Complete View of the Manners, Customs, Arms, Habits & Co of the Inhabitants of England, 1774, by Joseph Strutt.
9. Castle Hedingham
|[Plate 29] No. 1, the perspective view of Hedingham castle, p.89. 2, the building on the keep, 3, the plan of the whole, 4, Trematon castle, see p.96.|
“The Normans varied much from, and greatly improved, the fortifications of the Saxons.
“The Norman castle consisted of a base court, surrounded by lofty earth banks, topped with a strong wall of stone; and to this they added a keep, or dungeon, which is a high hill of earth raised at one end of the fortification.
|Hedingham Castle: Perspective|
“The noble remains of one of these castles is at Hedingham, in the county of Essex, where not only the earth-works are remaining very perfect, but also of the original building on the keep.
|Hedingham Castle: Plan|
“The part marked (C) (see the Ichography, plate 29,) is called the base (or lower) court, it is encompassed with a bank of earth, now 22 feet in height, and originally it was still higher, but has been dug down to level and raise the base court; where there is a handsome modern built house and garden*. Its breadth is about 110 yards, and its width near 100 yards; the perfect communication between the keep and base court, is over a brick bridge of three arches of modern structure. The keep is exceedingly large, and not so high as keeps are generally found to be in other castles of the Normans#: it is round, and flat at the top; its diameter a full 90 yards; it was surrounded by a strong wall on the brink, the remains of which are yet in many places evident: the keep from the middle of the ditch is full 30 feet high. Looking on the Ichnography we find that the keep A, is surrounded by a deep ditch B. B., which has communication at each end with ditch E, which also runs round the whole base court; this ditch must in its original state, have been full 14 or 15 feet deep; it is now upwards of 20 yards I width, and the compass of the whole work, walking round in the middle of the ditch, is full half a mile.
“The remaining tower (on the keep) is about 50 feet square and 90 feet high, built of rag stone, (that is flints mixed with strong cement) and faced both within and without with great square stones, like those described in the fortifications of the Saxons: and the facing not only served for ornament, but was extremely useful, for the cement that was mixed with flints, where it has been well preserved from the air and rain, is become hard and permanent as the flint themselves, nay, the workmen who lately made two doors into this part of the tower, assured me, it was “easier to beat the flints to pieces than the cement.” These walls including the facings are 12 feet thick.
|Hedingham Castle: Keep|
“The building (as was before observed) four square, and all the fronts are nearly alike, except the back front (where there is an arched door way and steps down to the keep): it was ornamented with turrets at three of the corners, at one of which, is a noble flight of winding stairs, containing 120 steps of stone. The chambers that are now in the tower, are neither antient, or in the places where the antient ones were made, the tracings of them being now almost entirely lost. I observed in one of them a handsome arched cavity between two windows, which was the fire place, the chimney being carried up through the wall like those of the Saxons. Originally there were two of these towers upon the keep, if we may trust the old drawing made in the year 1665**. And indeed it is highly probable that there was another, for this remaining tower is not in the middle of the keep, as most likely it would otherwise have been, and besides on the back front, by the steps, are the imperfect ruins remaining of the connection between the two towers. At the bottom of the present tower, they pretend to shew you a passage, or rather where a passage formerly has been; which, if you would believe the common report, did lead under ground to Colchester. I was exceedingly desirous of finding out the cause of such a strange report, and particularly, because at the castle at Colchester, they give the same account of a subterranean passage, leading to the castle at Hedingham. On strict enquiry, I was told the following story by an old man who lived at Hedingham, and had from his childhood been backwards about coming forwards at the castle. The castle was once besieged (I suppose in John’s time) and all the passages around the country blocked up: after some time, the enemy supposing that the besieged were in great distress of food, called upon them to surrender, but they within, (in derision of the fruitless attempts of the besiegers) threw over the walls to them live fish in great abundance, who being amazed at so unexpected a sight, concluded that they must have some subterranean passage, leading to Colchester, (it being the nearest place for live sea fish to be got) despairing therefore of taking the castle they had raised the siege. Tho’ this is a foolish and idle story, yet it is highly probable, that they might have really a passage under ground, leading to some obscure and covered place of convenient distance, by means of which, they might not only supply themselves with food, but in case of emergency facilitate their escape. And ‘tis not uncommon in old castles to meet hollow vaults and passages, which seem no ways calculated for other uses; neither is history altogether silent of the fact, for we read of Mortimer, earl of March, being surprised with the queen dowager, by Edward the third, through the means of such a subterranean passage. See also the account of that passage at the castle of Colchester, page 27.”
“Footnotes: * And is the seat of Sir Henry Houghton, Bart.
# Perhaps it may not be an improbable conjecture, that Ulfwin, (who was possessor of this manor before the conquest) might have had a castle here, and that Albericus de Vere on taking possession of the manor, did rebuild it after a fashion of his countrymen, which will well account for the extensiveness of the keep, supposing that he did not divide the ground occupied by the former castle, but added the base court and other works to answer it.
** The people that shew the castle say there were two more beside the remaining towers.”