The Domesday Book of 1086 states under the entry for Rayleigh ‘in this manor Swein built his castle'.  This Swein was undoubtedly the son of Robert Fitz Wymarch of Clavering and presumably he built the castle after the death of his father between 1070 and 1075.  It is thought to have been occupied from the reign of William I (1066-87), if not a little earlier until the mid fourteenth century.  Excavation suggests intensive occupation before the mid twelfth century, which presumably coincides with the fall of Henry Essex of Claveringfrom favour in 1163.  Despite this the barony, under royal control, remained intact and was recorded as such by King John in 1212.  In 1181 King Henry II ordered William Bishop and Ranulf to take custody of the king's houses in the castle.  Presumably the fortress had been in his hands since 1163.  After King John there followed periods of intermittent development, and then more intensive occupation in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.  By 1394 the site had been abandoned when King Richard II allowed the locals to repair their chapel and build a belfry with stones taken from the castle ruins.

Rayleigh castle stands on high ground with good views all around.  It is a normal motte and bailey castle, but quite different to the presumably older Essex family site at Clavering which is just a bailey.  Rayleigh motte summit stands some 20' above the bailey surface, but some 55' above the ditch bottom to the west.  The mound has a surface diameter of some 75' and basal diameter of 220'.  The inner bailey is some 260' north to south by 150' wide.  The northern end is rectangular, but the southern end curves from the east round to a causeway up the motte.  There was an outer bailey containing a windmill to the east, but this has been built over.  The ditches may have been wet and now contain a pond to the south.

Excavations uncovered large amounts of stone and rubble within the bailey and on the north-east slope of the motte.  This strongly suggests that site was fortified in stone.


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry