Rayleigh Castle (also known as Rayleigh Mount) was a masonry and timber castle built near the town of Rayleigh in Essex, England in the 11th century shortly after the Norman conquest. All that exists today are the earthwork remains of its large motte-and-bailey.
Rayleigh is one of 48 castles mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086 and the only one in the county of Essex. The Survey records that Swein (other spellings are Sweyn, Sweyne, and Suen) built the castle in his manor. He was the son of Robert FitzWimarc, a Norman lord and favourite of Edward the Confessor (r. 1042–1066).
Swein was one of the wealthiest landowners in post-Conquest Essex, and the Survey records that in 1086 his lands were worth £255. As Swein was the son of a favourite of Edward it is likely that he did not arrive with William the Conqueror in 1066, but was instead born in England. Most land owners with significant holdings at the time of the Domesday Survey had disjointed, scattered properties however Swein was one of the exceptions and most of his land was within the hundreds of Rochford and Barstable with Rayleigh Castle as the administrative centre.
Adian Pettifer notes that Rayleigh's plan is similar to that of two other castles in Essex: Pleshey and Ongar. On Swein's death the castle passed to his son Robert of Essex (c. 1085 - died before 1159) and thence to his grandson Henry of Essex. Around 1140 the motte was covered in stone rubble.
Henry was accused of cowardice in battle in 1163 and subject to a trial by combat which he lost. The castle and its estates were confiscated to become the property of the king, Henry II. Extensive alterations were made to it in 1172 and in 1183-4. The property was given by King John to Hubert de Burgh in around 1200 who probably used it as a source of building materials for the castle which he started building in 1230 about 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) away at Hadleigh.
On the death of Hubert's son in the latter half of the 13th century, ownership of the castle reverted to the Crown. Documents dating between 1279 and 1303 refer to the motte being used for pasture, which probably means that the castle was no longer used as a fortification. In 1394 King Richard II gave permission for the townspeople of Rayleigh to use the foundations of the castle as a source of stone. Since the foundations are explicitly mentioned in the document giving permission, it is unlikely that any other masonry structures remained by then.
The site of the castle was used for grazing sheep after it fell into disuse. Photos taken in the 1920s show the mount free from any large trees or shrubs as the grazing prevented their growth, however since the grazing stopped, large trees have grown on the site. The National Trust who manage the site have no plans to remove the trees for fear of disturbing any potential archaeology below.
A historic oasis in an urban landscape, Rayleigh Mount hides away in the heart of Rayleigh, a green lung in a busy Essex town. The mount is the remains of a Norman Motte and Bailey Castle built on a natural ridge commanding amazing views. Providing a tranquil refuge from the hustle and bustle of modern life, the daily hubbub in the air disappears to be replaced by birdsong.
Rayleigh Mount was given to the National Trust by Edward Francis in 1923. It's a scheduled ancient monument, so its archaeology is especially protected. Nowadays, modern buildings have come right up to the edge of where Rayleigh castle once stood. Indeed, part of the outer rampart bank now has houses on it, and the outer bailey is completely built over. This shows how important it is to conserve the motte and bailey mounds.
Although less than five acres, the mount is a valuable open space for wildlife. It has a good range of small birds, who enjoy the habitat provided by the trees and shrubs on the banks. Dragonflies and butterflies can be seen in the summertime and there are plants in flower for much of the year to provide nectar for bees and other insects.
Wildlife on the mount. As the town of Rayleigh has grown, and housing estates have replaced farmland, the Mount, an important historical site, has also become valued as a haven for wildlife, and as a quiet retreat, filled with birdsong and flowers. The trees and shrubs on the slopes provide a good habitat for wild creatures and birds, and the flowering plants attract insects such as bees and butterflies. Please help the mount to remain special by respecting its quietness and beauty. Keep to the pathways and grass areas to avoid disturbing the wildlife, and leave the flowers for the insects to visit. To help prevent rats coming onto the Mount, please do not leave food on the site.
Every Saturday from April to the end of September, there is a History Walk round Rayleigh. Meet at Rayleigh Windmill at 3pm. Come and have a look at history of this town from Saxon times to the present day. For more information please call Mike Stone on 01268 775328. Cost is £2 per person. No booking required.
** – Rayleigh Windmill – **
Rayleigh Windmill was built in 1809 for Thomas Higgs, a timber merchant of Rayleigh. Higgs was bankrupt in 1815 and the mill was sold to William Hart of Woodham Mortimer in 1817. Hart sold the mill to George Britton in 1845 and the mill passed to his sons John and Samuel in 1869. £150 was spent putting the mill into repair. The Britton brothers left Rayleigh in 1884 and were bankrupt in 1886. Thomas James Brown was the next miller, and the last to work the mill by wind c1907. The cap and sails were removed c1909 and the mill was worked by a steam engine then an oil engine and latterly by electric motor until at least 1937.
The mill was taken over for use as a museum by Rayleigh and District Antiquarian and Natural History Society, formally opening on 16 May 1970. The capless mill stood for many years with a crenellated top but in 1972 Rayleigh Urban District Council launched an appeal to restore the mill as a landmark. By the autumn of 1974 a new cap and sails had been made and fitted by millwrights John Lawn and Philip Barrett-Lennard. In 2005, restoration work costing £340,000 was funded by the Thames Gateway South Essex Partnership.
Rayleigh Windmill is a six-storey tower mill with a Kentish cap winded by a six bladed fantail. The mill had two single Spring sails and two Common sails carried on a cast iron windshaft. The tower has no batter until second floor level, where the stage is. The tower is 20 feet (6.10 m) diameter at base level and 11 feet (3.35 m) internal diameter at the curb. The brickwork is 4 feet 6 inches (1.37 m) thick at base level and at curb level it is thickened out to 3 feet (910 mm). The mill is 60 feet (18.29 m) high to the top of the cap. The mill drove three pairs of millstones.
** – Visiting – **
In the summer, the mount provides a perfect backdrop for dramatic open-air theatre productions. Make the most of your day by also visiting with the adjacent sensory garden and windmill, home to fascinating historical exhibitions (please note the windmill is not run by the National Trust).
** – Facilities – **
Location : Rayleigh Mount, Rayleigh, Essex
Transport: Rayleigh (National Rail) then 7 minutes. Bus routes: 1, 7, 8, 9, 63, 511, 514 and 816 all stop close by.
Opening Times : Daily 07:00 to 18:00 (Saturday until 14:00).
Tickets : Free.