April 23, 2024

Rochester Castle & Saltwood Castle

Rochester Castle

Castle and cathedral stand close together beside the River Medway. For once, it is the castle, which dominates, the squat cathedral tower seeming insignificant alongside the magnificent keep. This is the tallest of the Norman keeps, rising 115 feet to the top of its corner turrets.

Archbishop Corbeil’s keep is intact save for the loss of its roof and floors. A relatively small floor area accentuates the height; small that is when compared with an immense cuboid such as Dover. The keep is five stages high, including the double story, which contained the hall and solar. Originally, the only entrance was at first floor level via a fore building.

The fore building is a tall and narrow projection, higher than most fore buildings, though it does not rise the full height of the keep. It contains a vaulted prison chamber beneath the entrance vestibule and an austere chapel, which was reached from the body of the keep, above it. At this level, the cross wall is pierced by a four-bay arcade.

In the middle of the cross wall, a well shaft rises the full height of the keep so that water could be drawn at each level. Rochester is one of those ambitious keeps with a mural gallery at the upper level around the hall and solar. The windows here are unusually large for a Norman keep – presumably at this height they were considered to be out of reach of siege towers. The top floor above the gallery level, also well lit, is a luxury matched among Norman keeps only at Hedingham Castle, which may have been designed by the same architect.

Three of the corner turrets, rising well above parapet level, are square, but the south corner turret is circular. This whole corner belongs to Henry III’s reconstruction after the siege of 1215.

Saltwood Castle

Saltwood Castle is part ruined and part restored and sits upon a hill above the old Clinque Port of Huthe. Henry de Essex, Constable of England and Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, is credited with the construction of the castle, at least in its stone form, at some point during the Anarchy.

The inner bailey occupies an oval ring work surrounded by a curtain wall of Norman masonry. Archbishop Courtenay added the two square towers, which project from the south curtain, but three odd Norman towers also remain. They project internally like the interval towers of Roman forts, which seem to confirm a date around the mid twelfth century when there was room for experimentation in such matters.

The eastern tower was later adapted to form the inner part of Archbishop Courtenay’s handsome gatehouse. The entrance from the bailey is now blocked. This gatehouse, probably designed by the celebrated master mason Henry Yevele, his tall, cylindrical towers at the outer corners and a row of machicolations between them. It is big enough for a keep-gatehouse and it remains the inhabited part of Saltwood Castle, supplemented by more recent wings on either side.

Within the bailey there are, unusually, two halls. The ruined hall backing onto the curtain dates from the early fourteenth century as its window tracery reveals. The other is said to have been Archbishop Courtenay’s audience chamber. It is largely a modern reconstruction, though the vaulted undercroft is original.

Courtenay is also credited with the walling of the triangular outer bailey, though the so-called Roman Tower incorporates older masonry. The outer curtain is at the present very ruinous, but it preserves two round flanking towers and a lower part of a gate tower. The approach to the latter is commanded by one of the towers of the inner curtain.