April 23, 2024

Buckden Palace & Caister Castle

Buckden Palace

Buckden Palace was a residence of the medieval bishops of Lincoln, allowing a midway break on the journey from London to their cathedral city. This Episcopal palace was entirely rebuilt in brick by Thomas Rotherham, who became bishop in 1472. After his transfer to York in 1480, it was completed by Bishop Russell.

The dominant feature is a tower modeled on the great brick tower at Tattershall Castle. Buckden’s tower house is oblong in plan with octagonal corner turrets rising above parapet level. However, it is less ambitious in scale and lacks the machicolated crown, which gives Tattershall such distinction.

The broad chimneybreast is a prominent and altogether domestic feature. Another obvious weakness is the tower’s proximity to the steeple of the parish church. They are separated only by the width of the former moat. This is typical of the castellated mansions of the later Middle Ages and shows that the builder was more interested in status than defense, though such towers must have had some value as refuge in the event of local danger.

The tower house could serve as a self-contained residence but the palace buildings were far more extensive. The inner courtyard contained a lavish suite of residential buildings and it is a pity they have all vanished. It is unusual to find a courtyard of this era, which is not quadrangular, so the layout was probably dictated by an older moated enclosure.

As well as the tower house, the inner courtyard preserves its diapered gate tower, with a range of ancillary buildings attached and the length of wall connecting the gatehouse to the tower house. This wall is pierced by arrow-slits but is too thin for a genuine curtain – the wall-walk is carried on a row of arches. Much of the precinct wall survives, as well as an outer gate giving access from the High Street.

Caister Castle

Caister Castle stands three miles north of Great Yarmouth, not at Caister-on-the-Sea, but a little inland at West Caister. This brick stronghold is a monument to Sir John Fastolf. Fastolf was a distinguished veteran of the Hundred Years War, a knight of relatively humble origin who played an important part in the Lancastrian conquest of northern France.

Falstolf built this castle in 1432-46 when he was enjoying a prosperous retirement. On his death in 1459, Caister passed to the Paston family, whose letters give a first-hand portrayal of life in fifteenth century Norfolk. Unfortunately for the Pastons, the Duke of Norfolk also laid claim to the castle and, when legal means had failed, he set about making good his claim by force. In 1469, he brought a considerable force to lay siege to the castle, which creditably held out for several weeks against the duke’s cannon before the inevitable surrender.

Veterans of the French wars built most fifteenth century castles and a number were in fashionable brick. They tended to be showplaces, combining lavish accommodations with a show of strength. Some had a secondary role in coastal defense and Caistor did repulse French raiders shortly after its completion.

Caister was one of the finest of its kind but rather too much was pulled down in the eighteenth century. The castle stands in a wide moat still full of water. It is one of those with an inner quadrangle and a subsidiary base court for retainers. This is less obvious now because the arm of the moat between the two courtyards has been filled in.

There is also part of a third courtyard behind, arrested only by a circular corner tower incorporated in a later house. The base court, of inferior brick, is now fragmentary and the main quadrangle had suffered so much destruction that only its north and west walls still stand.