the 20th Earl, was the last to hold the title and upon his death in 1703 the Earldom became extinct. In 1713 the estate of Hedingham Castle was sold to Sir William Ashurst who proceeded to build himself a large house in the inner bailey. In order to do so he demolished the existing buildings of the inner bailey and levelled the area around the Keep, re-using some of the materials. The house, which is listed at Grade II*, was completed in 1719, the year of Sir William’s death, and his son Robert probably completed the laying out of the gardens. The landscaping associated with the construction of the house and its gardens destroyed much of the southern portion of the inner bailey rampart. An unattributed view of 1719 depicts the new house with a great avenue flanking the drive. It also shows the Tudor bridge and what appears to be a curtain wall around the crest of the castle mound. There are two large holes in the eastern side of the Keep which were created in order to house carriages in the basement of an otherwise unused tower. A survey carried out by Bailey in 1785 shows the layout of the C18 gardens in great detail.

Between 1766 and 1785 the estate passed by marriage to the Majendie family who during the 1890s tried to sell it on at least three occasions but it never reached its reserve at auction and was withdrawn. The castle was used during World War I as a training camp and the Keep acted as a lookout post. On 23 January 1918 a small hut on top of the Keep caught fire and all the internal wooden floors were destroyed. These had been restored by 1926. The estate is now in private ownership but the castle is open to the public (2015).

Reasons for Listing


Hedingham Castle Keep, built in the C12, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Architectural interest: the massive and sophisticated Keep confirmed Hedingham as one of the mightiest and most famous castles in East Anglia and it now ranks among the most important Norman buildings in England;

* Proportion of original fabric: it is one of the best preserved and least altered Norman tower-keeps in England. A significant proportion of its original fabric survives which shows its earliest configuration, including the two large and impressive reception chambers, the garderobe, spiral staircase, gallery and small chambers within the wall thickness;

* Interior and craftsmanship: in addition to the exceptional survival of the plan form, the Keep retains what is probably the largest Norman arch in England, two fireplaces and numerous doorways, all richly moulded with characteristic Norman ornamentation including chevron and scalloped capitals;

* Historic interest: it has a strong association with the de Veres, Earls of Oxford – one of the most powerful families in Norman England – and specifically with its founder Aubrey De Vere, one of William the Conqueror’s most important knights and the husband of his half-sister Beatrice;

* Group value: it has strong group value with the scheduled elements of the castle, and with the four listed buildings on the site, namely the C15 bridge and the C18 Hedingham Castle House, stable block and dovecote. Altogether these form an ensemble of structures dating from each key phase in the nine hundred year evolution of the site, thereby encapsulating important aspects of the historical and architectural development of England.

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