There is a grand total of five castles across Suffolk and whilst each has its own unique history, they are all linked by the wider history of Suffolk itself. Many of the castles in Suffolk were built by or connected to the the Bigods – a powerful Norman family who assisted William the Conqueror with his battle for England in 1066. They were rewarded with manors and lands through East Anglia and the family has shaped the landscape almost as much as the history of Suffolk.
Originally a Norman castle, built around 1100 by Roger Bigod of Norfolk, Bungay Castle took advantage of the curve of the River Waveney which gave the castle protection from attack. The castle, along with Framlingham Castle, was confiscated by Henry II in 1154 in the attempt to establish his rule as the loyalty of Roger’s son Hugh was questioned at the beginning of his reign due to Hugh’s involvement in the anarchy of the previous civil wars. By 1163 Hugh no longer posed a threat to the king and so Henry returned his lands to him. Hugh began the construction of a stone keep which took 10 years to complete. Whilst Bungay was not the largest castle in the country, its walls were between 5 and 7 metres thick and stood more than 33 metres high. Hugh could boast he had one of the most impregnable fortresses in England.
At the end of the Revolt of 1173 – 1174 Hugh was declared an outlawed traitor and Henry II arranged to have both Bungay and Framlingham Castles destroyed. Preparations for the destruction of Bungay Castle were put into action but Hugh managed to save the castle on payment of one thousand marks. The site was then restored by the Bigods and developed by Roger Bigod in 1294 who is believed to be responsible for building the massive tower gates. After Roger’s death in 1306 the castle fell into disrepair as he had no heirs to inherit it.
Restoration work was carried out in 1934 with repair, excavation and rebuilding taking place which have revealed many new features which had been hidden for previous centuries. All that remains of Bungay Castle today are two towers that once formed the gatehouse as well as a fragment of the keep. Admission the the castle keep is free but donations are welcome. Open daily from 10am to 4pm and there is a visitors centre located nearby on Cross Street.
An early Norman motte and bailey castle was built in Framlingham in 1148 but this was destroyed by Henry II in the aftermath of the Revolt of 1173 – 1174. Roger Bigod constructed the replacement which was unusual at the time as the castle had no central keep but a curtain wall with thirteen mural towers to defend the castle. Despite this defensive architectural design, the castle was taken by King John in 1216. By the end of th
e thirteenth century Framlingham Castle had become quite luxurious, surrounded by parkland used for hunting.
The castle went on to become the heart of the estates of the Mowbray and Howard families in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Two artificial meares were built around the castle and within the walls pleasure gardens were built with older parts of the castle redesigned for visitors to enjoy the resulting views. However the castle fell into disrepair by the end of the sixteenth century as the Dukes made less use of the castle and it p
assed back to the Crown with the surrounding estates sold off.
In 1613 James I returned Framlingham Castle to Thomas Howard, the Earl of Suffolk but the castle was derelict. Thomas’ son fell in debt and sold the castle to Pembroke College with the condition that the college destroy the internal castle buildings and construct a poorhouse under the terms of the recently passed Poor Law. The first poorhouse, the Red House, was built in the late 1650s but it proved unsatisfactory and was used as a public house. Around this time the maintenance of the meares stopped and much the surrounding area returned to meadow. In 1699 a second attempt for a poorhouse was made which failed, and a third attempt was made in 1729 but the law was reformed in 1834 and in 1839 the site at the castle closed.
In 1913 Pembroke College donated the castle to Commissioner of Works and during the Second World War it was used by the military as part of the regional defences against a potential German invasion. Today Framlingham Castle is owned by English Heritage and is run as a tourist attraction. It is a Grade I listed building. The castle is open daily from 10am to 6pm from March to September 30th 2016 with admission: Adults – £7.60, Child – £4.50, Concession £6.80. For further details please see the website.
Clare Castle was built by Richard Fitz shortly after the Norman conquest of England. The exact date of the castle’s construction is unknown, only that the first recordings of the castle appeared in 1090. The motte and bailey structure had two baileys instead of the typical one, and the motte was 259 metres wide and 30 metres tall. The two baileys were protected by deep ditches and steep palisades. In the thirteenth century the castle was improved in stone with a new bailey built.
In the fourteenth century Elizabeth de Clare acquired the castle and her combined estates made her one of the wealthiest women in England. She used the castle as her main residence from 1322 to 1360. By this time the castle was well developed with the addition of four stone towers to protect the inner bailey and the keep called the Auditorstower, Madienstower, Constabletower and Oxfordtower. A water-garden was built and vineyards and orchards surrounded the property. The castle’s three parks were actively used and the staff for Clare Castle included falconers, tailors, chaplains, goldsmiths and 30 knights and squires. The castle’s bakers could produce up to 2,390 loaves of bread a day and on average about 900 gallons of ale were brewed every five days.
After Elizabeth’s death Clare Castle passed onto the Mortimer family by marriage. After 1405 the castle deteriorated and after 1720 the surviving east and south sides of the inner bailey walls were destroyed. In 1867 the Cambridge and Colchester branch of the Great Eastern Railway was built through the castle and the inner bailey was destroyed in order for a new station to be built. The line was closed 100 years later. Today Clare Castle is a feature of Clare Castle Country Park, and the castle consists of a motte, part of the keep, outer bailey earthworks and fragments of the inner bailey stone wall. The castle is a Grade II listed building and is open to the public.
Similarly to Clare Castle, Eye Castle is a motte and bailey castle built soon after the Norman conquest in 1066.The castle was built by William Malet whose family controlled the surrounding Honour of Eye – a significant collection of estates which centered on the castle and park. The motte stood at 12 metres high with the bailey approximately 122 metres by 76 metres wide. The castle was notable for being one of only two castles mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086 as a source of income for its owners due to a market within the castle from which the owner could draw revenue.
After the death of Roger Malet, William’s son, in 1106 Eye Castle was confiscated by Henry I and became a royal castle. Henry gave the castle to his nephew Stephen of Blois in 1113 and two years later Stephen ascended to the throne and gave the castle to one of his lieutenants. At some point during the 1140s, Stephen transferred the lands to his second son William.
After coming to power in 1154, Henry II confiscated several castles from the Bigod family as he tried to re-establish his rule in the region and took Eye Castle from William as Henry perceived him as a potential threat to the throne. William died in 1159 which allowed Henry to formally acquire and legitimise his control of Eye Castle.
Eye was attacked in the Revolt of 1173 – 1174 and whilst the attack failed the castle had to be rebuilt. Two square towers were constructed in the late twelfth century however the castle was attacked once again in 1265 during the Second Baron’s War and Eye Castle was subsequently abandoned.
Despite the castle lying mostly in ruins, in the fourteenth century parts of Eye Castle were used as a prison. In 1561 a windmill was built on top of the motte but in the early seventeenth century the park surrounding the castle was broken up and sold.
Similarly to Framlingham Castle, in the 1830s a workhouse and a school were built inside the bailey of Eye Castle. In 1844 Sir Edmund Kerrison, the owner of the castle, demolished a later built windmill and replaced it with a house he had built for a soldier who had saved his life at the Battle of Waterloo years prior in 1815. The building eventually fell into ruins and it was damaged by high winds in 1965 before collapsing the same year.
Today the mound and some stone fragments of the original castle remain intact and the site is a Grade I listed building.
Henry II built Orford Castle in 1165 which took eight years to complete. The castle was a symbol of his power in East Anglia and reaffirmed his rule. The keep has been dubbed “one of the most remarkable keeps in England” for its unique design. The 27 metre tall central tower was circular in cross-section with three clasping towers built out of the 15 metre wide structure. The keep was surrounded by a curtain wall with four towers and a fortified gatehouse to protect the small bailey. The political importance of Orford Castle diminished with Henry’s death, however Orford’s importance grew due to the village’s port which was handling more trade than Ipswich by the beginning of the thirteenth century.
Orford Castle was captured by Prince Louis of France in 1216, and the castle was passed onto many families over the passing centuries. All the while, Orford’s harbour grew more difficult to access due to the movement of Orford Ness which caused the importance and maintenance of the castle to rapidly drop. The castle was bought by the Seymour-Conway family in 1754 and efforts to restore the castle were undertaken.
In 1928 Sir Arthur Churchman bought the castle and gave it to Orford Town Trust in 1930 – an appeal was made for money to maintain the castle and restoration soon followed. The castle was fortified in the Second World War and was used as a radar emplacement. The castle was given to the Ministry of Works in 1962 and today it is maintained by English Heritage. The keep is the only part which remains although there is earthwork evidence of the bailey wall. Orford Castle is a Grade I listed building.