Hedingham Castle, in the village of Castle Hedingham, Essex, is the best preserved Norman keep in England. The manor of Hedingham was awarded to Aubrey de Vere I by William the Conqueror by 1086. The castle was constructed by the de Veres in the late 11th to early 12th century and the keep in the 1130s and 1140s. To accommodate the existing castle, a large ditch was cut through a natural spur westward into the Colne Valley in order to form a ringwork and inner bailey; an outer bailey extended south further into the valley and what is now the modern village of Castle Hedingham. The stone keep survives in a very good state of preservation and is open to the public. The keep is nearly square: the east and west sides are 53 ft long and the north-south sides about 58 ft. It stands more than 70 ft tall; (the turrets rise an additional 15 to 25 ft above the parapets) and it commands the countryside around it from its elevated position atop the ringwork. The walls are about 11 ft thick at the base and average 10 ft at the top. They are constructed from flint rubble bound with lime mortar, but, very unusually for an Essex castle, are faced with ashlar stone transported from a quarry in Barnack, Northamptonshire.
The keep has four floors, including the Great or Banqueting Hall with a central arch extending two stories and a fireplace. The top floor may have been added around the 15th century, replacing an impressive pyramid-shaped roof. This is a recent theory, however, and many older sources have noted the similar plans of Hedingham Castle and Rochester Castle, which was begun about 1126 and has four floors and four turrets. Two of the original four corner turrets are missing, and it seems likely that their demise was a result of an attempt to demolish the building for materials rather than through military action. The keep is the only medieval element of the castle to have survived; the hall, drawbridge, and outbuildings all having been replaced during the Tudor period by structures which, with the exception of a brick bridge, have now also been lost. A chapel was located to the south of the stone keep within the inner bailey. A red-brick bridge of four spans connects the inner bailey to the outer bailey lying to the north-east. It was built in late 15th or early 16th century has been restored several times. A Queen Anne style red-brick mansion was built in the outer bailey by Sir William Ashhurst (an MP and a former Lord Mayor of London) between his purchase of the property in 1693 and his death in 1719.
Hedingham Castle may occupy the site of an earlier castle believed to have been built in the late 11th or early 12th century by Aubrey de Vere I, a Norman baron. Hedingham was one of the largest manors among those acquired by Aubrey I. The Domesday Book records that he held the manor of Hedingham by 1086, and he ordered that vineyards be planted. It became the head of the Vere barony. Aubrey II and Aubrey III are candidates for initiating the construction of a major stone tower at Hedingham, possibly to reflect the enhanced status of the family. In 1133 Aubrey II, son and heir of the first Aubrey, was created master chamberlain of England by Henry I. In 1141, his son and heir Aubrey was granted an earldom by Empress Matilda. By that time he had been Count of Guines for several years by right of his wife's inheritance of that continental territory. Matilda, wife of King Stephen, died at Castle Hedingham on May 3, 1152. The castle was besieged twice, in 1216 and 1217, during the dispute between King John, rebel barons, and the French prince. (In both cases the sieges were short and successful for those besieging the castle). The castle was held by the de Vere family until 1625. Among the more famous earls are Robert de Vere, 3rd Earl of Oxford; Robert de Vere, 9th Earl of Oxford; John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford; and Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, suspected by some to be the writer of the works commonly ascribed to William Shakespeare.
In 1713 the castle was purchased by Sir William Ashhurst, after his death in 1720, the estate passed to his great granddaughter, the wife of Lewis Majendie. The Majendie family owned Hedingham Castle for 250 years until Miss Musette Majendie left it to her cousin, The Honourable Thomas Lindsay, descended from the de Veres through both maternal and paternal lines. His son Jason Lindsay and wife Demetra now live at Hedingham Castle with their children. All visitors should note that access to the keep is up a flight of stone steps. Access between the floors is via a spiral staircase. There is no lift. The gardens offer walks of various grades of difficulty to suit all levels of fitness, and anyone at all will be able to find a quiet and beautiful spot without too much difficulty. Assistance dogs are welcome.
Location : Hedingham Castle,Castle Hedingham,Halstead,Essex, CO9 3DJ
Transport: Braintree (National Rail) then bus. Bus Routes :88, 89, and 89A stop near by.
Opening Times : Tuesday, Wednesday 11:00 to 16:000; Sundays 10:00 - 17:00
Tickets: Adults £8.50; Concessions £7.50; Children (5 - 18) £6.00
Tel: 01787 460261