Hedingham is a Norman motte-and-bailey castle with a magnificent stone keep with sides averaging 17m and nearly square. It is built on a natural spur and is more than 70 ft (21 m) tall. The keep was built around 1135AD and survives today as one of the best examples of Norman defensive architecture anywhere in Britain. Hedingham Castle is located in the village of Castle Hedingham in the county of Essex, England and was the property of the de Vere family from 1086 until 1625. Over the following centuries it has been owned by Sir William Ashhurst and later by the Majendie family. It is currently the property of Jason Lindsay, son of The Honourable Thomas Lindsay a descendant of the original de Vere owners.
The medieval keep has four floors and is largely intact although two of the four turrets were demolished at some point in the past – probably for the stone which could be used for other building projects. Other than the keep very little else remains of this once impressive fortress. At one time it was completely surrounded by a stone curtain wall which has long since vanished, probably scavenged for stone at the beginning of the 17th century when the castle fell into disrepair. It’s worth noting that the walls were clad with ashlar imported from Barnack in Nottinghamshire an architectural extravagance for both the time and region. There has been some speculation that the roof space between the turrets was once shaped like a pyramid but this is still uncertain. A red-brick four span bridge some 21m in length connects the inner bailey to the outer bailey. It was originally constructed during the late 15th or early 16th centuries but has already been restored on a number of occasions.
During the Barons’ Rebellion against King John the castle was besieged in 1216, and captured fairly swiftly, by the forces of the King. A year later it was besieged again but this time by Louis of France (who was assisting the Barons) to regain the castle for de Vere. Once again it was a short siege.
A Very Fishy Tale
According to legend, during the first siege of the castle the defenders would throw uneaten fish at the forces of King John to demonstrate that they had so much food they could afford to waste it. In fact, the defenders were apparently using a secret tunnel to get to the fish ponds. The whereabouts of the tunnel remains unknown to this day.
During WWI the keep was used as an aircraft signalling station but on the 25th of September 1918 a fire broke out and gutted the interior of Hedingham Castle. The blaze is believed to have started in a hut built on the roof for the observers. It spread through the timber roof which collapsed inwards destroying everything beneath it. Only the thick stone walls survived. It was restored and today looks very much as it would have before the fire.
Hedingham Castle regularly stages a range of events, including jousting, re- enactment battles, fairs, archery, falconry, car shows, music concerts and theatre productions.
Film & TV
Hedingham Castle has been featured in a number of television documentaries and film productions including: The Landscape Man (2010, The Reckoning (Willem Dafoe and Paul Bethany – 2014), Ivanhoe (BBC 1997 ), Made in Britain (Fred Dinah), The Shakespeare Theory (Sir Derek Jacobi), Lovejoy (BBC) and A History of Britain (Simon Schama).
Among the more famous of the earls of Oxford is Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford who many people believe may have been the true author of the literary masterpieces credited to William Shakespeare. This possibility became mainstream news with the release of the film Anonymous in 2011. In the film Edward is revealed as a literary prodigy and the secret lover of Queen Elizabeth I who publishes his plays through an enterprising frontman – William Shakespeare. The film did as much to promote the idea as to discredit it. The film was poorly received by the Shakespeare Societies some of whom even organised a protest in Stratford upon Avon.
Camping and Caravanning Club Site
Holt Road, Bower House Tye, Polstead
Suffolk, England, CO6 5BZ
+44 (0)1787 211 969
- Address: Bayley Street, Castle Hedingham, Halstead, Essex, England, United Kingdom, CO9 3DJ
- GPS: 51.992469,0.601406
- Phone: 0044 (0)1787 460 261
- Part of UK: England
- Sat Nav Postcode: CO9 3DJ
- Entrance Fees: Yes
- Disabled Access: Limited: Stone staircases with no lifts or elevators / Disabled drop off possible
- Visibility from Road: Very limited
- Image Credits: Header Image: Mike J Roberts (composite)