Baconsthorpe Castle Inner Gatehouse

Dave Godden

Maidstone, United Kingdom

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Baconsthorpe Castle Inner Gatehouse in Norfolk as a storm approached.

English Heritage

Taken on a Fuji finepix and Topaz adjusted in Photoshop CS5.

The Heydons were an ambitious family. They first made their fortunes through the Law profession and later from wool. John Heydon rose to prominence and influence as a supporter and allies of the 1st Duke of Suffolk, William de la Pole. During the turbulent Wars of the Roses (1455–1485) John often switched political allegiances to serve his own purposes. Although he managed to amass great wealth, he also made many enemies, and was described by contemporaries as crafty and Quarrelsome. His position meant he needed a secure base from which to operate

This castle was built in the period from around 1460 to 1486 by John Heydon (died 1479) and Sir Henry Heydon (died 1504). It was built without a licence and initially consisted of a quadrilateral manor house which was later fortified. and it became increasingly large and more elaborate as the family’s wealth grew. On the east side was a lake and the other sides were protected by a deep ditch.

In the middle of the south wall a three-storied gatehouse was built. This gatehouse was an important symbol of John Heydon’s Lordship. It was also large enough to serve as a self-contained defendable residence in times of danger from Heydon’s numerous enemies. The gatehouse had on the ground floor, two lodges, one housed a porter the other the chief servant. On the first floor there was a spacious suite of chambers for Heyden’s family. There is a description of these rooms in the will of John Heyden’s son, Sir Henry Heyden’s will. They are described as being luxuriously furnished with feather beds and silk curtains. The small room directly above the porch was thought to be a private chapel.

Later the quadrangle was completed with walls, towers and a range of buildings.On the eastern side of the quadrangle stood the service range of buildings. These buildings were converted in the Tudor period by Sir John Heyden II into a wool processing factory. The large windows in this building provided plenty of light for the spinners and weavers that worked here. Much of the cloth produced at Baconsthorpe was sold to the Netherlands. The coarse material was softened by the process of “Fulling”. This involved the pounding of the cloth by foot in soapy water or stale urine. It is thought that this process was carried out in the tower that stands on the north east corner of the quadrangle

A drawbridge crossed the moat and 50 yards (46 m) to the south an outer gatehouse was built. The outer gatehouse was a later addition to the moated residence beyond and was built to display the family’s status and wealth. It formed an impressive Entrance to the Heydon’s property as part of the outer court. The court was flanked on the east side by a row of cottages. On the west flank was a long barn parts of which are still in use today by the local farmer.

The house was subject to a dispute in the 16th century when its owner, Sir William Heydon (1540–1594) fell into debt and mortgaged it. In 1590 he decided to sell part of his property but was challenged by his son, Sir Christopher Heydon (1561–1623). Sir William then threatened to demolish the house but Sir Christopher secured a prohibition from the Privy Council and the house was spared. After the Civil War the house fell into ruin.

The ruins are constructed of flint with some brick. The curtain walls are complete and include the remains of towers, forming a square court of 30m. In the middle of the south wall are the remains of a three-storey gatehouse with a two-storey projection for the drawbridge. Along the east wall are the remains of a two-storey range. To the east is a lake and a moat surrounds the other three sides.

The ruins are administered by English Heritage and are freely accessible to the public.

Artwork Comments

  • Charmiene Maxwell-Batten
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