Leeds is a large castle set within a large artificial lake in a bend of the River Len
in Kent half way between Dover castle and the Tower of London.  It is one of the largest castles in England due to its massive water defences.

At the time of Domesday (1086) the estate of Leeds (Esledes) was held by Aethelwold the chamberlain from Bishop Odo of Bayeau, the king's half-brother.  There was the land for 12 ploughs there of which 2 were in the lordship.  There were also 28 villagers and 8 smallholders living in the manor with 7 ploughs.  There was also a church, the remains of which are built into the current structure within the village some distance from the castle, though the fortress is not mentioned in the survey.  Leeds church consists of a large rectangular tower in the dimensions of a tower keep and contains Romanesque windows and archways and is currently not securely dated.  Within the vill there were 18 slaves, 2 arpents of vines, 8 acres of meadow, woods and 20 pigs.  Of more import to the castle there were also 5 mills belonging to the villagers. 
Quite possibly one of these mills was situated where the mill in the castle barbican now stands.  The total value of the estate before 1066, when it was held by Earl Leofwin (died at Hastings), had been £16, although this had now risen to £20 in 1086.  

Between 1086 and 1100 the manor of Leeds came into the hands of a Norman, Hamo Crevequer.  Possibly this happend immediately on the forfeiture of Bishop Odo in 1088.  In 1119 his son and successor, Robert, together with his wife, Rose, and their son Adam, founded Leeds priory in honour of St Mary and St Nicholas.  It is said that they transferred 3 churchmen living on the castle site to the new priory at this time and that this is the first certain mention of the castle, although where this statement originates from is currently unknown.  Certainly no original documentation to this effect has come to light.  In 1138 Earl Robert of Gloucester rebelled against King Stephen and fortified the castles of Bristol and Leeds (Slede) against the crown.  Leeds was quickly reduced by King Stephen soon after Christmas and apparently returned to Robert Crevequer, who was apparently still holding the fortress at the time of his death around 1154.  As the fortress remained in the Crevequer family it is to be presumed that they reverted to a royal alliegence, if they had ever left it.

In 1215 the castle was again besieged and taken during the barons' war at the end of King John's reign.  During another Baron's war in 1264-67, the castle was again lost to royal forces and this time the lord of the manor, the last Hamo Crevequer of Leeds castle, was forced to exchange the castle with Roger Leybourne in October 1268.  His son, William Leybourne, in turn sold the castle, which was called 'The Moat' (la Mote) to Queen Eleanor for 500 marks in June 1278.  It has occasionally been suggested that 'la Mote' meant that there was a motte at the castle on the site of the gloriette.  In reality it is far more likely that the site was actually known as 'the moat'.  This far more describes the site and suits the etymology

After 1278 the queen made the Crevequer fortress into a royal home.  This was visited by King Edward I in 1279, 1281, 1285, 1288 and 1289.  Then, on 28 November 1290, when his first queen died, the king took over its maintenance and in November 1291 paid for 6 carts of lead bought and sent to Leeds by his own writ for his baths, £17 2s, plus 57s carriage.  There was a further charge of 1s 8d for transporting the lead to the ship.  He also paid for 100 Ryegate stones being bought and taken to the castle for 6s.  This was then made into the pavement of his baths by Thomas Lamberhurst for 20s.  Adam Lamhurst was also paid 40s for some of his work in this ‘paving of the baths and other things at Leeds'.  Thomas (the Porter) was also paid four pennies (or shillings - the account is unclear) for various works made in the castle at the same time, while Adam Lamberhurst received 20s in part payment for the pavement and other things he had done at Leeds.  After this, the king frequented the place rarely, the duke of Burgundy and other French ambassadors were prepared for in 1291, but did not appear, although the count of Bar stopped here in 1293.  By this time the castle was held by Edward's second wife, Margaret (d.1317).

In 1314 a violent storm damaged the glass windows of the castle to such an extent that it required 105s to reinstate them.  On Queen Margaret's death in 1317, her step-son, King Edward II, exchanged the castle with Bartholomew Badlesmere in 1318 without taking into account the wishes of his wife, who appears to have had a claim upon the fortress as heir to her step-mother-in-law.  According to the official documentation the king agreed to grant Bartholomew Badlesmere the castle and manor of Leeds, which Queen Margaret of England, deceased, held for life by grant of Edward I, as of the value of £21 6s 8d yearly (32 marks) next of fixed alms, to have in return for 100 marks yearly in land to be given to the king.  For this the king received the manor of Adderley, Salop, which was worth only £99 19s 8¼d per annum, but its church was worth 60 marks and thus greatly exceeded the £100 per annum required.  As a result of the exchange, in 1321 it was said that Isabella attempted to enter the castle for her night's rest and was stoutly repulsed when on her way to Canterbury.  In consequence, on 16 October 1321, the king ordered the sheriffs of Essex, Southampton, Surrey and Sussex to raise 1,000 men a piece and bring them to Leeds castle on the Friday after St Luke next, with horses and arms, as the king proposed going against the castle with Earl Aymer Valence of Pembroke, Earl John Britannia of Richmond and other earls and magnates, to punish the disobedience and contempt against the queen committed by certain members of the household of Bartholomew Badlesmere and others staying in the castle by his precept, in refusing to allow the queen to enter the castle and hindering her doing so by armed force, which Bartholomew afterwards approved by his letters to the queen to have been done by his knowledge, whose familiars afterwards slew certain men of the queen's household.  The action was also said to be a personal matter and not a matter for other barons to become involved in.

Despite this the rebel barons of Edward II moved towards the castle but dared not fight the king with the consequence that the castle surrendered on 1 November 1321 and 13 of the garrison were summarily hanged by the king who resumed possession of the fortress.  On 4 November the king announced the capture of Bartholomew Burghersh, Thomas Aldon and John Bourn, because they had detained the castle of Ledes against the king, hindering the king's entrance thereof, and in the surrender of the castle surrendered themselves also to the king's will.  The castle then remained a royal fortress.

In 1413 Archbishop Thomas of Canterbury went to the ‘greater chapel of Ledys castle' and called on the castle's holder, Lord John Oldcastle of Cobham, to answer for his adherence to Lollardism.  Sir John, despite being called in a loud voice, refused to attend to the archbishop and instead shut himself up in his castle which he fortified.  This strongly suggests that the greater chapel lay in the outer island and that Oldcastle was in the gloriette, also known now as the ‘old castle'!  Sir John was therefore deemed contumacious and was excommunicated in writing.  He was later imprisoned, but escaped to Wales, before finally being executed by Henry V in 1413 after a failed uprising.  In 1422 Queen Joanna, the widow of Henry IV, was released from captivity after accusations of witchcraft and retired to Leeds castle where she celebrated her freedom by giving alms ‘at the cross in the chapel within Leeds castle' worth 6s 8d.  However two celebratory feasts with her family set her back over £4 each!  At the same time over £56 was spent on stocking the castle with wine.  The castle remained nominally in her hands until it was granted to Katherine of Valois, widow of Henry V, in 1425.  Probably in 1436 King Henry VI ordered the repair of the lead work in the gloriette whilst he was staying there.  In 1438-9 a survey recorded the repairing of the kitchen next to the foot bridge to the gloriette within the castle.  A further £10 was spent on remaking a corner of the tower within the castle called the Gloriette which had recently collapsed to the ground as well as for repairing the defects of the said tower.

In 1441 the revamped castle saw the political trial of Eleanor Cobham, wife of Duke Humphrey of Gloucester.  She was imprisoned for life, while in 1446 her husband too was arrested for high treason and conveniently died soon afterwards.  In 1442, after the trial of Eleanor Cobham, a plumber worked for 25 weeks in covering the house roofs within the gloriette.  Also various earth walls were repaired.  Presumably these were half timbered walls of wattle and dawb which graced the interior of the gloriette.  Similar walls were present at the back of the outer ward towers, of which only
one still survives to the E.  The castle survived the Civil War of 1642-46 and continued as a home into the twentieth century, being much rebuilt and altered in the nineteenth century.

The castle was divided into five separate enclosures set in an artificial lake of nearly 15 acres, the enclosures being set against the south-west bank.  When the moat was partially drained in the nineteenth century it was found to be over 17' deep and the only way to drain it properly would have been to demolish a channel through one of the barbicans.  This obviously was not done.

The first portion of the defences to be encountered when approaching from the land side was the outer barbican to the south-west of the castle proper.  This controlled the dam which kept the lake flooded.  The castle is currently approached from three directions, west, south and east.  The south and east causeways currently lead directly to the inner barbican, thereby suggesting that they are late additions.  The approach from the west passed through an outer barbican.  This therefore was surely the original approach, otherwise the building of the outer barbican becomes superfluous to the defence of the castle, unless it was merely built to bring the mill into the fortifications.

Outer Barbican
The outer barbican apparently has no protecting ditch to the north-west where the entrance lies.  Further, the gateway shows no evidence of a drawbridge.  This is a strange design considering the gateways into the rest of the castle.  It is possibly explained by the nineteenth century suggestion that the causeway to the north-west was fortified by weak walls for a distance of some 180-200 feet from the gateway.  Such a long barbican is unusual, but not impossible.  The main outer entrance to the castle consists of an internally projecting rectangular structure with a deeply recessed doorway protected by two murder holes behind a reinstated portcullis.  Such a design could be twelfth century and is echoed at the north gate at Chepstow castle.  The stonework of the barbican consists of large rectangular blocks that tend towards squareness, with the holes between the blocks filled with much smaller fragments.  The inner barbican is built in the same style and the implication is that both were planned and executed simultaneously.  They also both have regular putlog holes spaced throughout their outer surfaces.

Next to the gate in the east corner of the outer barbican was a large rectangular tower which is obviously of one build with the rest of the barbican.  This tower housed the mill and was powered by a sluice from the lake.  The mill wheel was set in a basement chamber, while above was a rectangular room with large embrasures and loops to the west.  Above this was a further room having much smaller embrasures of a less pointed nature holding rectangular windows.  These embrasure sizes are the reverse of what is normally expected in towers and again emphasises how dangerous it is to date structures upon the perceived or alleged dates of their styles.  The tower would seem to date from before 1314 when repairs to the structure and mechanism of the mill in the castle cost 16s.  Presumably the whole is twelfth century with additions.

A spiral stair remains in the wall south of the tower.  This allowed access to the upper floor and wallwalk.  To the SE the outer barbican has been largely destroyed and the protecting ditch apparently filled in.  The surviving inner walls of the barbican and mill tower are only a couple of feet thick, compared to the more defensible 5' of the outer walls.  Some part of this was already decayed in 1314 when the stone wall at the head of the interior lake next to the mill was found to have collapsed and the jurors could not estimate the cost of repairs as the foundations were under water and they could not work out an easy way to get to them.

Inner Barbican
From the outer barbican gatehouse a right-angled turn brings you to an arched stone bridge with a loop above on the outer wall.  This bridge crosses to the inner barbican which is entered through another gatehouse, similar to the outer barbican one, but with the internal protrusions thickened to make two small, irregular rectangular turrets.  The gate itself is slightly recessed between the internal towers.

On this island the irregular inner barbican rises directly from the moat, occasionally with a strong batter.  The enceinte is also pierced on the landward side with cruciform crossbow loops of a thirteenth century design.  The whole bears some resemblance to the barbican at Whittington, Shropshire.  Interestingly both castles were known to the Maminot family in the mid twelfth century.  The north front of the barbican has collapsed, a state possibly dating back to before the survey of 1314 when some form of collapse was mentioned.

There are currently two further drawbridges which led into the inner barbican island from south and east.  These are probably later than the most powerful entrance via the outer barbican.  It is therefore likely that both are late medieval.  From the inner gatehouse a fortified bridge ran east to the main castle island.  This bridge has two arches, the easternmost one having a drawbridge immediately before the main outer gatehouse.  One of these many bridges was the southern outer bridge (pons exterior australis castri) that was repaired at a cost of 24s in 1314.

Outer Ward
The outer gatehouse is at the point of a ravelin-like projection on the island and consists of a rectangular gatehouse tower, in line, but not proud of, the outer curtain wall.  This outer ward wall is again heavily battered like the barbican walls to the south and west, though that to the east may be buried under the current gardens which are outside the medieval defences and were added when the island was extended in modern times.  It also had loops in it, two to the south-west still partially remaining.  The gatehouse is obviously of a different build to the rest of the outer ward enceinte as the stonework is different.  The main curtain walls and towers consist of a rubble ashlar, while the gatehouse has reasonably regularly laid rubble walls.  The implication is that the gatetower is the older of the two and the island defences were built sometime after the gatehouse in better quality stonework.

The outer gateway has two pilaster buttresses to the front, flanking the entrance.  The main gate is recessed between these.  A few feet above the gate arch the pillasters join to form a solid front just above two holes for the drawbridge chains.  A few feet higher the front is topped by the remnants of a corbelled out machicolation.  Behind this the tower continues for a few more feet before being truncated at what was probably battlement height.  The gatetower entrance seems always to have been protected by gate and portcullis.  Behind these the gatepassage now runs all the way into the site of the main ward and it is uncertain how much this has been altered over the years.

Within the outer gatetower at first floor level was a chamber from where portcullis and drawbridge were operated.  Two blocked up loops covering the approach could still be discerned in the nineteenth century.  Behind the gatetower and adjacent to it are a series of more modern buildings which make the original layout of this area difficult to interpret.  Judging from Buck's sketch, this gatehouse backed directly onto the entrance to the inner ward.  This is an unusual design and has probably developed over the centuries as inner and outer ward were of different builds.  The rear of the original outer ward gatetower was probably where a doorway now leads north into a guard's lodge.  Through this to the west is what may be a small rectangular internal turret set tight against the 
north wall of the gatetower.  This room is vaulted and has a crude ‘chimney' cut through the wall.  This is similar, but larger than the north turret of the inner barbican gatehouse.  The wall to the south of the gatetower was rebuilt in the nineteenth century, so its original layout is suspect.

The large island, created by artificially raising the waters by means of the barbican dams, was surrounded with a high wall, with a strong batter to the S&W.  This currently rises some 15', directly out of the lake and still has four projecting semi-circular towers on the 
north portion of the island and the remains of a further, smaller one to the south adjoining the gatehouse block.  The best preserved tower to the NE shows that these were originally of two storeys and the others have subsequently been lowered to battlement level.  The northtower in the early eighteenth century had battlements, but as these were at curtain wall height it is probable that these were post medieval.  There were also rectangular towers to the south-west, west and south-east.  The south one was of two storeys and 30' by 27' internally, with walls some 5' thick, but this was mostly demolished in the nineteenth century.  It appears to have held King Edward I's baths which were built there at a cost of some £24 towards the end of 1291.  Today only the mortar base of the 100 Reygate paving slabs remains, but the fact that they were placed in an obviously pre-existing tower shows that the outer ward was standing many years prior to 1291.  A sluice allowed water to flow in or out from the surrounding lake.  The upper part of the tower was removed in 1821-2, but the lower portion was retained as a boathouse, which may have been the tower's original purpose.  Certainly there was a boat on the lake maintained from the royal coffers in the fourteenth century.

Inner Ward
Within the outer ward was another irregular ward with a wall which was some 8' thick and over 20' high.  This enclosed the large summit of the island.  Virtually nothing of the defences of this inner ward now remains, although a portion of its wall was still standing in 1822.  This contained chimneys in the thickness of the wall and lay under the site of the current 'new castle' or great house to the 
north.  The only surviving portion of the inner wall is now thought to be the north wall of the kitchen which made up the rear wall of the mostly destroyed rectangular NW inner ward tower.  However, underneath the ‘new castle' were some cellars which contained two arches of ‘Caen stone'.  These are thought to be Norman.

The inner gatehouse to the south-west appears to be another rectangular tower, similar to its now co-joined outer gatehouse.  It would appear that this originally projected inwards from the curtain.  This is adjudged as the line of the original inner curtain wall was found to underlie the later spiral stair just over half way along the co-joined gate passageway.  The stairway now leads up to the first floor of the rooms and over the gate passageway is the constable's chamber.  This is linked to the portcullis and drawbridge chamber in the outer gatetower by what has been described as a squint.  This allowed the constable contact with the defenders of that room, but not access.  This room would seem to have been in existence a long time before 1367 when a survey mentions the two guard rooms and portcullis room, presumably of the outer gatehouse, were covered in lead, while the constable's chamber and his stable were tiled.  This suggests that the joint inner and outer gateways were conjoined by the mid fourteenth century at the very latest.

On the ground floor, opposite the spiral stair, is a bench which probably dates back to the time of the construction of the elongated gate passageway.  The layout of the buildings on either side of the gatehouse post date the destruction of this part of the inner ward curtain.  Probably they are all Tudor or later, although the possibility remains that they are earlier.  Certainly it is evident to the rear that the entire range has been raised in height, the original roof line being below the tops of the current windows.  It is possible that some part of this structure belonged to the religious community that it has been suggested lived within the castle site.  If so, they would have been removed to the current site of Leeds priory in 1119.  In this case it would seem likely that a religious community occupied this portion of the area of the outer ward island, while the Crevecour castle was placed on the island which is now the gloriette.  Certainly the 1735 Buck's print of the castle shows a much ruined barbican fronting the outer ward, which looks like one long tithe barn like building with battlements only over the N end and a gable roof running down the whole structure from there to the S.  This is only broken half way down where the internal gatetower rises above the roof to form a dormer type roof with a window within.

At the north end of the inner enclosure was a projecting gatehouse which exited at the line of the outer curtain.  A survey made a little while before 1441 shows that it was near this that the great kitchen (magna coquina) stood with its great larder, next to the foot bridge to the gloriette.  In 1367 it was mentioned that the oven was near the gloriette bridge.  This was uncovered in 1822 when a sketch was made of the kitchen, outer mural tower and gloriette bridge.

From the site of the gatehouse a bridge of two arches, each with a drawbridge over them, led to the old castle or gloriette, set on a small, artificial island.  The bridge to the gloriette was repaired in 1367 as too was the water conduit pipe that ran from the park to the castle.  As this was repaired again in 1439 the implication is that the pipe was probably installed, or repaired, around the end of the thirteenth century.  Running water also seems to have been installed at Goodrich castle around this time.  Once over the drawbridge the shell keep of the gloriette was entered via a shoulder-headed doorway set in a small projecting rectangular tower, now known as the clock tower.  The tower originally had a boldly projecting batter, like the outer gate, as well as the rest of the gloriette.  This batter was at least 17' high.

The ground floor of the gatetower could have been no more than a gateway, just like the outer gate, but above this was a chamber or two of which two blocked rectangular windows remain to the west.  These windows also exist to the east, with a third lower one on the ground floor.  Both upper windows to east and west have been curtailed by the later string course.  The bulk of the masonry above this string course is later, although the 1822 sketch of the castle shows that the rectangular windows to east and west at the upper level are original before the top storey of the tower was added after that date, replacing a wooden superstructure.  The upper string course is probably later than the lower one, which probably predates the rebuilding of the corner of the keep in 1438-41 as the course changes height at this point.  The uniform battlements from the new work onto the bridge to the gloriette are obviously Victorian and are lacking in the sketch of 1822.  The battlements on the gloriette, however, would appear to be medieval.

A close examination of the bridge suggests that it originally consisted of a single, tall, central rectangular tower, similar in dimensions to that of the clock tower.  The voids before and behind this tower were later filed in with masonry to make the current bridge to the gloriette.  The tower, now a part of the bridge, still stands proud of the masonry that fills the gaps in over the later arches.  There also appears to be a horizontal junction just above the level of the crown of the arches.  It therefore appears that the entrance to the gloriette began as a rectangular gatetower with a drawbridge chamber above.  These two drawbridges, one operated from the bridge tower and the other from the clock tower, were then fitted with stone archways.  At a later date still the gaps between the outer ward and the gatetower and the gatetower and the clock tower were filled in with masonry which became the rooms visible today.  As the ‘footbridge' to the gloriette is mentioned in 1367 it presupposes that the two drawbridges had become a single bridge by that date.  Presumably it was later still that the bridge was converted into the long narrow building we see today.

Close study of the masonry on the west side reveals that the gate tower predates the bridge - as would be expected.  It is also apparent that a single portion of the old outer ward gatetower remains to first floor height on the west side.  This terminates immediately beneath the string course that marks the commencement of the first floor of the bridge.  A similar fragment is apparent on the east side, but ends beneath an inserted large two light window.  Above this it is apparent that a slight projection continues up to the second string course.  This possibly is a later rebuilding, but it may also mark an early rebuild.  It is also apparent that the bridge is set well west of centre, leaving the gloriette gatetower projecting well beyond the bridge to the east.  On the south face of the clock tower is a projecting turret which rises to the summit of the old tower and is continued on in the new upper floor.

The walls of the gloriette, like the main medieval castle walls, rise from the lake on a fine batter.  This forms an irregular curve to the N, although the walls rising from the batter are straight, forming an irregular polygon.  Unfortunately the fenestration has been much altered, but several rectangular loops to the 
north could well be original.  To the north-west a small semi-circular turret rises proud with the base of the batter up the wall, the only noticeable probably medieval portion of the gloriette that projects from the enceinte further than the gatetower.  The projecting bay windows next to this turret are much later in date and are thought to be the work of Henry VIII.  To east, west and north are corbelled out first floor chimneys.  These are unusual, but the ones at Whittington barbican can be tentatively dated to the mid thirteenth century.  Presumably these are of a similar date.

The internal buildings of the gloriette have been much damaged and rebuilt and little of them appears to be medieval.  To the west of the entrance was the chapel, alleged to have been built or rebuilt by Edward I around 1280, although the castle was then held by his queen.  Such a proposition is just as likely as not.  Regardless, the chapel was heavily rebuilt and altered into various rooms including a staircase allegedly inserted for Henry VIII before the death of Sir Henry Guldeford in 1527.  The Henry VIII banqueting hall lay on the west side of the gloriette where the kitchen was built after the fire caused by Dutch prisoners during the reign of Charles II.  It is possible that this chapel was also used - or built - as the chantry founded by Edward I soon after the death of his wife on 28 November 1290.

Central in the east wall of the gloriette is a rectangular doorway reached from internal ground level via a spiral stair.  From here steps lead down to a vanished wooden causeway that led to a small, now submerged, island in the lake, which roughly marked the half way mark to the shore some 100' from the gloriette.  Presumably this was a sallyport of some description and may date back to the earliest times of the castle.  During Charles II's reign the upper section of the gloriette between the chimney above the sallyport and the SE corner of the keep collapsed at first string course level.  This was subsequently rebuilt soon after 1822.  The sallyport bridge was rebuilt in the 1930s for easy access to the gloriette, but was
later demolished again.

Although not a fashionable description, the gloriette has all the attributes of a shell keep, although, like Berkely, it does not stand on a motte.

Why not join me at Leeds and other British castles this October?  Please see the information on tours at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2017 Paul Martin Remfry