Berkhamstead Castle
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keepBerkhamstead Castle is a fine example of a motte and bailey castle, typically built by the Normans.  The purpose was a defensible stronghold that acted as the centre point of a Norman settlement.  The motte (see picture left) was a mound and it was surrounded by the bailey, or enclosure.  Frequently the motte was crowned with a keep, usually built in stone, and the bailey was protected by a palisade or wall.  Uniquely, as far as is known, Berkhamstead was also surrounded by a double moat.

chapel from the keepBerkhamstead has had a chequered history and several famous, and infamous, residents during its 900 year history. The original castle was a timber construction erected by William the Conqueror’s brother Robert of Mortain. It was replaced with a stone tower in the mid 12th century when the castle was occupied by Thomas a Beckett, then Henry II’s chancellor. It must have been a strong building because in 1216 it withstood two weeks of battering by mangonels (a type of early catapult that hurled huge rocks) during Prince Louis of France’s abortive attempt to seize the English throne.

kitchen rangeIn 1336 its new owner was Edward the Black prince, son of Edward III. He was named Duke of Cornwall, a title held by the monarch’s eldest son ever since.  In 1495 it was abandoned and never lived in again.  When the London to Birmingham railway was built in 1838 a part of the outer wall, including the main barbican gate, was destroyed but the proximity means that passengers using the line today get an excellent view across the bailey.

Remains of the mid 13th century chapel can still be seen today, (above right)as well as parts of the original kitchen range, with fireplaces and an oven. (above left) On the top of the motte can be seen the remains of one of two wells on the site. Having a water supply within the tower meant that the settlement could be gathered into a central point, in case of attack, and would be able to withstand long sieges.