- Heritage Category:
- Scheduled Monument
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Location Description:
- Caister Castle, near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Location Description:
- Caister Castle, near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.
- Great Yarmouth (District Authority)
- West Caister
- National Park:
- THE BROADS
- National Grid Reference:
C15 moated enclosure castle built for Sir John Fastolf.
Reasons for Designation
Caister Castle, a C15 moated enclosure castle built for Sir John Fastolf, is scheduled for the following principal reasons:
* Survival: for the exceptional standing, buried and earthwork remains which depict the form, plan and architectural detail of the castle;
* 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 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 understanding gained from recent scholarship pertaining to the castle’s history and evolution: notably the summary accounts covering the first three years of work between 1433 and 1436, which are an exceptional and rare survival;
* Diversity: for the range of features, such as the principal and outer courts, great tower, moat and gatehouse, which, taken as a whole, provide a plan of the castle and retain significant stratified deposits which illuminate its evolution;
* Architectural importance: for being one of the earliest brick residences to have been built in England, and the sophistication of the brickwork in the inner court, particularly in the great tower, which is exceptional. The castle incorporated many elements from both Lancastrian and continental buildings – such as the private tower, bath house, stacked lodgings and square window openings – emerging as a building of the most advanced style, taste and comfort;
* Historic association: for the association with Sir John Fastolf, the notable soldier and trusted associate of the Regent of France (whom he served between 1422 and 1435 as chief steward) and later with the Pastons;
* Group value: for the strong group value with the Grade II* listed Caister Hall which incorporates the associated C15 barge house.
An enclosure castle is a defended residence or stronghold, built mainly of stone, in which the principal or sole defence comprises the walls and towers bounding the site. Some form of keep may have stood within the enclosure but this was not significant in defensive terms and served mainly to provide accommodation. Larger sites might have more than one line of walling and there are normally mural towers and gatehouses. Outside the walls a ditch, either waterfilled or dry, crossed by bridges may be found. The first enclosure castles were constructed at the time of the Norman Conquest. However, they developed considerably in form during the C12 when defensive experience gained during the Crusades was applied to their design. The majority of examples were constructed in the C13 although a few were built as late as the C14. Some represent reconstructions of earlier medieval earthwork castles of the motte and bailey type, although others were new creations. They provided strongly defended residences for the king or leading families and occur in both urban and rural situations. Enclosure castles are widely dispersed throughout England, with a slight concentration in Kent and Sussex supporting a vulnerable coast, and a strong concentration along the Welsh border where some of the best examples were built under Edward I. They are rare nationally with only 126 recorded examples. Considerable diversity of form is exhibited with no two examples being exactly alike. With other castle types, they are major medieval monument types which, belonging to the highest levels of society, frequently acted as major administrative centres and formed the foci for developing settlement patterns.
Caister Castle was constructed for the local landowner Sir John Fastolf (1380-1459) between 1433 and 1446. The manors of Caister Hall and West Caister had been acquired by the Norfolk family of Fastolf in 1363, and John was born in the moated manor house that stood on the site. This was demolished to make way for the castle and it is possible that the earlier moat may have been incorporated into the castle moat. Fastolf was one of the most famous Lancastrian soldiers and diplomats of the Hundred Years War whose distinguished military career took place mainly in France. He was created a Knight of the Garter and fought at numerous battles, including Agincourt. Fastolf’s name was later adapted by Shakespeare for his character Sir John Falstaff in Henry V but here the resemblance ends. Much is known about the C15 castle from documentary material including an inventory of Sir John’s possessions, the Paston letters, and the annual summary accounts which survive for the first three building seasons from January 1433 to January 1435. These were compiled by William Gravour or Gravere, the clerk of works, from more detailed notes kept while the work was in progress. The final cost was estimated at £6,046, averaging the large sum of £500 a year. The visit of the Duke of Norfolk in 1446 coincided with the completion of the building works, although it had been largely finished by 1440. Whilst the fortifications at Caister Castle could be interpreted as part of Fastolf’s quest for ennoblement, the building was certainly designed to be defensive with its high curtain walls and towers with arrow slits, gunports and machicolations which supported a wall walk at roof level. It was surrounded by a water-filled moat with bridges which could be raised. The moat was filled with water from the River Bure; and the building accounts record that the nearby Pickerill Creek was widened and deepened, and a barge ditch was cut, thereby creating direct water communication from the castle to the River Bure via the creek, and thence to the sea. Caister Castle is one of the earliest brick houses to have been built in England. The clay required for the 1.7 million bricks used in constructing the castle was dug about 1.25 miles away from the building site. It has generally been assumed that all the building materials were brought to the site by water but a recent close inspection of the building records indicates that the bricks came the short distance by road (Kennett, 2008). The freestone from Caen and the plaster of Paris were delivered by ship however, and timber was brought from Fastolf’s manor of Cotton in Suffolk. The inspiration for the use of brick is thought to have been the palace started by Henry V at Sheen, and in other respects the design of the castle was at the forefront of late Plantagenet building fashions. It is not an example of a Wassenburgen, which were built in waterlogged sites of the Lower Rhineland, as stated by Barnes and Douglas Simpson in 1952, but drew some inspiration from the Rysbank Tower at Calais which would have been familiar to Fastolf.
In addition to the upstanding remains and earthworks, the layout of the C15 castle can be obtained from the plan prepared by Henry Swinden in his Ichnography or Ground Work of Sir John Fastolf’s Mansion House at Castor (1760), and from the sinking of trial pits around the mid-C20 by a previous owner Charles Hamblen-Thomas, of which little is known. Based on these sources, Barnes and Douglas Simpson drew up a plan in 1952 (subsequently reproduced in Pevsner) showing that the castle consisted of a principal court and a service or base court surrounded by a rectangular moat. A spur from the moat separated the two courts which were linked by a bridge: a classic English arrangement. Another bridge crossed the moat to the south-west range of the castle which had a hall with a Domo Superiori above. On the right side of the hall was the buttery and on the left was the dais which led to the west tower. The north-west range probably consisted of the cellars with perhaps a chapel over, and the south-east range contained the kitchens. The use of the north-east range has not been identified. The service court was reached via a bridge on the north-east side, and had ranges along the north-west, north-east and south-east sides.
Leading to the south-west side of the moat was a rectangular barge yard, described on the 1760 plan as ‘now filled up’, with an L-shaped building which contained a wide and low arch through which the water flowed to the barge ditch and thence to the creek. By this channel, which led directly to the River Bure, goods were conveyed to and from Yarmouth. A pair of rectangular fishponds is shown either side of the barge ditch. The L-shaped building, now known as Caister Hall, is described on the plan as ‘a part belonging to the house where the servants cooked, lodged, etc., and now only part remaining tenantable (in the occupation of Mr. John Nuthall, a very worthy and honest farmer in good circumstances and tenant to Bedingfield, Esq., the present Lord of the Manour).’ The tower at the south-west corner is described as a ‘round tower […] now covered in lead taken off the high tower’. The north-east wing was rebuilt in the 1830s.
Sir John Fastolf died in 1459 and was buried in the chapel built by him at St Benet’s Abbey in Holm. He bequeathed his extensive estates, including Caister Castle, to John Paston. It is likely that the Pastons carried out some alterations or building work to the castle as the north-east outer court has been dated to the late C14 or early C15. In 1469, following an ownership dispute, the Duke of Norfolk took the castle by force with four knights and 3,000 men. Some heavy damage was done but, as Pevsner notes, it is a tribute to Gravour that the castle fell through starvation and not cannon. Following the Duke’s death the castle returned to the Paston family who sold it in 1659 to William Crow, an upholsterer and money lender. It then came into the possession of the Bedingfield family by marriage. The castle became increasingly neglected, although a plan published by Grose in Antiquities of England and Wales (1776) shows that the buildings were then still largely complete with two drawbridges where the moat can be crossed today and a third which connected the two courtyards. In the following centuries stonework was robbed from the castle, including the removal of a newel with 122 stone steps from the tower by Parson David Collyer c.1776 for his house at Wroxham. The moat was remodelled some time between the publication of two maps in 1842 and 1893 (reproduced in Barrett). The latter shows that the inner moat had been filled in and the south-eastern side had been dug out and widened, probably to create a lake. In 1952 the castle was in the ownership of Charles Hamblen-Thomas, and in the mid-1960s the castle grounds to the south-west were made into a motor museum which remains to the present day (2013).
Other than the trial pit dug by Charles Hamblen-Thomas the site has not been excavated. A watching brief took place in the winter of 2009/ 2010 during clearing, dredging and restoration works of the moat. The south-west wall of the castle was observed in three test pits to a depth of 0.7m below the water level of the moat. Some evidence was found that significant demolition and collapse of the south-west wall may have occurred in the C18. The oldest artefact recovered was a tobacco pipe of mid- to late-C17 date.
Caister Castle is located at West Caister, just north of Great Yarmouth and 2.5km inland from the coast. The C15 moated brick castle survives as upstanding, earthwork and buried remains, and covers approximately six acres. The upstanding remains of Caister Castle are listed at Grade I.
DESCRIPTION The castle consists of a ruinous principal court to the south-west and a service court to the north-east, surrounded by a roughly rectangular water-filled moat which encloses a central platform measuring approximately 172m by 78m. Evidence of its inner edge and some of the eastern outer wall survives as a rubble flint core with facing brick; and although no evidence was seen of the other retaining walls on the outer edges of the moat during the recent site inspection, it is reasonable to assume that they survive. The south-east arm of the moat surrounding the principal court has been dug out on the inner side by approximately 10m. A modern round brick filtering structure is located in the north-east arm of the moat. On the bank of the north-east corner is a C19 single-storey lodge constructed of red brick with a C20 extension. Modern footbridges with concrete decks provide access over the north arm of the moat to the service court, and over the south-west arm through the gatehouse to the principal court. The moat spurs that originally divided the two courts (before being filled in during the C19) are visible on aerial photographs as shallow earthworks and parchmarks.
The upstanding remains comprise parts of the south-west and north-west walls and tower of the principal court, and the north-east and south-east walls of the service court. These are constructed in brick of various hues, from pink and pale yellow to deep purple, measuring in general about 21.5cm by 11cm by 5cm. The late C14/ early C15 brickwork in the service court is relatively poor quality compared to the technical sophistication of that in the principal court, particularly in the great tower. The dressings at the quoins and apertures are stone. The north-east and south-east walls of the service court have two-storey round towers at the corners and brick buttresses to the exterior. At intervals there are splayed arrow slits with timber lintels. A rectangular concrete standing, which formerly supported a shed (since demolished) abuts the north-east wall. In the principal court, the six-storey circular west tower rises at the junction of the north-west and south-west ranges. It has a polygonal stair-turret rising above the parapet on the south side. The ground floor has a two-light Perpendicular dais window (mostly bricked up) with the remains of a tierceron vault and the other floors are lit by rectangular windows. The tower has machicolations to the parapet. The brick staircase and the moulded handrail cut into the wall have been removed above the first floor which is now accessed via a C20 timber winder stair. None of the floors remain and the top of the tower has been ceiled over in timber.
To the north-east of the tower there is a four-storey rectangular block immediately behind the north gable end of the hall providing access to each floor of the hall. In the gable end is the remains of a ground-floor fireplace, later converted to pigeon nesting boxes. The hall runs south-east from the tower for seven bays and had three or four storeys, the lower two forming the great hall with Fastolf’s Domo Superiori above. The outer wall of the hall has a deeply stepped corbel table reminiscent of inverted pyramids. At the south end of the hall is the two-storey gatehouse, probably a replacement of the original built after the siege by the Duke of Norfolk. It has a four-centred arch within a square surround right of centre, and a four-centred arch window opening above. To the left is a guard room, and to the right the wall continues south to a corner turret of two storeys which has a corbel table of grotesques, apparently re-used ecclesiastical work. The north-west wall of the principal court is two storeys high before crumbling down to the ground over a length of approximately 37m. The inner side has a set-off above a series of relieving arches which may indicate cellars, and there are two splayed rectangular windows. The outer side also has a set-off and a stepped corbel table which supports an arcade under the eaves, probably with a machicolatary function.
The foundations of ranges that abutted the interior of the walls of the principal court have been raised with a few courses of brick laid in rat trap bond. Other remains of buried walls are visible as parchmarks on aerial photographs. The positions of the five turrets projecting from the south-east side of the principal court are indicated by mounds of earth. It is expected that the buried remains of the castle have survived well as there has been no erosion or removal of fabric.
EXTENT OF SCHEDULING The area of protection includes the complete rectangular moated site. There are a number of features which are excluded from the scheduling: the C19 lodge and attached wall on the bank of the north-east corner of the moat; the modern round brick filtering structure in the north-east arm of the moat; and the modern concrete footbridge over the south-west arm of the moat, although the ground beneath all of these features is included. The modern concrete footbridge over the north-west arm of the moat is also excluded, although the stone foundations that abut the inner wall of the moat are included as they may be the foundations of the original bridge. Further exclusions from the scheduling are all modern paths, track surfaces, fences and signs, although the ground beneath all of these is included. There is considerable potential for undesignated (but potentially nationally important) remains to survive outside the scheduled area, particularly on the south-west side of the moat which is the site of the C15 barge yard and barge house.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- NF 1
- Legacy System:
- RSM - OCN
Books and journals
Pevsner, N, Wilson, B, The Buildings of England: Norfolk: 1 Norwich and North-East, (2002)
Barnes, H D, Douglas Simpson, W, 'The Antiquaries Journal, Vol. 32, Issues 1-2, pp. 35-51' in Caister Castle, (April 1952)
Barrett, C R B , 'Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Volume 2, 37-47' in Caister Castle and Sir John Fastolfe, K. G, (1896)
Alasdair Hawkyard, Sir John Fastolf’s ‘Gret mansion By Me Late Edified’: Caister Castle, Norfolk, The Fifteenth Century Volume V Of Mice and Men: Image, Belief and Regulation in Late Medieval England, edited Linda Clark, 2005, pp. 39-68,
David H. Kennett, Caister Castle, Norfolk, and the Transport of Brick AND other Building Materials in the Middle Ages, pp. 55-67, The Art, Science and Technology of Medieval Travel, edited by Robert Bork and Andrea Kann (2004) ,
NAU Archaeology, An Archaeological Watching Brief at Caister Castle Moat, Norfolk, August 2010,
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