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Name:Herstmonceux Castle: C15 castle with med chapel within
HER Ref:MES4396
Type of record:Monument


  • Scheduled Monument 1002298: Herstmonceux Castle
  • Registered Park or Garden (II*) 1000231: HERSTMONCEUX CASTLE AND PLACE


Castle constructed in 1441 comprising quadrangle plan with octagonal towers in each corner. It was gutted for building material in 1777 and restored between 1911-30.

Grid Reference:TQ 6465 1039
Map:Show location on Streetmap

Monument Types

  • CASTLE (Medieval to Post Medieval - 1066 AD to 1900 AD)
  • SITE (Medieval to Post Medieval - 1066 AD to 1900 AD)
  • CHAPEL (AD 15th Century to AD 17th Century - 1400 AD to 1600 AD)


(TQ 64661040) Herstmonceux Castle (NR) Royal Greenwich Observatory.(1)
An early example of the use of brick on a large scale, Herstmonceux Castle was built by Sir Roger Fienes in 1441, after obtaining licence to crenellate, probably on the site of an older manor house. The castle consists of a large quadrangular structure about 208 x 219 feet, with octagonal towers on each corner (See plan for building periods). Internally all that remains of the original fabric are the ground floor of the great gatehouse and the inner or courtyard wall of the South Range. Everything else was swept away when it was purposely gutted in 1777 for building material. Restoration was begun in 1911 and completed in 1930.(2)
In 1946, the Admiralty acquired the castle and transferred it to the establishment of the Royal Observatory.(3)
Herstmonceux Castle, Royal Greenwich Observatory, as described above, and in excellent condition. The castle was completely encircled by a large moat, of which the E arm, incorporating a small artificial lake, the braod S arm, traversed by a brick, arched causeway leading to the gatehouse, and the S half of the W arm remain waterfilled. The N arm, except for the NW corner, is extant but dry. The latter is also crossed by a brick causeway. The N half of the W arm of the moat has been filled in and is occupied by a car park. The water is contained by a large bay across a little valley at the SE corner and the moat is supplied by a small stream from the NE, upon which are four supply ponds in series, now largely marshy, extending from TQ 64941065 to TQ 64941114. All are embayed but have modern brick sluices. 100.0m to the SW of the moat at TQ 64531026 is a small, artificial, rectangular, waterfilled duck pond, possibly formerly a fishpond. 1:2500 survey revised on Field Document.(4)
Herstmonceux Castle Built by Sir Roger de Fienes, Treasurer of the Household to Henry VI, who was granted a licence to crenellate in 1440. The Castle is built of red vitreous brick and is one of the first examples of the use of this material in England. It is also one of the best examples of a fortified manor-house in the stage of evolution from a Castle to a purely domestic building. On the death of Gregory Fienes, 10th Lord Dacre, in 1593 the Castle was carried by his sister Margaret, who married Sampson Lennard of Chevening, into the Lennard Family, to whom the Barony of Dacre was also transmitted. In 1708 the Castle was sold by Thomas, 15th Lord Dacre, who was created Earl of Sussex by Charles II on his marriage to Lady Anne Fitzroy, daughter of the King by Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland. It then fell into ruins and was largely dismantled by the Rev. Robert Hare, (great grandfather of Augustus Hare) with the assistance of Samuel Wyatt, the bricks being used to enlarge Herstmonceux Place. Between 1913 and 1929 Colonel Claude W. H. Lowther restored and rebuilt the south side and the south half of the east and west sides of the Castle up to and including the Chapel and the Great Hall. He also cleaned out the moat. The restoration was continued and the whole outer rectangle of the Castle rebuilt, the moat being also flooded, by Sir Paul Latham Bt. between 1933-5 to the design of Mr. W. H. Godfrey. After Admiralty occupation during the War the bdg. is now the home of Greenwich Royal Observatory. The Castle forms a rectangle originally divided into 4 court-yards, with the Great Hall forming the centre portion, but it has been rebuilt as 1 court-yard only, the portions other than outer rectangle having long since been completely demolished. The moat extends round the east and south sides and the south half of the west side. It may never have encircled the north side. The bdg. has 2s. and an attic s. concealed behind the castellated parapet. Tiled roof. At the 4 angles are octagonal turrets of 3s. with a castellated parapet over. Each side also has a central octagonal turret of 3s., or in the case of the south side a pair of turrets, and between this central feature and the angle turrets 2 evenly-spaced half-octagonal bays of 2s. only. Rect. ws. with stone mullions and transoms inserted by Sampson Lennard about 1600 in the place of the original loop lights. The main or entrance front faces south. In the centre flanking the gateway, are 2 turrets which are octagonal on the ground and first fls. but corbelled out on stone brackets at the second fl. and above these round, with 3 tiers of loop lights of cruciform pattern. They are surmounted by machicolation round the turrets and the portion between them, with a castellated parapet over containing loop lights in the balustrade. Inset within this, the turrets are continued up for an extra s. to form look-outs with a castellated parapet between. Between the main portion of the centre turrets is a four-centred stone archway rising through 2s. containing a four-centred stone gateway on the ground fl. and an oriel w. above this flanked by slits to receive the levers of the drawbridge when raised. On the second fl. are 2ws. of 2 tiers of 2 lights each with a cartouche of the arms of the Fienes family between. On each side of the central turrets are 6ws. The moat is crossed on this side by a bridge, of which the 3 northern round-headed arches probably date from the C17, but the wider segmental arch in the centre flanked by octagonal buttresses and the 3 southern round-headed arches date from Col. Lowther's restoration of 1913 onwards. The west front has 15w., a single central octagonal turret and a false bridge where the moat ends permitting vehicles to come right up to the bdg. The north side has 23 ws. The central turret above the Postern Gate has a projection further north with stone facings to the parapet, machicolation below and bricks left uneven as if the bdg. was to have been continued to a Barbican. Some mod. case. ws. The moat is dry on this side and crossed by a mod. bridge. The east front has 22 ws. The bay between the south angle and the centre was altered by Sampson Lennard about 1600. Its upper s. is corbelled out and contains a curved w. of 3 tiers of 9 lights. It is traditionally said that in 1727 Grace Naylor, the only child of George Naylor, was starved to death by a jealous governess in the room which this w. lights. The centre turret on this side has 3 tall ws. of 2 tiers of 2 lights each. To the north of it and on the north front also are a number of sash ws. (with gl. bars intact) inserted by the Earl of Sussex about 1700. The interior of the court-yard is largely modern. The south side has a centre portion carried up to an extra s., a stone w. of 2 lights with septfoil heads and to the west a large bay w. of 2 tiers of 8 lights on 2s. In the centre of the west side is the Great Hall, built by Col. Lowther on the site of the original Kitchen. The lower portion of its ground fl. is of stone. It has 3 tall ws. of 4 lights each with flowing tracery flanked by brick and stone buttresses. On the ground fl. of the north side is a modern Cloister inspired by the cloister of the original Green Court. The Chapel is in the centre of the east front. The bdg. contains a C16 staircase from The balds, Herts., built for James I, and another, late C17 one, from Wheatley Hall, Doncaster. Articles in Country Life of the 30th Nov. and the 7th and 14th Dec. 1935, and in H. Avray Tipping's English Homes, Periods I and II, Vol, 2.(5)1736 view [9].

A ground-plan of the castle of about 1700 shows the main chapel with seating, and located on the east side of the building and adjacent to Green Court. Another chapel, marked on the plan as ‘private’ was located on the first floor above the postern gate on the north side and between the lord’s and lady’s apartments. [Calvert & Martin 1994, 22; Crake, nd, fac. 28; Venables 1851, fac. 170, fac. 178] Crake [nd, 40] plausibly identifies this ‘private’ chapel as an oratory (a place for private prayer) rather than a chapel.
A survey of the Sussex manors of Gregory Fynes, Lord Dacre, c.1570, describes the Castle in some detail. It notices the main chapel, however, merely as ‘fair’, and makes no mention of the private chapel / oratory above the postern gate. [Venables 1851, 198-201] Walpole describes the castle in a letter to Richard Bentley dated 1752. ‘The chapel’ he is writing of the main chapel, ‘is small and mean; the Virgin and seven long lean saints, ill done, remain in the windows; there have been four more which seem to have been removed for light; and we actually found St Catherine, and another gentlewoman with a church in her hand, exiled into the buttery. There remain two odd cavities, with very small wooded screens on each side, which seem to have been confessionals.’ [Horsfield 1835 I, 551] Writing at the end of the 19th century Crake [nd, 37] notices a square-headed piscina set into the south side of the apse forming the east end of the chapel. According, also, to Crake [nd, 35-6), the tower of the chapel ‘was furnished with clock and bells’[10].


<2>Serial: Royal Archaeological Institute. 1844. The Archaeological Journal.
<3>Serial: Royal Archaeological Institute. 1844. The Archaeological Journal.
<4>Correspondence: 1952. Ordnance Survey Archaeology Division Field Investigators Comment. F1 ASP 21-DEC-70.
<8>Article in monograph: English Heritage. Register of parks and gardens of special historic interest in England . East Sussex Vol No. - Part 14.
<9>Bibliographic reference: 2001. Sussex Depicted: Views and Descriptions 1600-1800. 111 (2001) Farrant, J.
<10>Verbal communication: Pers. Comm. (verbal). J Bleach Med chaepls.

Associated Events

  • Herstmonceux Castle, Herstmonceux: Building Survey
  • Field observation on TQ 61 SW 5
  • RCHME: Survey by Architectural Division staff

Associated Monuments - none recorded

Associated Finds - none recorded