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.

What next? Visit our castles resources page for more castle facts.

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.

What next? Discover more castle facts by visiting our castles resources page.

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.

What next? Discover more castle facts by visiting our castles resources page.

Durham Castle Facts

Here are some facts about Durham Castle.

  • Durham Castle was built in the 11th century. It is located on a hill overlooking the River Wear in the city of Durham in the north of England.
  • The castle was founded by William the Conqueror soon after his victory in the Battle of Hastings. For several centuries, it was the home of the Prince Bishops of Durham.

  • Durham Castle and Durham Cathedral were constructed in just 40 years, which was fast for the time. The castle originally housed the bones of St. Cuthbert, a local evangelist.

Durham Castle

  • The castle was given to Durham University in 1832. Today, over 100 students still live there and eat their meals in the castle’s Great Hall.
  • During summer, when the students are gone, Durham Castle serves as a hotel.
  • The Norman Chapel is the oldest part of the building, and features carvings of animals and a mermaid. During World War 2 the chapel was used by the Air Force as an observation post.
  • The other chapel in the castle is Tunstall’s Chapel, named after its builder. It has a modern stained glass window, replacing the original one which was smashed by a runaway lawnmower.
  • One of the highlights of Durham Castle is the Black Staircase, named because it was made from dark oak wood. It is almost 60 feet high.
  • Palace Green is the open area that separates the castle from the Durham Cathedral. Originally full of wooden houses, this area is supposedly haunted by a small boy who was pushed off a balcony.
  • The centuries old cathedral still holds daily services, attended by locals and tourists. The cathedral is also home to the Durham Cathedral Choir.

What next? Discover more castle facts by visiting our castles resources page, or learn all about The Normans.

Facts About Castles

What is a Castle?

The meaning of the word castle has been used to describe a number of different types of buildings over the years. However, strictly speaking, it should only really be applied to a fortified home of a lord or nobleman. (Fortified means strengthened or designed for defence).

A castle is not the same as a palace as palaces aren’t fortified, and it’s not the same as a fortress because fortresses aren’t always homes.

The first castles were constructed in the 9th century. Many early castles were made from wood. Eventually, wood was replaced by stone, and castles continued to be made using this material until the 16th century.

Castle design changed and evolved over the centuries. As weapon technology and siege techniques developed, so castle designs adapted to counter the new threats. Castles became increasingly complex with elaborate defences in place to withstand whatever the attackers threw at them. Castles built in the late Middle Ages look very different to the motte-and-bailey castles constructed by The Normans.

Although castles varied greatly, they also had lot of features in common. Click here to learn more about some of these key castle features.

Why were castles built?

Castles were built for a two reasons. Firstly, they were constructed to defend those living within their walls, and, to a lesser extent, those living in the surrounding areas. Secondly, they were a symbol of power, strength and wealth. When the Normans invaded England in 1066, they built a series of motte and bailey castles. This wasn’t just a defensive measure – it was a way of exerting their dominance over the population.

What are some of the different types of castles?

As mentioned above, castle design changed over the years. Several different phases of castle design can be identified, ranging from simple motte and bailey castles to complicated concentric castles. Follow this link to learn more about some of different types of castles.

Here is a link to some more of our resources about castles.