April 23, 2024

Sherborne Old Castle & Southampton Castle

Sherborne Old Castle

It is so called to distinguish it from the ‘new’ castle, a great mansion first built by Sir Walter Raleigh but much enlarged since. Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury, the most magnificent prelate of his age erected the old castle. He lost his influence and possessions for supporting the Empress Matilda against King Stephen, and despite the protests of subsequent bishops, the castle stayed in royal hands for the next two centuries.

In 1592, it was leased to Sir Walter Raleigh, who started to modernize the castle before opting to erect its successor nearby. The abandoned castle was reoccupied on behalf of the King during the Civil War. It was stormed by Sir Thomas Fairfax after a two-week siege and slighted to prevent any further military use.

Like some other Episcopal palace-fortresses of the Norman period, Sherborne consists of a residential quadrangle surrounded by a defensive outer bailey. The outer bailey covers a large octagonal area, or rather a rectangular area with canted corners, bounded by a deep ditch and curtain. There were five square flanking towers, all but one surviving to some extent. Mural towers were an advanced feature for Bishop Roger’s time but there are not enough of them to flank the long curtain comprehensively.

The best preserved is the gate tower at the west-south-west angle, which seems to have been the original main entrance into the castle. A square keep occupies one corner of the inner quadrangle, though not much above the vaulted ground floor still stands. There are remains of three sides of the quadrangle, especially the north range which contained an ornate chapel over a vaulted undercroft, but the hall opposite was probably pulled down by Sir Walter Raleigh to achieve the fashionable E-plan. To the west are foundations of a second quadrangle added after the castle returned to the bishop of Salisbury.

Southampton Castle

One of the chief ports of medieval England, Southampton preserves a wealth of medieval domestic architecture. Its flourishing Dark Age predecessor was abandoned in favor of the present site in the tenth century, and excavations have shown that this new town had earth and timber defenses from the beginning, no doubt as a defense against the Danes.

Over a mile in length, the walled circuit enclosed a roughly rectangular area. It had numerous bastions, mostly semi-circular, and larger towers ar the angles. Today, only the wall survives, along with parts of the north wall and a length near the southeast corner of the circuit. A tour of the wall may conveniently begin at the Bargate, the northern entrance to the old town and a very imposing one. The machicolated front is an early fifteenth century addition.

Behind it are twin half-round towers a century or so older, while the gate passage retains a Norman archway from an older structure. In contrast with the fortress-like outer face, the side facing the town has large windows lighting the story above the gate. This spacious chamber served as the guildhall in medieval times and later civic uses saved the gatehouse from demolition in later centuries. It was a major obstruction to traffic until the construction of a bypass in the 1930s, which relieved the problem but resulted in the destruction of the stretches of town wall on either side.

Beyond the Bargate, the wall leads west to the circular Arundel Tower, then soutward to the old quay. Shortly a kink in the circuit denotes the junction with the older castle wall. Southampton Castle was a royal stronghold first mentioned in the 1189s. Richard I and John rebuilt it in stone. The west curtain survives as the town wall, with a postern leading into a cellar from the castle’s domestic buildings.