A fortress, now within the precincts of the town of Bishop's Stortford, was possibly built here by King Edward (d.924).  In 921, after he fortified Towcester (Tofeceastre) at Easter, the king ordered his men to build a stronghold at Wigingamere at Rogationtide.  If this identification is correct, Waytemore castle began its existence as a burgh.  Minor excavations in 1900 found Roman coins in the ruins. 

According to Domesday Book (1086), Bishop William of London (1051-75) purchased Bishop Stortford as part of a ‘fee' from King William I (1066-87).  In 1086 it was noted that a priest, 2 knights and 12 cottars lived there.  Possibly the knights were associated with the castles which was granted by the king to Bishop Maurice of London and his successors as ‘the castle of Stortford and all the land which Bishop William (d.1075) formerly held' in the period 1086 to 1087. 

In 1137 the castle was seized by Abbot Anselm of Bury St Edmunds (1121-48) in his attempt to make himself bishop of London.  However the castle was soon relinquished when the pope quashed his election in 1138.  In 1141/2 the Empress Matilda bought the support of Geoffrey Mandeville (d.1144) by making him a putative grant of Waytemore castle (castellum de Storteford) if she could acquire it by exchange with the bishop of London, otherwise she would destroy it (prosternere).  However, they failed to take the castle from Bishop Robert Sigillo (d.1150) who remained loyal to King Stephen (1135-54).  In 1187, on the death of Bishop Gilbert Foliot, the castle was taken into the king's hand where it remained until Richard Fitz Neal (d.1198) became bishop under King Richard I.  When the royal accounts of the administration of the bishopric were drawn up at Michaelmas 1189 it was recorded that £1 had been spent on a watchman and the porters at Stortford castle for three quarters of a year (ie. from September 1188 until June 1189).  Further £10 18s 8d had been spent on the serjeants who were in residence at the manor.

In 1208 Bishop William of London (1196-1221) was one of those who published the interdict against King John (d.1216) and promptly fled the country.  This resulted in the king seizing Waytemore castle.  According to a fourteenth century chronicle it was only in 1213 that ‘the castle of the bishop of London at Stortford (Stortteforde) was destroyed'.  The date, however must be wrong, for on 21 July 1213 King John informed all his bailiffs and faithful men that he had allowed Bishop William of London to rebuild his castle of Stortford when he wished and that they were not to impede him in this.  The same year, on 22 November, the king went further and acknowledged that although he had taken the castle during the interdict he was now willing to repair the castle and restore it to its former strength.  Despite this there is no record that John actually spent any money on the castle, though it would appear to have been repaired as on 29 March 1216 the king came to Bishop's Stortford and stayed overnight.  The castle seems to have been used as a prison by 1234, though why it was then in royal custody is a mystery.

Stortford castle was recorded as in good repair under Edward III (1327-77) and on 12 March 1346 Bishop Ralph Stratford (1340-54) was given licence to ‘crenellate his castle of Storteford and the tower of the same'.  On 10 September 1352 it was recorded that Bishop Ralph had founded a chantry in Storteford castle.  By the fifteenth century the castle was ruinous and by 1545 the bishop's court had moved to Hockerill and the castle by 1549 was no more than a few pieces of walling.  The prison near the site of the castle gatehouse survived until 1649 when it was demolished.

The castle consists of a 40' high mound about 160' east to west and 230' north to south, set in a bend of the River Stort.  To the south is a large bailey, the whole being surrounded by the river to the north and east, with a moat on the remaining 2 sides.  On the motte top are the remains of what has been described as a shell keep, but is more of an inner ward with a curtain some 9' thick.  This is about 60' east to west at the south end and a little over 100' long.  The north end, about 70' across, is slightly convex and has a rectangular building covering the western 2 thirds of the wall and an otherwise square 16' room the north-east corner.  The thin internal wall contains some Roman bricks and tiles and therefore might be the oldest masonry on the site.  There may have been a stair turret at its western end.  There are further traces of another roughly square 16' building in the south-east corner of the ward.  However this seems to have had walls about 10' thick and may be the castle tower or keep.  Entrance was always from the bailey to the south, apparently through a hole in the wall type gate adjacent to the keep.  In this respect it is rather like Lydney.  The well in the south-west corner is over 60' deep.

The D shaped bailey has been much mutilated in modern times, but an excavation in the south western part of the ward uncovered massive foundations of flint and oolite in a yellow mortar mixed with what may have been Roman brick.


Copyright©2021 Paul Martin Remfry