Chepstow Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Chepstow Castle.

  • Chepstow Castle is in Chepstow, in the county of Monmouthshire, in South Wales. It is situated on a cliff overlooking the River Wye, close to the Welsh / English border.
  • Chepstow Castle was built during the 11th and 12th centuries by Lord William Fitz Osbern. It is the UK’s oldest surviving stone fort built after the Roman occupation.

  • More improvements were made to the castle at the end of the 13th century. These included the addition of a gatehouse, a back entrance and a round tower in the castle’s south east corner.
  • The castle has four baileys, or enclosed courtyards. Although it does not have a strong keep or two sets of surrounding walls, it was still considered a strong castle.
  • During the 15th and 16th centuries, the castle was owned by several different people, including the Earls of Worcester and Pembroke. It was used more as a stately home than as a defensive castle.
  • Chepstow Castle was besieged twice during the English Civil War. The Parliamentarian forces were able to take the castle from the Royalist forces in 1648.
  • The castle was left abandoned from the late 17th century to the late 18th century. It became a popular attraction for tourists taking a boat trip on the River Wye.

Chepstow Castle

  • During the 1840s, the castle’s courtyard was used for farm shows and other events. The Duke of Beaufort tried to find a buyer for Chepstow Castle but was not successful.
  • Today Chepstow Castle is open to the public and holds regular events. Some of the Dr. Who 50th anniversary broadcast was filmed there, as well as scenes from the film Jabberwocky.
  • Across the road from the castle is the Chepstow Museum. Housed in a Georgian house, it has exhibits on Chepstow Castle, as well as the town’s salmon fishing and wine trade.

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Caernarfon Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Caernarfon Castle.

  • Caernarfon Castle is located in the town of Caernarfon in North Wales.
  • The huge fortress was built by King Edward I of England to help in his fight against the Welsh.

  • The site was chosen as it offered easy access to the sea. It was built on the site of a Norman castle, and there are the remains of a Roman fort nearby.
  • The castle was built in the 13th century, and was considered a masterpiece of design. Like several other Welsh castles, it was designed by James of St. George, a skilled architect.

Caernarfon Castle

  • He used several unusual design features, probably based on his travels in the Middle East. These included coloured bands of stone, and eight sided towers instead of round ones.
  • As well as soldiers, the castle housed a constable and a watchman. Soon after it was built, a wall was built around the town of Caernarfon, parts of which still stand today.
  • The castle had several clever defensive features, including arrow slits and murder holes through which boiling liquid could be dropped. The walls are over 6 metres thick at their base.
  • Caernarfon Castle was meant to be a Royal home and a symbol of power, as well as a strong castle. Some turrets have stone eagles on them, another symbol of the King.
  • In the early 15th century, the castle withstood two attacks by the Welsh ruler Owain Glyndwr. During the English Civil War in 1646, the castle was taken by Parliamentary forces.
  • Caernarfon Castle was neglected from about 1640 until the late 19th century. Many parts of the castle were then restored and some nearby houses demolished to improve the view of it.
  • In 1911, Caernarfon Castle was the site of the investiture of Edward VII as Prince of Wales. In 1969, Prince Charles was crowned Prince of Wales at the castle.

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Colchester Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some interesting facts about Colchester Castle.

  • Colchester Castle is an almost complete Norman castle, dating from the 11th century. It is located in the town of Colchester in Essex, about 80 km north-east of London.

  • Colchester was once the capital of Roman Britain and is believed to be England’s oldest town. The Romans built a 2,800 metre long wall around the town, which can still be seen today.
  • The castle’s main keep measures 46 by 34 metres and is the largest in Britain. It was at one time 4 storeys high although it has been lowered over time as the stone has been recycled into other local buildings.
  • William the Conqueror ordered the castle to be built, and it was constructed between 1069 and 1100. Construction stopped in 1080 because of threats of a Viking invasion.
  • Colchester Castle was built over an old Roman temple. Parts of the castle were built with tiles and stone taken from the temple and other nearby Roman ruins.

Colchester Castle

  • Colchester Castle experienced little military action during its history. In 1215 King John attacked the castle, an incident which led to the famous Magna Carta being signed.
  • Two Royalist leaders were executed behind the castle during the second English Civil War in the 17th century. According to a local legend, grass never grows in that spot.
  • During the 17th and 18th centuries, the castle was used as a jail, as well as for storing grain. In the 1740s, a local Member of Parliament bought the castle and created the gardens surrounding it.
  • The gardens surrounding the castle attract over a million visitors each year. Some of the landscaping and layout of the 25 hectare park is still unchanged from Roman times.
  • Colchester Castle became a museum in 1860. The displays include gold coins which date from pre-Roman times, and a beautifully decorated pot known as the Colchester Vase.

What next? Discover some more facts about castles in Britain, or learn about the features of a castle.

Harlech Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Harlech Castle.

  • Harlech Castle is a 13th century castle, constructed on the orders of England’s King Edward I. It is located in the town of Harlech in North Wales, on a cliff overlooking the coast.
  • The castle originally overlooked the sea, although the coastline has changed since then. Today there is a golf course on the land between the castle and the Irish Sea.

  • It was built as part of a defensive ring of castles designed to help strengthen English control over Wales. Other well known Welsh castles include Beaumaris, Conwy and Caernarvon.
  • Harlech Castle is a good example of a concentric castle. It had an outer and inner wall for extra protection, and was also almost symmetrical in shape.

Harlech Castle

  • At one point, almost 1,000 workers were building the huge castle. It cost about 10,000 pounds to build, a huge amount back then which was about 10 percent of King Edward’s entire military budget.
  • Harlech Castle is protected by 4 huge round towers, as well as a strong gatehouse, or entrance.
  • The castle walls are 12 metres high and several metres thick in places.
  • The castle was strong enough to withstand a seven year siege during the 15th century. Food and supplies were able to be delivered to the castle by sea, using a long flight of stone steps.
  • The song the Men of Harlech was written about the siege. It has become almost a Welsh national anthem and became popular after featuring in the 1964 film Zulu.
  • The castle was designed by master castle builder James of St. George. The medieval architect was influenced by castle design in parts of Europe, including France.
  • Harlech Castle played an important role during the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century.

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Concentric Castles: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about concentric castles.

  • Concentric castles are those which have two or more surrounding walls, with the inner one usually higher than the outer one. They were sometimes circular, but also square or other shapes.

  • These castles were the next big castle design after stone keep castles, and are mostly associated with King Edward I. Some of the most famous in Britain are Beaumaris Castle, Harlech Castle, Conway Castle and Caernarvon Castle.
  • This type of castle was easier  to defend. If attackers got past the outer wall and into the courtyard, they would still have another high wall and towers to face.
  • Concentric castles had other defensive features too, including circular towers which were difficult to undermine. They had battlements, moats, a drawbridge, a strongly defended entrance and arrow slits.
  • One of the earliest concentric castles was the Crusaders’ Castle at Belvoir in Israel, dating from 1168. The outer wall is 110 metres square, surrounded by a moat 12 metres deep.
  • The Crac des Chevaliers is another well preserved Crusader castle, in Syria. At one time 2,000 people lived in the castle, known for its beautiful Medieval paintings.
  • Caerphilly Castle in South Wales was one of the earliest concentric castles in Britain, built in 1268. It was a masterpiece of design and is the 2nd largest castle in Britain after Windsor Castle.
  • Caernarvon Castle was built in the late 13th century to reinforce English rule over Wales. It is known for its 12 huge towers with 5, 6 and 10 sides.
  • Although concentric castles were strong and easy to defend, they were also expensive to build. Some were started but never finished, such as Beaumaris Castle in North Wales.
  • James of St. George was one of the best castle builders of the time. He travelled to the Middle East and introduced features he saw there, including different coloured stone bands and octagonal towers.

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Stone Keep Castle Facts

Here are some facts about stone keep castles.

  • Stone keep castles were built all over Medieval England, many by William the Conqueror. They replaced the many wooden castles that had been built, and were designed for strength and security.

  • They were first built in France during the 10th and 11th centuries, and the idea was brought to England. Stone from France was often used in the construction of the stone keeps.
  • Most stone keep castles had kitchens on the ground floor and living quarters on the top floors. At first they were rectangular and then later designs were circular.
  • The stone keep, or tower, was the heart of the castle. As well as being built for defence, it meant that rooms could be larger and more luxurious, often with fireplaces.
  • Stone keep castles offered much better defence than the wooden castles which were built before them. They had thick and strong walls, a drawbridge and were defended by a moat or ditch.
  • These stone castles were expensive to build, and their construction often took several years.
  • Many of the most well known castles in England are stone keep castles. Over 80 were built, including Windsor Castle, Lincoln Castle, Nottingham Castle and Warwick Castle.
  • The White Tower at the Tower of London is one of the most famous stone keeps. The tower is 27 metres high and over the centuries has been used as a prison, armoury, treasury and Royal Mint.
  • Another well preserved example of a stone keep is Dover Castle. It was built in the 12th century and has underground tunnels dating from the Napoleonic wars.
  • Dover Castle was also one of the most expensive stone castles to be built. King Henry II spent about 30 percent of his income on simply renovating and looking after it.

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Tintagel Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Tintagel Castle.

  • Tintagel Castle is located on the north coast of Cornwall in south-west England. It has been popular with tourists since the mid 19th century and today it is managed by English Heritage.
  • Although the Romans occupied the area, the castle was built in the 13th century. It was the home of the Earls of Cornwall and was built to impress as it had little strategic value.

  • The area has long been associated with King Arthur and some Arthurian legends says that he was born in the castle.
  • King Arthur is also associated with several other sites around the south west. These include St. Michael’s Mount and the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey.
  • King Arthur’s Footprint is a natural depression in the rocks, near Tintagel Castle. However, it has been shaped by humans at some point and may have been used to inaugurate kings.
  • Tintagel was one of the distant outposts of the Roman empire and was probably an important trading centre. Many fragments of Roman pottery have been found here.
  • During the 14th century Tintagel Castle fell into disrepair and it was used as a prison. Defences were strengthened during the Tudor period over worries about a Spanish invasion.
  • In 1998, excavations were carried out near the castle. 5th and 6th century pottery from the Mediterranean was found, as well as a 1,500 year old slate with Latin writing.
  • Nearby Merlin’s Cave has also long been associated with King Arthur. The wizard Merlin supposedly carried the baby Arthur to the cave which fills with water at high tide.

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Norman Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Norman castles.

  • The Norman invasion in 1066 is seen as the start of the Middle Ages in England. Castles were built by the Normans in just a few weeks and could shelter men, horses and supplies.
  • The earliest Norman castles were pre-built (to some extent) and transported to England on boats. The first of these was Pevensey Castle, which today is said to be haunted by a pale lady.

  • The Normans built over 500 castles in the British Isles, many of them simple motte and bailey structures. About 90 of these can still be seen today throughout England and Ireland.
  • The motte was a large defensive mound, and the bailey was a courtyard. Most of the early Norman castles were made of wood and built on high ground, for better defence.
  • Later Norman castles were known as enclosure castles and had towers, higher walls and a gatehouse. Later castles also had round towers which were stronger if invaders tried to tunnel under them.
  • One of the best known Norman castles is Kenilworth Castle, built around 1120. In 1266, the castle was under siege for 6 months, one of the longest sieges in English history
  • The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror, with stone imported from France. Over the centuries, it has been used as a treasure house, palace, zoo and prison.
  • Colchester Castle, in Britain’s oldest town, is another of the well known Norman castles. The main tower, or keep, measures 46 by 34 metres and is the largest in England.
  • William the Conqueror also built Warwick Castle, in 1068. The castle is home to one of the world’s largest working siege engines, or catapults, which is able to hurl stones up to 300 metres.
  • Norman castles often had several defensive features. These included a deep water-filled moat, high walls and murder holes through which boiling liquids could be poured on the heads of attackers.

What next? Discover some more castle facts, or learn all about the Normans.

Hever Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Hever Castle.

  • Hever Castle is located in Kent, near the village of the same name. It is about 48 km south east of London and has been open to the public since 1983.
  • The gatehouse was built in 1270 and is the oldest part of the castle. In the early 16th century, it became the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, one of Henry VIII‘s six wives.

  • Henry often met Anne at the castle, as well as at nearby Bolebroke Castle. Hever Castle still has on display one of the personal locks that Henry took with him on visits to homes.
  • In 1540, Henry gave the castle to another of his wives, Anne of Cleves. After that, it had several different owners before falling into disrepair in the early 18th century.
  • The Meade Waldo family bought Hever Castle in 1749. They rented rooms to farmers who charged the public to see some of the older parts of the building.
  • The American millionaire William Waldorf Astor bought Hever Castle in 1903. Astor created the lake and the gardens; he also opened the luxurious Waldorf Hotel in London.
  • Astor also planted the castle’s famous maze, one of only a few traditionally designed in the UK. It covers an area of almost 600 square metres, and has hedges up to 2.75 metres high.
  • The castle has two of Anne Boleyn’s prayer books, or Books of Hours. They were made in Belgium in about 1450 and were printed on vellum, or calf skin.
  • The castle’s collection of armour and weapons includes beheading swords dating from the 16th century. It also includes several bride’s scolds, contraptions used to prevent gossiping women from talking.
  • There are also an adventure playground and water maze on the grounds. In June 2013, a Japanese tea house folly was opened in the grounds of Hever Castle.

What next? Discover more facts about castles, or learn more about the Tudors.

Orford Castle: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about Orford Castle.

  • Orford Castle is located near the village of the same name in Suffolk. The 12th century castle is about 20 km from Ipswich, and about 120 km from London.
  • The central tower of Orford Castle is 27 metres high, and has 3 taller turrets attached to it.

  • Some of the rooms were draught proofed and designed to catch the morning sun.
  • Orford Castle has been described as having one of England’s most remarkable keeps. The keep, or tower, was built to precise proportions similar to those found in many Medieval churches.
  • The castle was built by Henry II between 1165 and 1173 to help maintain Royal control over that part of the country and to repel invaders.
  • The castle had several owners between the 14th and 18th centuries. It was almost demolished in 1805, and was only saved as it made a useful landmark for ships to navigate by.
  • During World War 2, the castle was used to house radar equipment. After the war, it was given to the Ministry of Works and eventually to English Heritage.
  • There is a small museum in the castle, which displays artifacts found in the area. On display are coins, Medieval seals and jewellery dating back to Roman times.
  • From the walls of Orford Castle, there are spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.
  • The legend of the ‘Wild Man of Orford’ is associated with the castle. In 1167, a wild hairy man was found in the sea and believed to be a male mermaid (or merman).
  • Apparently, the man was kept in the castle for several months. After he escaped, the local people carved pictures of wild men into the fonts in some of the local churches.

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