Tag Archives: Medieval

The Mighty Arundel Castle

ARUNDEL CASTLE

Arundel Castle, located in the town of Arundel in West Sussex, has stood proudly next to the River Arun since the 11th century.  Originally built by Roger de Montgomery, Earl of Arundel, it has since descended through some of the most powerful families in English history including the d’Albinis and the Fitzalans in the 13th century and then the Fitzalans and the Howards in the 16th century.   It has been the ancestral seat of the Dukes of Norfolk for over 850 years and is currently occupied by Edward Fitzalan-Howard, the 18th Duke of Norfolk and his family.

The old motte and bailey.
The old motte and bailey.

Originally built as a motte and bailey castle in 1068, the 100 feet high motte still stands, surrounded by a dry moat.  The second oldest feature is the gatehouse, which dates from 1070.  The stone shell keep placed high upon the motte was built by William d’Albini II to strengthen deferences.  Upon his death in 1176 the castle reverted back to the crown, whereupon Henry II greatly extended and improved the building.

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The Howards of Arundel, from the 15th to the 17th centuries, were one of the most powerful and prominent families in England.  One of the most famous members was Thomas Howard (1473 – 1554). Thomas was a ruthless character, determined to raise the fortunes of his family, and as uncle to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard (both Queens to Henry VIII) he succeeded in doing so.  Thomas was instrumental in securing the marriages and enjoyed a considerable rise in power and status as a result.  He managed to weather the wrath of the King when Anne and Catherine were subsequently accused of adultery and executed.  Despite being sent to the Tower on numerous occasions he was never severely punished and always succeeded in being restored to his original position of power. However, eventually the King’s patience waned and Thomas was sentenced to death, from which he was only saved because Henry VIII died the night before his execution.

Another famous member of the Howard family was Lord Howard of Effingham, who successfully repelled the Spanish Armada in 1588, with Sir Francis Drake.

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During the Civil War (1642-45), the castle was besieged twice.  First by the Royalists who managed to take control and then later by Cromwell’s Parliamentarians led by William Waller.  Consequently, the castle was severely damaged, but nothing was done to restore the building until 1718 when the 8th Duke (1683-1732) commissioned James Gibbs to supply plans for restoration.  It was not until the 11th Dukes (1746-1815) occupation that further restoration took place.

The Royal visit of 1846 prompted the 13th Duke to make further alterations in preparation for the three day visit of Queen Victoria and her husband, Prince Albert,  The Duke commissioned the complete remodelling of the Queens’ apartment, including a complete refurnishing, commissioning finest Victorian furniture and a portrait of the Queen herself.  The Royal visit was a great success.

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The final phase of restoration was carried out by the 15th Duke (1847-1917), during which the main purpose was to modernise.  As a result Arundel was one of the first country houses in England to be fitted with electric light, comprehensive fire fighting equipment, central heating and even service lifts.  The 16th Duke (1908 – 1975) nearly signed over his family’s magnificent castle to the National Trust, but he died before such plans were finalised. The 17th Duke cancelled the negotiations with the National Trust and set up an independent charitable trust to ensure Arundel Castle’s continued survival throughout the 21st century.

The Inner Court.
The Inner Court.

Arundel Castle is open to the public and is such a treat to visit.  It’s impressive structure cannot fail to impress. The extensive layers of history are neatly interwoven into the very fabric of the building.  Whether you are interested in the medieval knights of old, or the sieges of the Civil War, or the lavishness of the Victorian interior, there is something for you. The gardens, which have been open to the public since 1854, are a delight to explore.  And of course, one must not fail to visit the Fitzalan Chapel, founded in 1380, located within the eastern end of the church building.

For more information, please visit: http://www.arundelcastle.org/

The Beauty of Lavenham

LAVENHAM

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to be invited to join a site visit with the 4th cohort of the MSt in Building History course.  I went on the same site visit three years ago so it was fascinating to look at the timber-framed buildings with better trained eyes!  We went to the beautiful Suffolk village of Lavenham, famous for its stunning 15th century church and numerous medieval timber-framed buildings.

Guildhall of Corpus Christi.
Guildhall of Corpus Christi.

Lavenham established itself as one of the most prosperous vvillagesin England during the 15th and 16th centuries.  It’s wealth derived from its successful wool trade, exporting its famous blue broadcloth to mainland Europe.  Consequently, numerous merchant families sprang up and demonstrated their wealth through architectural display.  Following the traditional Hall structure, families built increasingly elaborate timber-framed buildings, incorporating expensive features such as jetties, close-studding, oriel windows and exquisite carvings.  In 1464 Lavenham Wool Hall was completed and in 1529 the impressive Guildhall of the wool guild of Corpus Christi was built.  Such buildings were demonstrations of the villages wealth and prestige.  In 1487, however, Henry VII visited and was reputedly unimpressed with the ostentatious De Vere family, so fined them accordingly!

Guildhall of Corpus Christi.
Guildhall of Corpus Christi.

By the late 16th century the wool trade was in sharp decline as Lavenham was unable to keep up with competition in the UK or abroad.  As a result, most of the buildings declined in status and by 1578, when Elizabeth I visited while on her Royal Progress, most of the guildhalls had been reduced to work houses to accommodate the poor.  Consequently, the amazing medieval buildings have been ‘frozen in time’ throughout the centuries as there wasn’t enough money to knock them down and rebuild in later tastes and styles.

Lavenham Little Hall.
Lavenham Little Hall.

On our site visit we went to Lavenham Little Hall which was first built in the 1390s for the Causton family.  Designed in the typical Hall house format, it had a service end, upper end, cross passage and hall.  In the 1550s it was enlarged again.  However, mirroring the fortunes of the village, by the 17th century the status of the house declined significantly and was divided to provide homes for six families!

Ornate carvings to the dragon post.
Ornate carvings to the dragon post supporting the internal dragon beam of the Guildhall.

Next we visited the Guildhall of Corpus Christi, located on the edge of the market place, it was probably one of the most important out of the five guilds.  It was once an impressive setting for meetings and is now owned by the National Trust and is open to the public.  It is a striking two-storey timber-framed building with a jetty and ornate porch.  It is embelished with fantastic medieval wood carvings.  Inside, there were further examples of wealth including the dragon beam, which is located in the corner to carry the joists where the two jetties meet.

The dragon beam in the Guildhall.
The dragon beam in the Guildhall.
 A fine example of linen fold panelling is evident in the upper story of the porch.
Linen fold panelling.
Linen fold panelling.

An interesting discovery was that of a mummified cat that was discoverd in the walls of a neighbouring cottage and is now on display at the Guildhall.  As a precaution against witches and evil spirits cats (usually already dead) or objects such as shoes were often hidden in walls as a means of distracting the spirits away from the occupants of the house.  Taper marks and various symbols were also made around fireplaces, staircases, doorways and in attics as further protection against evil.

The mummified cat.
The mummified cat.

Finally we visited St Peter and St Paul’s Church which is famous as a fine example of Late Perpendicular architecture.  It was completed c.1525-30 to great acclaim – its mighty 141 ft tower of black napped flint dominating the landscape for miles around. The Spring and de Vere families were the main donors, having made their fortune in the wool trade, consequently their coats of arms can be spotted throughout the building.

St Peter and ST Paul's church.
St Peter and St Paul’s church.

Lavenham is a truly stunning medieval town which is fantastically preserved.  It is full of cute little shops, tea rooms and pubs which are wonderful to explore.

Please visit: http://www.littlehall.org.uk/

http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lavenham-guildhall/