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A Brick-built Beauty – Herstmonceux Castle

Herstmonceux Castle is a gorgeous brick-built castle located near Herstmonceux in East Sussex, England. It dates back to the 15th century which makes it one of the most significant, and oldest, brick buildings still standing in England. During its younger years, it was well renowned for being one of the first-ever buildings to use that sort of material in England.

HERSTMONCEUX CASTLE AND BRIDGE
Herstmonceux Castle has a bridge and is surrounded by a moat. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Herstmonceux Castle history

When talking about the history of Herstmonceux Castle, you must first understand its particularly odd name. When the manor was first built, it was simply referred to as Herste. The first written record of this dates back to the 12th century and the name is said to have derived from a family heiress, Idonea de Herste who married a lovely nobleman named Ingelram de Monceux.

The gorgeous manor was soon known as Herste of the Monceux, but over time, this was simplified to Herstmonceux.

The early history of Herstmonceux Castle

This awe-inspiring story began way back in the year 1441 when Sir Roger Fiennes, also known as the Treasurer of the Royal Household, managed to obtain a license from Henry VI. This license allowed him to crenulate his existing manor house. Sir Roger had fought alongside Henry V at Agincourt in 1415 which also made him a veteran of the French wars.

After obtaining the license, Fiennes managed to build his castle in brick which nowadays is a commonplace material, however, back then, it was a very rare luxury.

It was very clear that the residence intended to be a statement of his family’s great wealth and status. This is made obvious due to the use of the brick. For the window, door openings, and corbels, lovely stone was used. To exaggerate on the original statement made, Herstmonceux was also made to be the largest private residence in England.

Herstmonceux Castle made from brick with a bridge leading to entrance
The castle is one of the first buildings made of brick. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Fiennes family at Herstmonceux

The Fiennes family were able to successfully maintain their grand position of importance at court for a long century before Thomas, Lord Dacre, made the crucial mistake of having a falling out with Henry VIII. It was when a gamekeeper on another estate was murdered that Lord Thomas was implicated.

Afterwards, this led to him being brutally executed at Tyburn in the year 1541. Henry then took his chance and successfully seized the Herstmonceux estate. However, when Elizabeth I came to the throne, she decided to return the estate to the Fiennes family. During the time that the civil war was going on, the Fiennes family did a great job at avoiding any trouble. They then renovated the castle during the 17th century but adding a large suite of greatly fashionable rooms with carvings done by Grinling Gibbons.

This was all good and well until the cost of the renovation, as well as the expensive lifestyle of Lord Dacre, bankrupted the family. This led to them selling Herstmonceux in the year 1708.

Herstmonceux Castle falls apart

In the year 1777, the castle had almost completely fallen apart and at this time, nobody considered it worth saving. This meant that all of the furniture was sold, the delicate interior furnishings were stripped, and even the gorgeous bricks ended up being carted off for use in a new home nearby named Herstmonceux Place. Soon enough, the castle was covered in ivy and became a dwelling place for romantics and travellers alike.

The 20th century at Herstmonceux

gardens with a path surrounded by hedge bushes leading to a castle
The gardens at the castle. Source: Geograph.

When 1910 came around, a man by the name of Colonel Claude Lowther purchased the estate and soon realised his vision of creating an elegant and quaint country house. During WWII, the castle was used to store records for the Hearts of Oak insurance company. On several occasions, it was also strafed by German planes.

After the war had gone through and ended, Herstmonceux Castle was purchased by the Admiralty and used as a new base for the Royal Greenwich Observatory. Afterwards, in 1994, it was transformed into its current role as a great international study centre.

The present day

The interior of the castle is very rarely open nowadays due to the fact that it is predominantly for academic use. However, you can still enjoy a wander around the garden or a visit to other areas nearby.

You may be interested in other English castles such as Leeds Castle.

The Herstmonceux Observatory

The Herstmonceux Observatory was founded by King Charles II in the year 1675. When the castle and estate were put up for sale by the current owners at the time, the Admiralty purchased it and soon after relocated the observatory. This whole process took place over a whole decade. By 1957, it was complete.

The institution located at the castle was known as the Royal Greenwich Observatory, however, in 1988, the observatory was relocated to Cambridge. Several of the telescopes still remain and the old observatory has now been changed to the Herstmonceux science centre.

A observatory with 6 telescopes
The Herstmonceux Observatory. Source: The Observatory.

Herstmonceux Castle Timeline

  • 1441- Sir Roger Fiennes obtains a license and builds the castle
  • 1541- Lord Thomas is implicated and executed
  • 1708- The Fiennes family declare bankruptcy and sell Herstmonceux
  • 1777- Herstmonceux Castle begins to significantly fall apart
  • 1910- Colonel Claude Lowther purchases the estate
  • 1946- The castle is purchased by the Admiralty and used as a new base for the Royal Greenwich Observatory
  • 1994- The castle becomes a science centre

Claim to fame

Herstmonceux has its own very unique claim to fame. In fact, the reason it is famous is because of the fact that it is one of the oldest standing brick buildings in England. It has stood very long after many just like it have fallen to the ground and become nothing more than ruins. It is also renowned because it was one of the first-ever buildings to use that specific material in England.

Facts about Herstmonceux Castle

  • The Fiennes family crest is, to this day, still displayed above the entrance to the castle
  • The castle is now home to a fascinating science centre
  • There is a Herstmonceux Medieval Festival held at the castle every year
  • Herstmonceux was one of the largest private residencies in England at one point
  • It is a large complex of many buildings as opposed to a single building

Featured in TV and Film

  • Lady Jane (1986)
  • The Silver Chair (1990)
  • The Cherokees (2017)

Books on Herstmonceux Castle

  • The Castle of Herstmonceux and It’s Lords by Edmund Venables (2011)

Who owns Herstmonceux Castle?

In the year 1993, Herstmonceux Castle was purchased for Queen’s University, Ontario (Canada) as a gift from Drs. Alfred and Isabel Bader. To this day, it is still owned by them and there is a very low chance that it will ever be passed on. They run a great science centre out of it, these days.

Tourism

These days, you can easily get to the castle and enjoy a brisk walk through the fragrant garden. The stroll through the elegant gardens, situated behind the castle, is simply enchanting. The gardens have a lovely nature trail that takes you throughout the woodlands and a secret garden. You will also see a garden, chestnut walk, birch walk, an Elizabethan garden and rose garden, and a butterfly garden.

You will see many great sculptures on your walk that will provoke emotion and deep thought. Everyone loves visiting the castle and it is always amazing to see just how big the castle really is. The sight of the grand castle on a sunny day is a sight you will never forget. Tickets are £8.00 per ticket for adults, and you can find other ticket prices here.

More Images

  • Medieval re-enactment
    Medieval re-enactment

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