Hedingham Castle

Hedingham Castle was built in around 1140 by Aubrey de Vere an Essex land owner. The castle is rectangular in plan and stands to a height of 110 feet. The walls are in places 12 feet thick. The castle originally had a fore-building that acted as the main entrance, but like many of the other existing Keep Towers, this section has been removed. On the second floor of the castle is a huge Norman semi-circular arch with a span of 28 feet, one of the largest of its kind. The keep is similar to Rochester and could have been designed and built by the same architect. The de Veres earned the title of Earls of Oxford by assisting the Empress Matilda with her cause against King Stephen during the Civil War.

 

These diagrams show the internal layout of Hedingham Castle. The black areas indicate solid walls. The top image is the ground level floor. The main entrance to the castle was on the floor above this so the ground floor was used for storage. Access to this floor was via the circular staircase shown in the bottom left hand corner. The triangular sections show the locations of the windows. The windows on the outside are only narrow slots but they widen through the thickness of the wall to allow as much light in as possible. The walls are so thick that small two small rooms and the circular staircase are built into them.

The area to the bottom of the diagram indicates the location of the forebuilding. At Hedingham this has been destroyed so the diagram shows a rough outline to indicate its position.

There is only one staircase in the keep shown on the plans as a segmented circle. The staircase is the only link between each floor. Please note that these diagrams do not represent a completely accurate layout of the castle but are presented here to give a feel for the design of medieval keeps.

These two plans show the arrangement of the main hall, the height of which spans two floors. The plan on the left shows the lower section of the hall with the main entrance in the bottom left hand corner. There are several small chambers leading off the main hall built into the walls on all sides. The fireplace is built into the centre of the wall on the right hand side. The floor above this is similar in design.

The plan on the right (above) shows the gallery that runs around the main hall on the floor above. The gallery allowed people to walk around the outside of the hall and look down to see what was going on. The dashed line indicates the position of the huge arch that supports the wooden beams of the top floor.

The top floor provided sleeping space or private chambers for the Lord of the castle. Again there are a series of small rooms built into the thickness of the walls. It may be in one of these smaller chambers that the Lord and his wife slept leaving the main area for the rest of the family and retainers. The spiral staircase extended up from this floor to the roof that had corner towers from which lookouts could keep watch on the surrounding countryside.

These towers were very strong but they did have two serious weaknesses: -

  • It was discovered that by digging underneath the corner of the tower it was possible to cause the collapse of the walls. This was known as undermining and this is covered in a later section.
  • There were blind-spots at the corners of the towers that could not be seen by archers from the small windows. Attackers could use these blind-spots to their advantage. The answer to this was the polygonal keep discussed in the next section.