Bodiam castle consists of a rectangular enceinte surrounded by a moat that has been drained and partially excavated twice in the twentieth century.  Surrounding the castle are the earthwork remains of formal gardens.

The castle was founded by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge on his return from the Hundred Years' War.  He had acquired the manor of Bodiam by marriage before 1378 and received royal licence to begin work on 21 October 1385 to ‘strengthen with a wall of stone and lime and crenellate and construct and make into a castle his manor house of Bodyham by the sea'.  The castle was probably completed by 1392 and eventually passed to Thomas Lewknor via his wife, Philippa Dalyngrigge, in 1470.  In 1483 Thomas rebelled against Richard III and the castle was seized by the Crown.  Although the fortress was returned to Thomas by Henry VII in 1485, the land remained disrupted and it is uncertain how much use the castle subsequently had.  It was sold to Sir Nicholas Tufton in 1623 and in 1644 was sold again to pay John Tufton's war debts after his surrender to Parliament.  The new owner, the Parliamentarian Nathaniel Powell, seems to have partially dismantled the fortress.  Despite its impressive positioning the castle never seems to have seen military action.

The main castle is set on its own artificial island surrounded by a broad, rectangular moat measuring some 500' north to south by 375' east to west which is around 6' deep.  The fortress was approached from the west, but is now approached from the north via a modern causeway which gives access to an octagonal plinth where a right angled turn gave access to an isolated barbican, set before the castle proper was reached.  This was at least two storeys high as the remains of a garderobe proves.  Within the barbican was a portcullis, but apparently no gate.  The outer octagon, when excavated, also showed that it once contained a garderobe so an occupied tower possibly stood here.  Excavations revealed the foundations of a further bridge which spanned the south side of the moat to another central abutment which gave access to the south postern gate of the inner castle.  Many waterworks and even a mill and associated features surround the area of the castle.

The fortress enceinte encases a rectangular artificial island and is built of a sandstone ashlar that appears to have been quarried at Wadhurst, around 8 miles to the north-west.  The curtain walls enclosing the courtyard survive to their full height including crenellations to the north and south.  The ward is entered via a main gatehouse to the north which has 4 floors including a basement.  Entrance was by a recessed, central gateway above which were the arms of Wardeux, Dalyngridge and Radynden - Elizabeth Wardeux being Edward's wife and Alice Radynden his mother.  This again suggests that the castle was completed before Edward's death in August 1393.  The gate was flanked by projecting rectangular 3 storey towers and topped by a corbelled, machicolated and crenellated parapet.  The walls are pierced by simple lancet windows, with gunloops, the only ones at the castle, at ground level adding an important defence.  The medieval outer portcullis, made of iron-clad oak, survives as it is jammed in its current position and obviously proved too difficult to dislodge when the castle was decommissioned.  There is a lesser gate, called the postern, set beneath the square, 3 storeyed postern tower in the centre of the southern front.  Above this gate are also three coats of arms.  The central one appears to be those of Sir Robert Knolles, under whom Dalyngridge fought in the French wars, while the other two are blank.  The curtain walls link four circular corner towers and two further square towers set centrally against the western and eastern walls.  This gives the castle a symmetrical appearance.

The bulk of the castle enceinte survives intact, although the internal accommodation buildings are much ruined.  The towers provided sleeping accommodation and were lit by single light lancet windows.  Within the basement of the south-west corner tower is a restored stone-lined well about 10' in diameter and about as deep.  This was originally fed by a spring and supplied the castle with fresh water.  A large mullioned and transomed window, with two pointed lights, near the east end of the south curtain wall, indicates the position of the great hall.  The east range contained the principal living rooms and the chapel.  The large east window of the chapel survives in a projecting bay on the north side.  It has three, plain, pointed lights, which were partially restored in the nineteenth century.  The north range is thought to have contained stables, a storeroom and a further hall of two storeys.  The west range appears to have been accommodation and service rooms for castle retainers.

Why not join me at other Great British Castles next Spring?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


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