Hedingham Castle


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:
Statutory Address:
Castle Hedingham, Essex, CO9 3DJ


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Statutory Address:
Castle Hedingham, Essex, CO9 3DJ

The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Braintree (District Authority)
Castle Hedingham
National Grid Reference:


Ringwork castle with tower keep built in the late C11 and early C12 for Aubrey De Vere.

Reasons for Designation

Hedingham Castle, a ringwork castle with tower keep built in the late C11 and early C12 for Aubrey De Vere, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:

* Survival: for the significant historical, archaeological and architectural contribution it makes to our understanding of Norman ringwork castles. The exceptional standing, buried and earthwork remains depict the castle’s form, plan and architectural detail;

* Potential: for the stratified archaeological deposits which retain considerable potential to increase our understanding of the physical characteristics of the buildings. Buried artefacts and sediments will also have the potential to increase our knowledge of the social and military functioning of the castle within the wider medieval landscape;

* Documentation: for the historical documentation and recent scholarship pertaining to the castle’s history and evolution, notably the surveys and maps drawn in the C16, C17 and C18;

* Diversity: for the range of features such as the Keep, bridge, dry moat and inner and outer baileys which, taken as a whole, provide a plan of the castle and retain stratified deposits which illuminate its evolution;

* Architectural importance: for the massive and sophisticated Keep which is one of the best preserved and least altered Norman tower-keeps in England. The Hedingham Keep ranks among the most important Norman buildings in the country;

* Historic association: for the association with the de Veres, Earls of Oxford – one of the most powerful families in Norman England – and specifically with its founder Aubrey De Vere, one of William the Conqueror’s most important knights and the husband of his half-sister Beatrice;

* Group value: for the strong group value with the five listed buildings on the site, namely the C12 Keep, C15 bridge and C18 house, stable and dovecote, which altogether form an ensemble of structures dating from each key phase in the nine hundred year evolution of the site, thereby encapsulating important aspects in the historical and architectural development of England.


Hedingham Castle is a large earthen ringwork castle with two baileys built probably in the late C11 by Aubrey De Vere on land granted to him after the Conquest. Aubrey was one of William the Conqueror’s most important knights as well as being the husband of his half-sister Beatrice. It is not known precisely when the Grade I listed Great Keep was built but on stylistic grounds it is likely to have been constructed between c.1125 and c.1160. Aubrey De Vere III was created Earl of Oxford by Queen Matilda in 1142, and it is thought that the Keep may have been built to celebrate his elevation and to provide a suitably impressive setting for ceremonial occasions. A recent study has demonstrated that it was not built to provide accommodation for the lord as in the original arrangement there were no sleeping chambers, kitchen, service rooms or oratory. The second and third floors instead provided two large and impressive reception rooms. The same study has also argued convincingly that the original Keep was three storied with a pyramidal roof, and later alterations involved the creation of a fourth storey out of the battlements and the addition of a forebuilding (Dixon and Marshall, 1993). The Keep was probably built within the ringwork of the existing earthwork castle; and other buildings would also have existed but no sign of these remain today. In the early C13 continuous disagreements between King John and his barons led to civil war; and in 1215 the barons, among whom was Robert, the 3rd Earl, took up arms against the king and invited the French dauphin to assume the throne of England. King John laid siege to Hedingham Castle and took it, although it was recaptured shortly afterwards by French soldiers. This is the only recorded military action at the castle.

Little is known of the castle in the following 200 or so years until the accession in 1461 of John, the 13th Earl. As a Lancastrian he fought at the Battle of Bosworth, and his lands (which had been confiscated by Edward IV) were returned to him by Henry VII, along with the hereditary office of Lord Great Chamberlain and many new titles and honours. The 13th Earl was responsible for a great rebuilding programme at Hedingham Castle in or around 1496 which included the Great Brick Tower and the Grade II* listed bridge. The results of the rebuilding programme can be seen on a survey by Israel Armyse, dated 1592, and on an unattributed survey of the early C17. These show that within the old ringwork stood the Keep, a stone gatehouse, the Great Brick Tower, a brick turret, chapel, hall and pantries, kitchens, stone lodgings and a well. Armyse’s survey also records a curtain wall around two sides of the mound. The stone buildings were presumably survivors from an earlier period of the castle, possibly contemporary with the Keep. In the inner bailey were various ancillary buildings including a granary, stables, barnyard and brewhouse. In the ditch between the ringwork and inner bailey were a tennis court and archery butts, to the north and south of the bridge respectively, although the bridge itself is not shown on either survey.

The condition of the castle between the later C16 and early C18 is far from clear but the sources indicate several instances of destruction and, by inference, rebuilding. It appears that after the visit by Elizabeth I in 1561 the 17th Earl had ‘committed great waste upon the castle hill, and, by warrant from him, most of the buildings, except the Keep, were razed to the ground’. In the Dutch War of 1666 the castle must have been in reasonable condition to warrant the destruction carried out in order to prevent Dutch prisoners being kept there. Aubrey, the 20th Earl, was the last to hold the title and upon his death in 1703 the Earldom became extinct. In 1713 the estate of Hedingham Castle was sold to Sir William Ashurst who proceeded to build himself a large house in the inner bailey. In order to do so he demolished the existing buildings of the inner bailey and levelled the area around the Keep, re-using some of the materials. The house, which is listed at Grade II*, was completed in 1719, the year of Sir William’s death, and his son Robert probably completed the laying out of the gardens. The landscaping associated with the construction of the house and its gardens destroyed much of the southern portion of the inner bailey rampart. An unattributed view of 1719 depicts the new house with a great avenue flanking the drive. It also shows the Tudor bridge and what appears to be a curtain wall around the crest of the castle mound. There are two large holes in the eastern side of the Keep which were created in order to house carriages in the basement of an otherwise unused tower. A survey carried out by Bailey in 1785 shows the layout of the C18 gardens in great detail.

Between 1766 and 1785 the estate passed by marriage to the Majendie family who during the 1890s tried to sell it on at least three occasions but it never reached its reserve at auction and was withdrawn. The castle was used during World War I as a training camp and the Keep acted as a lookout post. On 23 January 1918 a small hut on top of the Keep caught fire and all the internal wooden floors were destroyed. These had been restored by 1926. The estate is now in private ownership but the castle is open to the public (2015).

The castle was excavated in 1853 under Mr Harrod and Sir Beevor; and in 1868 under the owner, Mr Majendie. No report of the 1853 excavations exists but the structures unearthed in 1868 were drawn by Mr Chancellor and briefly described by Mr Majendie. The excavations uncovered the foundations of the Great Brick Tower, the stair turrets, two other brick towers, the Chapel, the Hall with pantries and cellars below, rubble foundations of the Gatehouse, and the curtain wall. A survey of the earthworks at Hedingham Castle was carried out by the Royal Commission for the Historic Monuments of England (RCHME) in 1995. A geophysical survey carried out by Colchester Archaeological Group in 2008 revealed the location of several buildings believed to be part of the Tudor castle, notably what may be the cellar of the Great Hall, but no evidence was found of the foundations of the Great Tower. In 2014-15 a programme of archaeological investigation was carried out during extensive restoration and modernising works. The brick foundations of the Tudor Gatehouse were discovered on the west side of the bridge; and whilst digging just north of the stables in order to lay heating pipes to the Keep, the lower courses of a curtain wall, thought to be Norman, were discovered.



Hedingham Castle is a large, probably late C11 ringwork castle surviving as upstanding, earthwork and buried remains. It sits on a natural spur of land overlooking the northern bank of the River Colne. Within the castle mound, or ringwork, which is located on the tip of the spur, is a mid-C12 stone tower Keep (listed at Grade I). On the eastern side is a Tudor bridge (listed at Grade II*) which provides access to the inner bailey. The outer bailey is situated on the south-west side on the slope into the valley. The outer, south-west, half of the outer bailey lies beneath the spread of the medieval village.


The core of the site, and probably its earliest element, is formed by a massively constructed oval mound measuring 142m by 133m, providing a roughly level platform 121m by 91m (0.88ha). The castle mound was created by the digging of a ditch across the spur and by the steep scarping of the natural slopes, thereby producing a defensible platform of ringwork type. The landscaped remains of an earthwork bank extend around the perimeter. At the foot of the steep slope of the castle mound on the north-west side additional defence is provided by a ditch, beyond which is a counterscarp bank which averages 3m in height and is between 23m and 38m wide. The eastern end of the counterscarp bank terminates abruptly, and it is possible that this is where the springing point for the outer bailey was located.

To the east, the inner bailey is rectilinear, measuring up to 77m long and 42.6m wide (0.38ha), though its original shape and size has been obscured by garden works of the C18 and later. A ditch, up to 8.7m deep and on average 28m wide, surrounds the northern and eastern sides. Along the southern side of the inner bailey, beyond its ditch, there are traces of a counterscarp bank. Most of it has been adapted as a terrace for an C18 avenue but its eastern end is still a low, spread bank some 48m long, 16m wide and 0.3m high. In addition to its massive ditch, the inner bailey is defended by an internal bank which survives along the eastern and parts of the northern and southern sides, although much altered in the C18 when large sections on the northern and southern sides were levelled for the house and gardens. The bank increases in height from 1.2m to 2.3m near the north-eastern corner, and part of the eastern side, at 4.4m high, is higher than the castle mound.

The outer bailey (5.17ha), to the south-west, is now obscured by the spread of the village of Castle Hedingham. However, its earthworks spring from the castle mound ditch and counterscarp bank on its north-western side, heading downhill towards the village. At the springing point, the earthworks comprise two large banks, 10m wide by 2.5m high to the north and 2m wide by 7.7m high to the south, creating a narrow, steep-sided ditch between them. After 70m the northern bank is lost, while the southern bank is reduced to a single scarp between 0.8m and 1.8m high. This ends against a steep scarp defining the northern side of Bayley Street. South of Bayley Street, beyond the area of scheduling, much of the rest of the outer bailey can be traced within the village, preserved by later property boundaries following Crown Street, Churchponds and Castle Lane.

The Keep, located on the eastern side of the castle mound, is constructed with a core of flint rubble and mortar with a facing of ashlared Barnack stone. It comprises a square block of four storeys with a ruinous forebuilding attached to its western side. The Keep is entered at first-floor level by a staircase running up the western side. The stairs have recently been rebuilt with the addition of a modern banister. A modern platform has also been built over the dungeon in the forebuilding to provide access to the main first-floor entrance. Access within the Keep is provided by a spiral stair within the north-west tower, one of only two remaining to its full height. The first floor comprises a large room with numerous small chambers and alcoves leading off. The second floor, wholly devoted to a large hall, is surrounded on all four sides by a gallery, which has double windows providing extra light. The hall was originally open to the high pyramidal roof, the weight of which was carried by a huge Romanesque arch which spans the full width, duplicating a slightly smaller and less decorated one in the room below. The third floor is an addition, utilising the original high battlement walls. The ground floor probably functioned as a storeroom and originally had no external access until the C18 when two large openings were knocked through in order to store carriages.

The brick bridge, linking the castle mound with the inner bailey, is the only complete survival of the late C15 work. It probably replaced an earlier drawbridge. It has four spans with four centred arches of two chamfered orders. The bridge was restored in the late C20 by English Heritage. The brick foundations of the Tudor Gatehouse have recently been discovered on the west side of the bridge. A brick retaining wall runs north-west from the north-west face. North and south of the bridge, the ditch has been cut back and revetted in brick. To the north two parallel brick walls, 2.9m high, define a rectangular area 28m by 8.7m; the eastern wall has been incorporated into the C18 stable (listed at Grade II). This is the site of the Tudor tennis court. South of the bridge, a single wall 21m long by a maximum of 2.9m high, marks the edge of the site of the Tudor archery butts.

The RCHME survey describes the bases of two stair turrets of the Great Brick Tower visible on the slope of the castle mound, just beneath the crest and close to the present path. These were not seen during the recent site inspection, probably due to the vegetation. The positions of several other buildings in the south-western part of the mound that are shown on the 1868 survey are visible as slight earthworks. These include an almost square brick tower measuring roughly 8.5m by 8.2m, situated 25m south-west of the Keep; fragments of the Great Hall corresponding with a square angle cut into the ringwork bank; and fragments of another brick tower south of the Keep. Various other slight undulations south-east and east of the Keep are probably also the remains of buildings.

Around the south and west sides of the castle mound are the foundations of a brick wall. This was probably the curtain wall of the Tudor castle but it persisted in use and was probably rebuilt in the C18. It is at least 0.6m thick and consists of alternate layers of headers and stretchers. In 2015 the lower courses of a flint curtain wall, thought to be Norman, were discovered just north of the stables. It is approximately 1.8m wide and is thought to have been approximately 3m high. EXTENT OF SCHEDULING

The scheduling is intended to capture the surviving remains of the castle mound, the outer bailey to the south-west and inner bailey to the east. The boundary follows the outside line of the surviving ramparts (as shown on the RCHME survey) down to Bailey Street to the south-west and follows the line of the avenue along the south. The scheduling does not include Hedingham Castle House, its associated buildings and formal gardens, but includes the surviving ramparts to the east of the garden, and the counterscarp and earthworks to the east of the ramparts identified on the RCHME survey.


The scheduling excludes all modern road surfaces, fences, fence posts, gates and all modern structures and buildings, but the ground beneath them is included.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number:
EX 3
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Bettley, J, Pevsner, N, The Buildings of England: Essex, (2007)
Dixon P and Marshall P, ‘The Great Tower at Hedingham Castle: A Reassessment’, Fortress, 18, 16-23
Mark Baister, Archaeological monitoring, test pits and building recording at Hedingham Castle, Castle Hedingham, Essex, June 2014-December 2015, Colchester Archaeological Trust
Moraig Brown, Hedingham Castle, Essex: Archaeological Field Survey Report, RCHME, 1995


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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