Glastonbury Abbey: fact and fiction

FACT: Glastonbury Abbey existed in the Middle Ages and still does – to a certain extent.

FICTION (maybe): King Arthur and his two-timing wife, Guinevere, were buried there.

First let’s distinguish between myth, legend and fiction Myth never happened (trust me – e.g. Greek and Roman gods, 6 headed monsters, one-eyed ogres  … actually, I do know someone who might fit that description); legend may have happened (e.g. Geoff Hurst’s 1966 World Cup 2nd goal did go over the line); fiction didn’t happen but some fiction is based on legend (e.g. politicians are honest). Get it? So, legend has it that Glastonbury Abbey was built on the site of a wattle and daub church erected by Joseph of Arimathea when he visited the town with the young boy, Jesus. After the crucifixion of Jesus, Joseph revisited Glastonbury (or the island of Avalon as it was then) with the Holy Grail and buried it below the great hill of Tor – now the site of the Chalice Well.


Hill of Tor, Glastonbury

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Chalice Well at the bottom of Tor Hill

Fiction (as legend) then moves forward to AD 540(ish) and the death of King Arthur. He was reputedly taken, mortally wounded, by boat to Avalon. There he died and was buried – at Glastonbury in the ancient burial ground (3 on plan), maybe.


morte d’Arthur (‘so long Art’)

Fact and fiction merge: In 1190 it is recorded that the monks dug up a grave in a cemetery just south of the Lady Chapel (not to mention St Dunstan and Galilee chapels) at Glastonbury Abbey. It contained two skeletons, male and female, and they were deemed to be Arthur and Guinevere. It is not clear what happened to them at that time, but in 1278 they were reburied in a black marbled tomb in the Choir/Chancel of the Nave before the High Altar. King Edward I was present, so it must be true (must it? Bit like reading the Sun or the Daily Mail). After the vandalising of the Abbey in 1539 the bones were no longer to be found.

Plan of Glastonbury Abbey (north at top) (shaded red is what remains)

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Toby pointing out the site of King Arthur’s first burial place …. maybe (looking north with Lady Chapel in background)


King Arthur’s tomb of 1278 in the Chancel (looking east, High Altar chain-linked in background with ruins of Edgar Chapel behind that)

Back to fact: The first stone church at the site of the Abbey was built by the Saxon King, Inde, in AD 712 and it was enlarged (the cloisters) by Abbot Dunstan in 940. In 1077, after the Norman invasion, this church was destroyed and replaced with a larger one by Abbot Thurstin. Then, between 1100-1118, Abbot Herlewin demolished this church and built the main Abbey. The Domesday Book of 1086 records it as the richest monastery in the country. The building was destroyed by fire in 1184 and rebuilt. Historical records tell us that rebuilding went on until 1524 and the archaeology gives physical evidence of these previous buildings. The Abbey was finally ransacked in 1539 after the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII (there’s someone who had a lot to answer for). Regardless, the remains of the Abbey are well worth a visit.glast4

Interior of Lady Chapel (looking east)

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Nave and Central Tower remains (looking east)

And, of course, Caburn Castle is Camelot …… (it said so in the Sun – or was it the Daily Mail)



Next week: The develoment of societies with archaeological interests

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is another extract:

met an old American friend of mine the other day in the bar of London hotel of some note. It was Douglas Fairweather Jnr, a famous actor over from Hollywood. He was slumped over a whisky.

“Hi Dougie, what’s the problem?” I enquired detecting a state of morose.

“I’ve come over to make a movie of The Merchant of Venice and they want me to play Shylock.” He responded in some despair.

“But that’s excellent old boy,” I retorted with much enthusiasm, “What’s the problem?”

He replied, “But I want to play the Merchant.”


St Mary’s House, Bramber

THE TUDOR HOUSE of St Mary’s is a must to visit if you are in Bramber between May and September on a Thursday or a Sunday. I’m not really a rep for the Bramber Tourist Board, honest. (Actually, I think I AM the Bramber Tourist Board).



St Mary’s Tudor House

St Mary’s was built around 1470. The land had original belonged to the Knights Templars who remained in Bramber until 1154. The house took its name from the late 12th century chapel of St Mary’s that had been built on the central pier of the old stone bridge between Bramber and Beeding.

The house became a sanctuary (or Inn) for pilgrims travelling from Canterbury to Winchester (as you do) and was controlled by the Monks of Sele (Sele Priory was in Beeding in case you missed previous blog). It is likely it would have been a four-sided, two-storied, oak-framed building with a central open courtyard (where the music room is today).


Plan of what the house may have been like as a four-sided building in 1470 (street to right) – by Walter Godfrey (Thorogood, St Mary’s Bramber, 1998, 8)

What remains of the 15th century house is the east wing. During the 17th century the other wings of the house and the south end of the east wing were demolished, either through fire or disrepair (they didn’t have insurance in those days!). If you come out of the music room onto the stairs and look up you will see four entrances which would have been to the travellers’ cells (bedrooms). The fact that one opens into thin air is evidence of a gallery which would have been present in the 17th century (either that or the owner had a sense of humour). If you go into the garden from the door by the kitchen and look back you will see the south wall is of flint and stone. This is a 17th century repair and the old wood beamed wall would have extended further into the garden (by approximately 15 feet).

Although there are two entrances on the east side of the existing wing, the original entrance would have been where there is still a door on the North (the street) side (see pic below). Part of the oak pillar (found in the basement) to this entrance is now on display on a wall within house.

plan b

Plan of what the front (north side) of house may have been like from the street in 1470 (Thorogood, St Mary’s Bramber, 1998, 7). From the middle of the entrance door to the right no longer exists (well, it does, it’s now the flats and St Mary’s Court)

The Warden’s room (or Monks’ parlour) contains some of the earliest oak panelling in the house, dating from the 16th century. There is also a unique massive ‘dragon’ beam carrying the weight of the upper floor. The Elizabethan inglenook would have been used for cooking when the great kitchen in the west wing was lost.

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The Warden’s room (or monks’ parlour) in the first entrance

In the 16th century, following the dissolution of the monasteries, the house was taken over by Sir Ralph Shirley (of Wiston) and he divided the open common room on the ground floor of the east wing into separate rooms and installed the fireplace in the middle entrance hall – as it is today. Also in the hallway is a central table believed to be from the wood of a ship from the battle of Trafalgar.


The entrance hall with the ‘Trafalgar’ table

It is possible that the house may have seen the visitation of Elizabeth I on one of her ‘Progresses’ through Sussex and it may be that ‘The Painted Room’ was prepared for her visit (see pic below). It has also be ‘said’ that Charles II stayed at the house during his escape to France, but there is no documenatry evidence of either of these royal visits, just romantic speculation. Nothing wrong with that.

19a-Painted Room

The Painted Room

During the 18th and 19th centuries the house was used as a farm and the Tudor oak beams whitewashed over (sacrilege!). Then in 1890 the Hon. Algernon Bourke (second son of the Earl of Mayo) purchased the property and built the music room and accommodation extension (now flats and St Mary’s Court). Algernon was from ‘High Society’ and owner of White’s Club in St James’s and chairman of the Grand Hotel in Monte Carlo. He was also related to the ‘notorious’ Lord Alfred Douglas whose father, the Marquis of Queensberry, had a hand in the fall from grace of Oscar Wilde. The characters, Algernon Moncreiff and Gwendolen Fairfax, in Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, are believed to be based on Algernon Bourke and his wife, Guendoline.


Algernon Bourke by ‘Spy’

In 1899 Alfred Musgrove succeeded Bourke as owner of the house. Little is known of him other than that he may have been the inspiration behind Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ tale The Musgrove Ritual which is set in a house very similar to St Mary’s. As with the Conan Doyle tale, there is a cellar which, at present, is blocked off – but what may be down there today?

Between the war years the house was owned by the McConnels and was used on occasions as an American ‘finishing school’. First-hand accounts from the family’s grand-daughters report that the rooms were filled with gaiety, dancing and laughter.

The outbreak of WWII brought the downfall of the house and it fell into disrepair. It was saved by Miss Dorothy Ellis who bought it at auction in 1944, saving it from a builder who would have dismantled it for building materials (omg!). Since 1985 it has been lovingly cared for with expertise and skill by Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton.


music rm

The Music Room

The Gardens

The five acres of gardens make St Mary’s a very special place to visit. Surrounding the actual house is the Topiary garden to the east, leading to the now front doors and the Terrace garden to the south leading out from the rear door.

In the Terrace garden is the ‘Monks Walk’ (remember previous blog?) which is an ivy-clad pergola of yew. Some of the ornamental stone fragments in the flint wall are remnants of the old Medieval bridge. The lawn was laid out by Algernon Bourke in the 1890s and was used for croquet. One of the notable features of the garden is the ‘living fossil’ tree, the prehistoric ginko biloba, which is the oldest species of tree in the world.

Behind the Castle pub St Mary’s Victorian gardens were sold off by Dorothy Ellis to pay for the repairs to the house. The present owners, Peter Thorogood and Roger Linton, were fortunate enough to be able to buy them back when the cottage to which they belonged came up for sale. The gardens (aka the ‘secret’ gardens) have now been restored to their Victorian glory by Roger and are a delight to wander around and relax.


Entrance to the ‘secret’ gardens

There is also a small museum housing various fascinating garden relics and an enchanting and tranquil ‘Poets Corner’.

Dr Who

For Dr Who fans St Mary’s is a must. The ‘Silver Nemesis’, with Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, and his trusty police box, was filmed at the House in July 1988. Click here for article.

polic bx

Events and things

The House puts on various events, including music and comedy which you can all go and see. You can also get married there, as my son, Toby and his wife, Zoe, did in 2012:

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Toby and Zoe married at St Mary’s

More on the House, click here:


On another topic, did you see the size of ‘dem bones’ found just recently??


The bone in the picture is a fossilised femur (thigh bone) of a new species of dinosaur or titanosaur, dating back to the late Cretaceous period (that’s somewhere between 66 and 100 million years ago to you). It was discovered in a desert in La Flecha in Argentinia and bearing in mind the size of the femur this dinosaur (sorry, or titanosaur) is likely to have been around 40 m in length (that’s 130 ft in English) and 20m tall (that’ll be 65 ft), weighing in at 77 tonnes (much the same as 14 elephants apparently), which is seven tonnes heavier than the previous record holder, Argentinosaurus. Bad luck Argentia, you’re big but not big enough.

Fossilised remains of seven of this enormous fellows, totaling some 150 bones, were excavated by a team of palaeontologists from the Museum of Palaeontology Egidio Feruglio, led by Dr Jose Luis Carballido and Dr Diego Pol. They were discovered by a local farm worker and one assumes he thought better than to give them to his dog.

The real question is, where are they gonna put them?

Honey, we need a bigger garage …….

Next week: Lets’ go to Crete

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr. Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction. Here is a further extract:

My days searching for early African civilization were fraught with endangerment. I recall being warned by our guide that we were entering a region inhabited by a lion. My colleagues and I commenced enclothing ourselves in heavy boots and a strong robust rig about the body. To my surprise, our guide stripped almost naked and donned only a pair of plimsolls, clearly intent on avoiding any physical contact with the king of the jungle.

“My dear man,” my voice raised with some degree of authority, “I trust that such foolish attire will do you little favour should we encounter the savage beast of the wild. Lightly garmented such as you are, you will never out run the creature.”

His response, which left me a little disturbed, was, “Master, but I only need to out run you.”




Ghosts of Bramber Castle

Oooooooooo, do you believe in ghosts? ONCE UPON ANOTHER TIME there was a King called John. He was a bad king and was easily upset by his barons ….. who were just as easily upset by him (if you get the drift). William de Braose, the 4th Lord of Bramber,  was no exception. In 1208, John seized William’s lands and Will de B escaped to France. Bramber-Castle.-Sussex-570x300

Don’t go up to the Castle at night ……

Unfortunately Will’s wife, Maud (or Matilda) and eldest son, William (imaginative with their names in those days), were captured by King John ‘the Bad’ and he locked them up in Corfe Castle (or possibly Windsor Castle) and starved them to death. Easily done. Here the tale slightly deviates as another source says that two of Will de B’s children were captured and starved. It is these two children that are (sometimes) seen wandering the grounds of Bramber Castle at night in search of their father. Admittedly, when I say ‘sometimes’, they are usually seen after the pub has shut. Then there is the white horse A riderless white horse has been heard and seen on moonlit nights galloping around the moat.  Its origin is unknown.  Could it be the horse of the sporting young William de Lindfield? (Yes, another William). In the 15th century, the ill-tempered Lord Hubert de Hurst occupied the castle (supposedly).  He was in his 50s and married to Maud of Ditchling (oh, another imaginative name), a rustic beauty, half his age.  The naughty 25-year-old Lindfield was having an affair with Maud (no surprise there), which Hurst discovered (oops, careless). whitehorse On a fresh September day, Lindfield rode into the castle and dismounted the horse and was never to be seen again.  Hurst had set a trap for him in the pleasure house, in a garden at the rear of the castle, where the young gentleman was awaiting the company of Lady Maud.  It resulted in Lindfield being imprisoned in a vault beneath the house. Hurst proceeded to brick up the vault’s entrance and the entombed Lindfield fell to a dark and solitary doom. Maud died of grief shortly after discovering the fate of her lover and the dastardly Hurst was reduced to a raving maniac (happy days).  Many years later the pleasure house and gardens were supposedly destroyed by the Parliamentarians and a skeleton was found crouched in the corner of the old vault (Lindfield’s?).  Perhaps it is Lindfield’s white horse which, today, roams the moat awaiting the return of its master. bramber_moat

The moat ……. domain of the riderless horse?

I don’t want to be a spoil-sport, but if you read my previous blog on the Castle, you know that it was in ruins during the Civil War which puts a bit of  a dampener on the existence of any pleasure house (or its destruction by Parliamentarians) and any possible truth of this yarn ……

 St Mary’s Down the road to the Castle you may find another ghostly apparition if you are in the right place at the right time (and consumed sufficient champagne). This will be at the old Tudor House of St Mary’s. In fact it has two estranged figures wandering the premises. First there is the ‘mysterious monk’ who has been seen lurking in the Monk’s Walk (obvious place for a monk I suppose) in the back garden of the House. The source of this vision is a Canadian soldier (or two) and the occasion was a revel (involving a certain amount of alcohol so we’ll leave it at that). 48-Garden today- Monks walk

 The Monk’s Walk at St Mary’s (it’s day time that’s why you can’t see the monk)


‘Mysterious monk’ on his way to the garden …. perhaps

The second is the ‘lady in grey’ seen on the hall stairs of the House by one of the more elderly occupants, Mimi McConnel, during the early part of the 1900s. The source does not mention Mimi’s drinking habit. stairs

The ‘spooky’ stairs (again, day time so don’t expect to see the ‘lady’)

  Next week: More on St Mary’s Tudor House.

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction (see last blog). Here is another extract:

I received a call from my very good friend, Professor Michaelmas Aston-Villa, who informed me of an interesting experience he had just had. He had heard that some very strange crop marks  had recently appeared in a field near his home.  He decided to hire a plane to take a look and photograph them, but he had to be quick as he believed the field was to be ploughed up that very day. He telephoned the local airfield to have a plane ready and waiting.  As he arrived, sure enough, there was a small bi-plane warming up on the runway.  He ran to it, jumped into the passenger cockpit and shouted to the pilot to go. Once airborne, he turned to the pilot and pointed in the direction of the field.  The pilot asked of his interest in the field and Michaelmas explained to him that he was an archaeologist and needed to take aerial photographs before it was ploughed over.  After a long pause, the pilot tapped Michaelmas on the shoulder and said, “You mean you are not my instructor?”



St Nicholas’ Church at Bramber Castle

st nich

St Nicholas’ Church, Bramber

EDWARD THE CONFESSOR (1042-1066) gave the parish of Bramber (and nearby Steyning) to the Abbey of Fecamp in Normandy. As seen in the first blog (if you have been paying attention), when William the Conqueror took his place as King of England he granted the ‘Rape’ of Bramber to William de Braose but the monks of Fecamp still claimed rights to the land (see ‘Historical Note’ below). In 1073, de Braose, in competition with the Abbey of Fecamp,  built the church of St Nicholas, just outside his castle’s gatehouse, for Beneditine monks of the Abbey of St Florence (Florent) at Sanmur in Anjou.  In 1080, those monks moved from St Nicholas and established themselves at the Priory of Sele in Beeding (village next door) but St Nicholas remained as a religious centre for the occupants of Bramber.

Historical Note (not that the rest of this is not historical you understand): After Edward the Confessor died, new king, Harold, decided to cut Fecamp’s ties with St Cuthman in Steyning (along the road from Bramber – pay attention). William of Normandy (he hadn’t been upgraded to ‘Conquerer’ yet) was furious and planned retribution.  And so Steyning maybe accountable for the cause of the Norman Conquest ……….


Anyway, in 1085, William le Conq belatedly re-confirmed Fecamp Abbey’s claim to St Cuthman Church (now St Andrew’s in Steyning). This was not a good thing as it was to lead to various disputes between the Abbey’s monks at St Cuthman  and Billy de Braose (we’ll call him Will de B). In fact, 3 court cases came to pass in 1086. The first involved the monks successfully stopping Will de B charging a 2d toll at Bramber bridge for boats to pass through to the Steyning port. In the second case, Will de B was ordered to fill in ditches he had dug to allow water from a tributary of the River Adur to flood the east side of the moat of his castle and to make it easier for water transportation to the castle. In both cases the monks of St Cuthman claimed they had the rights to the river – and the court obviously agreed. In the third case, the monks considered they had the rights to bury the Bramber dead at St Cuthman – and receive the burial fees. Again they were successful and burials at St Nicholas had to be dug up and reinterred at St Cuthman – along with payment of the burial fees. Monks with a mission!

conj map2

Conjectural map of 12th century Bramber/Steyning (yellow circle is St Cuthman, white circle is Bramber Castle [ditches from tributary NE & SE], red circle is Bramber bridge)

st nic plan 2

Plan of St Nicholas over the years

See the above plan of St Nicholas over the years. The north and south transepts have disappeared entirely and the east apse was replaced with a chancel (in or around 1250), which has also since disappeared (after the civil war in the 17th century).  Arches of all three are still visible on the outside walls.  The single aisle and tower are original structures (well, the tower has needed some repairs – see pic below).

st nics 1770

St Nicholas c 1770 – towerless

In 1459, the Priory link with monks was dissolved and the church (& Priory at Sele) was granted to St Mary Magdalen College, Oxford, by Henry VI (at bequest of William of Waynflete, Bishop of Winchester).  It had now obtained full status as a parish church.

As a result of the dissolution of monasteries in 1538 the church became  the property of the Crown, who granted it to Richard Andrews and Nicholas Temple, who sold it to Owen and Clement Oglethorpe, who re-granted it back to Magdalen College in 1546, where it remained until 1952.  It then passed to the Bishop of Chichester, who holds it today.

 st nic 19th c

St Nicholas in the 19th century

The church was damaged during Civil War (c1643) and it took many years for it to be fully repaired.  The materials from the wrecked chancel were utilised to repair the tower.  In 1931, the vestry was added to west side of the church.

Inside the church is a fine arch with two original Medieval carvings on its capitals. The left column said to be one of only three examples of Norman 11th century figured sculpture in the country. The right column carving is most likely 14th century and has a Maltese cross which associates the church with the Knights Templars who occupied the village around that time (see pictures on link below).

As is rather obvious, the church has fared somewhat better than the castle (see previous blog if you don’t believe me) and is still in use today.

Click here for another link to a site regarding the church.

Next: Ghosts of Bramber Castle …….. and another extract from Artemus Smith’s notebooks (talking of which …..)

Artemus Smith’s Notebooks

I continue my research of the notebooks of Dr Artemus Smith, archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction (see last blog). Here is another extract:

I had been working on a survey of a churchyard in Vienna.  On the first day I could hear music which was emitting from the gravestone of none other than Ludwig van Beethoven.  Being familiar with his work, I soon realized was that it was his Ninth Symphony, but it was playing backwards!  After luncheon, I returned to hear his Seventh Symphony, again, playing backwards.  Curious as I was, I sought the graveyard’s caretaker.  On our return to the headstone, the Fifth Symphony was playing, as I expected, backwards.  I asked the caretaker whether he could provide a suitable explanation. 

“Nothing to worry about” he said, “He’s just decomposing.’’



Bramber Castle – architecture and archaeology

So, last blog I waxed lyrical and briefly about the history of the Castle. ‘Briefly’ because, although its been around a long time, it hasn’t had much excitement. This is probably a good thing if you happened to have lived there. But it doesn’t make a good story and could be classed as a bit boring.


Plan of Castle grounds  (Barton & Holden, ‘Excavations at Bramber Castle’ Sussex 1966-7′, Archaeological Journal, 1977: 14)

Boring it may have been but what did it look like? It was a ‘motte and bailey’ structure. That’s a French thing. The motte, now the tree covered mound in the middle of the site (well sort of middle), would have been the location of the wooden dwelling of the baron (initially William de Braose if you remember last blog). The bailey is the flat grass area around it. How do we know this? Well, the great lump in the middle of the castle grounds is not the result of giant moles so it’s a bit obvious. Also the Bayeux Tapestry gives us an indication of what such a castle motte may have looked like. See pic below – the wooden structure on top of the motte mound is being defended and it has a ditch around it (see pic further below for what the Bramber motte may have looked like). There is archaeological evidence that Bramber motte once had a ditch around it.


 Bayeux Tapestry – defending the wooden dwelling on top of the motte surrounded by a ditch

The main excavation of the Castle’s gatehouse, curtain wall, motte ditch and sections of the bailey was carried out by K.J. Barton and E.W. Holden in 1966-67.  A great many finds were uncovered, some dating back to the 11th century.  They included various types of pottery, bronze tools, iron arrowheads, horse fittings, buckles, clay pipes and 917 fragments of animal bones were identified.


What Bramber motte may have looked like – with surrounding ditch (not with water in it)

What is, perhaps, equally interesting (so as to make it not too boring – see above) is what was not found. As mentioned in the previous blog, it was generally believed that an explosion, in a skirmish during the Civil War, destroyed the Castle.  However, Barton & Holden report that no traces of Cromwellian destruction were recovered. Admittedly, this does not mean it definitely did not happen – but why blow up something that is already a ruin? (I know, the Venetians blew up the ruins of the Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis because the Ottomans used it an ammunition store …. but that’s another story).

However, the keep or gatehouse to the Castle (stonework to the right of the steps) appears to have been built in two phases.   Firstly, in the 11th century (c.1075), it was simply a gatehouse about 38 ft in height, 9ft thick and consisting of a north and south gate.  This would have been the main entrance.  Secondly, during the 12th century, possibly Philip de Braose, or his son William, said, “I want it BIGGER”. It was transformed into a tower in excess of 50 feet in height (as it – well, the west wall – is today).  The south gate was blocked up (to make it more secure from invaders) and the north gate half blocked by a blocking wall.  The internal ground floor was filled to the top of this blocking wall (the depth of the floor is about 10 feet below the present ground level).  The entrance to the keep would have been from this north side but also by an intra-mural opening to the side of the west wall (still standing – see photo below).  There was a semi-circular stone base beneath this opening, perhaps indicating the base to the stairway to the entrance.  The main entrance to the Castle moved to the curtain wall west of the keep, in line with the present entrance and moat ‘bridge’.  It is likely that the moat would have been dry except the lower east side.


Plan of  gatehouse (keep) – areas shaded red exist today (Barton & Holden, ‘Excavations at Bramber Castle’ Sussex 1966-7′, Archaeological Journal, 1977: 37)

There is evidence of two ovens adjacent to the outside of the west wall indicating that some building structure existed albeit for only a short period of time (due to lack of evidence of repairs).  Oven 1 (to the north) had an easterly opening close to the keep wall.  Oven 2 had an ashened westerly opening but a clean northerly one – the draw hole. Pottery associated with these ovens was 12th century. Oyster shells and a pit (tank) were found immediately to the north of the keep. Exciting isn’t it …..?


The intra-mural opening to the side of the west wall

The south wall of the keep collapsed into the moat in or about the 16th century due to erosion of its foundations (some of it is still there) whereas the north wall and the east wall suffered flint and stone robbing.

On the external side of the east stub wall of the keep is a fireplace and a curving stairway.  Late in the 17th century, early 18th, timber buildings were constructed to the east of this stub wall.  These were temporary humbled dwellings.


East stub wall where the later wooden structures would have been

To the east of the motte are the remains of a 13th/14th century domestic building.  The entrance from a courtyard to the east (below the mound) led into a central chamber or hall (see very first plan above).  To the right there was possibly a guardroom; directly in front of the entrance steps lead to perhaps a chapel and semi-circular lookout area (photo below). To the left of the entrance is the kitchen area with two fireplaces and an oven (please don’t try cooking there today).

IMG_0583 Possibly a guardroom – get that view!

South of the motte evidence of temporary wooden structures was found along with a hearth, iron and bronze waste, nails and slag indicating a smithing area and workshop during the 14th century.  South of the workshop were two lime kilns, again 14th century but probably after the workshop ceased to function.  The lack of structure indicates temporary use and probably erected for repair work to the Castle. However, around the north end of the motte, geophysics has shown foundations of several buildings (pic below). Busy place once upon a time.

castle geophiz

 Visitor Board from Castle site (English Heritage)

And that’s Bramber Castle in a nutshell!  Not boring at all …….

Oh, and you know I said in the last blog that I was ‘Keeper of the Keys’ of the Castle – well, here are the keys (scale: each is 6 ins [15cm] in length):


Next time: I’ll introduce you to Dr Artemus Smith – archaeologist of great courage, determination and fiction – Britain’s very own Indiana Jones (apologies to USAS members who have already met him)

Coming soon: St Nicholas’ Church (Bramber Castle); Ghosts of Bramber Castle; St Mary’s, Bramber. (Good old Bramber!).

Bramber Castle – history

I know in my profile I said my main interest was Aegean archaeology but more of that some other time. I also said I was interested in medieval history so let’s start the blog nearer to home – my home in Bramber. Come and visit this great little village at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex. It is halfway between Brighton and Worthing (near to Steyning). It has a great pub (and hotel), The Castle Inn, a superb Chinese restaurant, The New Bramber Dragon, and a fabulous Indian restaurant, The Maharajah. What more could one want!  How about a medieval ruin?  How about Bramber Castle …..

ONCE UPON A TIME a greedy king came to England from Normandy. His name was William (nothing against King Williams generally of course or there goes my future knighthood). It was in the year of our Lord, 1066. And so it came to pass that William smote King Harold of England and laid claim to his lands.

William divided Sussex into five Rapes:  Hastings, Pevensey, Lewes, Bramber and Arundel (Chichester was not made a Rape until the mid-13th century), all running north to south to protect the coast and communications with Normandy.  Bramber was given to William de Braose who built the castle (and the still extant St Nicholas Church) in or around 1073 and it  was retained by his family until the early 14th century.  In 1324, William VI de Braose ‘leased’ the Castle and town of Bramber to the King (Edward II).  On William’s death, in 1326, he left no male heirs and his co-heirs were his daughter, Aline  (who had, in 1298, married John de Mowbray) and John de Bohun, son of Joan, William’s other daughter (who had married James de Bohun).  On the accession of Edward III (1327), Aline recovered her manors and the Castle was restored to her son, John de Mowbray. And rightly so.

It remained in the de Mowbray family until Thomas de Mowbray’s daughter, Margaret, married Sir Robert Howard.  Their son John Howard, was created Duke of Norfolk in 1483 (Thomas de Mowbray being the first Duke) and the Castle remained in the Howard/Norfolk family (as does Arundle Castle to this day) until it was sold privately to Dr. F. Penfold in 1926.  On Penfold’s death, in 1946, it was purchased by the National Trust (and  is now maintained by English Heritage).  During the Victorian period it became something of a ‘leisure park’ when it was leased to the brewery of the local pub, the White Lion (now the Castle Inn).

It would appear that the Castle was not used to any great extent once it had passed to the de Mowbray family.  There is a record of two pirates being held there in 1355.  Archaeological evidence suggests that the Castle was no longer in use (as a castle) after the mid 15th century, whereafter a lack of maintenance and robbing of stone for building material use elsewhere has caused its decline.  In William Camden’s survey of Britain of 1586, he reported that the Castle was a ruin. As can be seen from the Hollar drawing below (existing gatehouse wall is right foreground), it was certainly a ruin in the 17th century. All very sad of what was once such a grand complex.

 holier pic

‘Ruin of Bramber Castle in Sussex’  by Wenzel Hollar (1607-1677)

When William VI de Braose handed the Castle over to the king in 1324, it underwent repairs, the work of which terminated in November 1326 – on the death of William.  There are no further reports of repair work.  During the reign of Richard II (1377-99), there was concern amongst the Sussex locals that the county would be in threat of destruction should the French invade.  The king was petitioned to garrison the Castle but there is no record that this occurred.

There has been a suggestion that it was fortified during the Civil War and blown up by the Parliamentarians.  There is no evidence for this, although there was a skirmish, in 1643, over Bramber Bridge (by St Mary’s House), which the Parliamentarians were defending.  There is reference, in personal letters of the time, of a ‘fort’ and defensive ‘workes’ at Bramber but, although they could be references to the Castle, they could just as well be references to the bridge.  Certainly the bridge would have been an important position to hold (rather than a ruined castle on top of a hill) to prevent the Royalists proceeding east.

cropped-brambercastle2.jpg  The ruin of the west wall of the gatehouse of the Castle

 Despite the Castle’s neglect, it is still a fascinating site to see, with its solitary gatehouse wall, its tree covered motte and its spectacular views over the Sussex countryside – a haunting reminder of what was, nine centuries ago, a formidable bastion of its time.

The title ‘Keeper of the Keys’ of the Castle dates back to 1291. In 1346 the recorded salary was 30 shillings a year. I mention this merely because I am now the ‘Keeper of the Keys’ which sounds very grand (well, I think so) but, although I do have some old keys (I won’t say where they actually came from as that would spoil the mystique) there is no door for them to open.

Next blog: I’ll ramble on a bit about the architecture and archaeology of the Castle.