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Caister Castle

A Grade I Listed Building in West Caister, Norfolk

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Latitude: 52.6502 / 52°39'0"N

Longitude: 1.7011 / 1°42'3"E

OS Eastings: 650440

OS Northings: 312256

OS Grid: TG504122

Mapcode National: GBR YQ1.YNZ

Mapcode Global: WHNVS.3N95

Plus Code: 9F43MP22+3C

Entry Name: Caister Castle

Listing Date: 25 September 1962

Last Amended: 13 May 2014

Grade: I

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1287573

English Heritage Legacy ID: 402085

Location: West Caister, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, NR30

County: Norfolk

Civil Parish: West Caister

Traditional County: Norfolk

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Norfolk

Church of England Parish: Caister-on-Sea Holy Trinity

Church of England Diocese: Norwich

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Castle, now ruinous, built between 1433 and 1446 for Sir John Fastolf.


Castle, now ruinous, built between 1433 and 1446 for Sir John Fastolf.

MATERIALS: the castle is constructed in brick of various hues, from pink and pale yellow to deep purple, measuring in general about 21.5cm by 11cm by 5cm. It is laid in an indeterminate bond. The late C14/ early C15 brickwork in the service court is relatively poor quality compared to the technical sophistication of that in the principal court, particularly in the great tower. The dressings at the quoins and apertures are stone.

PLAN: the castle consists of a principal court to the south-west and a service court to the north-east, surrounded by a roughly rectangular water-filled moat. Modern footbridges with concrete decks provide access over the north-west arm to the service court, and over the south-west arm through the gatehouse to the principal court. The moat spurs that originally divided the two courts were filled in during the C19.

EXTERIOR: the castle ruins comprise parts of the south-west and north-west walls and tower of the principal court, and the north-east and south-east walls of the service court. The north-east and south-east walls of the service court have two-storey round towers at the corners and brick buttresses to the exterior. At intervals there are splayed arrow slits with timber lintels. In the principal court, the circular west tower rises at the junction of the north-west and south-west ranges. It is of six storeys and approximately 29m high with a polygonal stair-turret rising above the parapet on the south side. The lower four storeys of the stair turret form small rooms lit by rectangular windows. The ground floor has a two-light Perpendicular dais window (mostly bricked up) with the remains of a tierceron vault. To the right of this is the moulded, four-centred arch entrance doorway to the main tower. This is lit at intervals by rectangular windows and has machicolations to the parapet, every fourth extending down to stepped corbelling. These are chimney shafts serving the fireplaces in the tower rooms.

To the north-east of the tower there is a four-storey rectangular block immediately behind the north-west gable end of the hall providing access to each floor of the hall. In the gable end is the remains of a ground-floor fireplace, later converted to pigeon nesting boxes. The hall runs south-east from the tower for seven bays and had three or four storeys, the lower two forming the great hall and being lit by two-light rectangular windows, two of which are bricked up. Above was Fastolf’s Domo Superiori which could only be entered from the second storey of the tower. The inner wall has courses of flint nodules interspersed with the brick. The outer wall of the hall has a deeply stepped corbel table. At the south end of the hall is the two-storey gatehouse, probably a replacement of the original undertaken after the siege by the Duke of Norfolk. It has a four-centred arch within a square surround right of centre, and a four-centred arch window opening above. To the left is a guard room lit by a rectangular window (now blocked) and two smaller windows on the narrow left return. To the right of the gatehouse the wall continues south to a corner turret of two storeys. It has an ashlar drip course to the first floor and a corbel table of grotesques, apparently re-used ecclesiastical work. The turret is accessed from the court via four-centred arch entrances on the ground and first floors.

The north-west wall of the principal court is two storeys high before crumbling down to the ground. The inner side has a set-off above a series of relieving arches which may indicate cellars, and there are two splayed rectangular windows. The outer side also has a set-off and a stepped corbel table which supports an arcade under the eaves, probably with a machicolatary function. The foundations of ranges that abutted the interior of the walls of the principal court have been raised with a few courses of brick laid in rat trap bond.

INTERIOR: the interior of the tower is hexagonal, changing to circular above the fourth floor. The first to fourth floors have, in the east facet, one four-centred arch doorway to the hall; and on all floors, in the south facet, a four-centred arch door leading off the staircase. Each floor, except the top, has a fireplace positioned in a different facet. These are either square-headed or four-centred, and normally chamfered. The staircase of bricks and the moulded handrail cut into the wall have been removed above the first floor which is now accessed via a C20, timber, winder stair. There are no longer any floors to the storeys, and the top floor has been ceiled over in timber.


Caister Castle was constructed for the local landowner Sir John Fastolf (1380-1459) between 1433 and 1446. The manors of Caister Hall and West Caister had been acquired by the Norfolk family of Fastolf in 1363, and John was born in the moated manor house that stood on the site. This was demolished to make way for the castle and it is possible that the earlier moat may have been incorporated into the castle moat. Fastolf was one of the most famous Lancastrian soldiers and diplomats of the Hundred Years War whose distinguished military career took place mainly in France. He was created a Knight of the Garter and fought at numerous battles, including Agincourt. Fastolf’s name was later adapted by Shakespeare for his character Sir John Falstaff in Henry V but here the resemblance ends. Much is known about the C15 castle from documentary material including an inventory of Sir John’s possessions, the Paston letters, and the annual summary accounts which survive for the first three building seasons from January 1433 to January 1435. These were compiled by William Gravour or Gravere, the clerk of works, from more detailed notes kept while the work was in progress. The final cost was estimated at £6,046, averaging the large sum of £500 a year. The visit of the Duke of Norfolk in 1446 coincided with the completion of the building works, although it had been largely finished by 1440. Whilst the fortifications at Caister Castle could be interpreted as part of Fastolf’s quest for ennoblement, the building was certainly designed to be defensive with its high curtain walls and towers with arrow slits, gunports and machicolations which supported a wall walk at roof level. It was surrounded by a water-filled moat with bridges which could be raised. The moat was filled with water from the River Bure; and the building accounts record that the nearby Pickerill Creek was widened and deepened, and a barge ditch was cut, thereby creating direct water communication from the castle to the River Bure via the creek, and thence to the sea.
Caister Castle is one of the earliest brick houses to have been built in England. The clay required for the 1.7 million bricks used in constructing the castle was dug about 1.25 miles away from the building site. It has generally been assumed that all the building materials were brought to the site by water but a recent close inspection of the building records indicates that the bricks came the short distance by road (Kennett, 2008). The freestone from Caen and the plaster of Paris were delivered by ship however, and timber was brought from Fastolf’s manor of Cotton in Suffolk. The inspiration for the use of brick is thought to have been the palace started by Henry V at Sheen, and in other respects the design of the castle was at the forefront of late Plantagenet building fashions. It is not an example of a Wassenburgen, which were built in waterlogged sites of the Lower Rhineland, as stated by Barnes and Douglas Simpson in 1952, but drew some inspiration from the Rysbank Tower at Calais which would have been familiar to Fastolf.

In addition to the upstanding remains and earthworks, the layout of the C15 castle can be obtained from the plan prepared by Henry Swinden in his Ichnography or Ground Work of Sir John Fastolf’s Mansion House at Castor (1760), and from the sinking of trial pits around the mid-C20 by a previous owner Charles Hamblen-Thomas, of which little is known. Based on these sources, Barnes and Douglas Simpson drew up a plan in 1952 (subsequently reproduced in Pevsner) showing that the castle consisted of a principal court and a service or base court surrounded by a rectangular moat. A spur from the moat separated the two courts which were linked by a bridge: a classic English arrangement. Another bridge crossed the moat to the south-west range of the castle which had a hall with a Domo Superiori above. On the right side of the hall was the buttery and on the left was the dais which led to the west tower. The north-west range probably consisted of the cellars with perhaps a chapel over, and the south-east range contained the kitchens. The use of the north-east range has not been identified. The service court was reached via a bridge on the north-east side, and had ranges along the north-west, north-east and south-east sides.

Leading to the south-west side of the moat was a rectangular barge yard, described on the 1760 plan as ‘now filled up’, with an L-shaped building which contained a wide and low arch through which the water flowed to the barge ditch and thence to the creek. By this channel, which led directly to the River Bure, goods were conveyed to and from Yarmouth. A pair of rectangular fishponds is shown either side of the barge ditch. The L-shaped building, now known as Caister Hall, is described on the plan as ‘a part belonging to the house where the servants cooked, lodged, etc., and now only part remaining tenantable (in the occupation of Mr. John Nuthall, a very worthy and honest farmer in good circumstances and tenant to Bedingfield, Esq., the present Lord of the Manour).’ The tower at the south-west corner is described as a ‘round tower […] now covered in lead taken off the high tower’. The north-east wing was rebuilt in the 1830s.

Sir John Fastolf died in 1459 and was buried in the chapel built by him at St Benet’s Abbey in Holm. He bequeathed his extensive estates, including Caister Castle, to John Paston. It is likely that the Pastons carried out some alterations or building work to the castle as the north-east outer court has been dated to the late C14 or early C15. In 1469, following an ownership dispute, the Duke of Norfolk took the castle by force with four knights and 3,000 men. Some heavy damage was done but, as Pevsner notes, it is a tribute to Gravour that the castle fell through starvation and not cannon. Following the Duke’s death the castle returned to the Paston family who sold it in 1659 to William Crow, an upholsterer and money lender. It then came into the possession of the Bedingfield family by marriage. The castle became increasingly neglected, although a plan published by Grose in Antiquities of England and Wales (1776) shows that the buildings were then still largely complete with two drawbridges where the moat can be crossed today and a third which connected the two courtyards. In the following centuries stonework was robbed from the castle, including the removal of a newel with 122 stone steps from the tower by Parson David Collyer c.1776 for his house at Wroxham. The moat was remodelled some time between the publication of two maps in 1842 and 1893 (reproduced in Barrett). The latter shows that the inner moat had been filled in and the south-eastern side had been dug out and widened, probably to create a lake. In 1952 the castle was in the ownership of Charles Hamblen-Thomas, and in the mid-1960s the castle grounds to the south-west were made into a motor museum which remains to the present day (2013).

Reasons for Listing

Caister Castle, built between 1433 and 1446 for Sir John Fastolf, is listed at Grade I for the following principal reasons:

* Proportion of original fabric: it is one of the best preserved ruins of a brick-built castle of this period in England. A significant proportion of the original fabric survives which reveals its earliest configuration and demonstrates medieval building practices of the highest order;

* Materials and craftsmanship: it is one of the earliest brick residences to have been built in England, and the sophistication of the brickwork in the inner court, particularly in the great tower, is exceptional;

* Architectural interest: it kept abreast of architectural fashion by incorporating many elements from both Lancastrian and continental buildings - such as the private apartments in the tower, the bath house and stacked lodgings - emerging as a building of the most advanced style, taste and comfort;

* Innovation: the simple rectangular windows devoid of tracery or cusping are the earliest surviving examples in England of such fenestration which subsequently became the norm;

* Historic interest: it has a strong association with Sir John Fastolf, the notable soldier and trusted associate of the Regent of France (whom he served between 1422 and 1435 as chief steward) and later with the Pastons;

* Documentary evidence: its history and evolution is illuminated by historical documentation and recent scholarship, notably the summary accounts covering the first three years of work between 1433 and 1436 which are an exceptional and rare survival;

* Group value: it has strong group value with the scheduled elements of the castle, and with the Grade II* listed Caister Hall which incorporates the associated C15 barge house.

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