Claxton Castle

Don’t visit this place. It’s not worth it. I mean, it could be… but it isn’t.

I tried to go and take a look in December of last month during the day (it was still light) and during reasonable hours, and… — firstly, let me say that most (read: absolutely all) of this site is on private property these days, but it is a farm and there’s a road from that leads onto the main farm building which is in what (I interpreted to be) the new Claxton Manor. Continue reading “Claxton Castle”

Mettingham Castle

I am not sure I understand Mettingham. Or, at least, I wasn’t in the position to get up close and personal with all the walls and remaining towers as my poor level of research had failed to note that a street goes to the very back and probably allows some better access to the keep than the front road which I ended up using. Continue reading “Mettingham Castle”

Holy Trinity Church, Bungay

It is rare of me to dedicate an entire post to a single church; nevertheless, having learned of the interests of a colleague of mine, Bob Mitchell, in (Saxon) round tower churches, I figured that this post would be a perfect way to show some appreciation to a fellow history enthusiast. Namely, this old church in Bungay was the first place for me to visit after learning a bit about round towers carrying a special meaning (even if this meaning is under debate).

I’ll let the intrepid explorer discover more about round tower churches themselves while I mention a few things about the Holy Trinity at Bungay.

The round tower

Interesting stories about this church include that the time when nearly the entirety of the market town of Bungay burned in the fire of 1688, this church was where the ‘the Fire was Stayed’. The church also escaped the Black Dog Incident of 1577 which was quite damaging to some of its neighbours.

A word on the round tower itself will potentially place it to the early Norman times though round towers could also originate during the Anglo-Saxon kingdom. My colleague’s site notes a probable Saxon origin, but I’ll cautiously point out that the plaques near the church itself only point out that possibility and remain vague.

The one bit of information to append is that the octagonal expansion of the upper tower is definitely more recent, but in a way it suits the original. It’s not much to consider how the resident priests here may have looked out at the trying times that Bungay passed through in its long history, no matter the style in which the topmost layers of the tower are built.

Bungay Priory

Finally a place with a story or two to tell though mostly because of the tragedies that have struck Bungay in times past. Yet, are ever the stories people remember different? As Tolkien wrote:

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”

Hence, the stories associated with this place: firstly, on August 4th, 1577, a massive thunderstorm struck Bungay. During this storm, a black dog appeared in the church and two men were killed immediately with others wounded. An apparition of the devil? Mayhaps…

The second story is perhaps a bit more helpful as it tells of how the Church of St Mary (the former Priory) was alighted by “helpful” people during the Great Fire of 1688 when local people were dragging their furniture into the place while trying to save their belongings. Didn’t go all that well, clearly.

A look towards the former Priory and the new adjoining St Mary’s Church

I liked this place; the ruins on the ground were such a clear indication of the past and all that has gone before while the adjoining modern structure was a wonderfully refreshing look into the present and all that has happened since.

So, while some might say that this many posts on Bungay are superfluous, I am less certain. This place has some charm, and is indeed quite special in what it offers: there’s military history, there’s cultural history. Also, as we are in Norfolk, there’s the sense that this place was so much more though indeed I am not an expert in the Waveney and how it has evolved over the years, but it must have looked so different to allow Bungay access to the sea — which was still the case not too long ago. But, times change…

And where do you lead?..

Bigod Castle

I think Bigod Castle could be wonderful. Regrettably, I could not explore the inner courtyards as, predictably, when I visited, it was closed. Don’t visit on a November’s Sunday…

Either way, I did my best to trace a path around the castle to see what shows up. That again is not as easy as in some other places, as Bungay has grown quite close to the castle and access is limited. Furthermore, the Sunday visitation also meant that the Castle Link, connecting Bigod Castle to the Waveney and further, was also closed. This clearly makes no sense (why close a public footpath?), but one’s options at this point were limited.

View inwards from the outer courtyard

Bigod looked interesting and it certainly played a part in history. Signs in the city pointed towards a rivalry with the nearby Mettingham but I am not absolutely certain about this detail. It would make sense, and Mettingham was owned by a different family.

Other than this bit, common knowledge is that Roger Bigod was the first lord of this keep though the modern structure derives from a different Roger, this time from the latter part of the 13th century, as the descendants of the original one sided with the wrong people in a revolt to the end of the 12th century and their home got demolished. The 13th century Roger was similarly disingenuous and after his death the castle slowly fell into disrepair.

None of this is admittedly particularly interesting despite the historical facts — where are the inspiring stories, and where are the important details? My only reply at this time is that I know nothing more about this site, though if I can think of anything — or visit again — I’ll let you know.

Denton Castle

When one goes to investigate a place which no longer exists, the sense of self must be strong and rooted in the present. It would be so easy to concoct a story that reaches through millennia but grasps at all of the wrong branches and leads one in the wrong way. Or, at least, that is what I find: whatever we imagine in a place which used to exist, this should be as grounded in the reality of then as now. Could Denton have been the Norwich of today if things had been different? Who knows…

It is an interesting site and an absolute pain to get to: I found the best set of instructions on the Gatehouse site, but essentially one should park by the Darrow Green Farm and cross the field to the visible enclosure of trees. There are no National Trust signs or directions, or at least, there were none when I visited in November 2017, and one is easily liable to drive too far. Either way, making one’s way across the fields to this site is an interesting moment as the scope of the castle is not visible until the very last moments of the journey.

Naturally, nothing other than the earthworks remains at this point. The motte and bailey structure is heavily forested, which has perhaps helped its survival, but either way it is a beautiful place. Regrettably, the absence of National Trust signage also means there is no information locally about the castle, its owners, or conjecture into its usage.

The lack of this information can be appreciated for the main site, even, as the information is available online after a few quick searches. What is less available are ideas on the origin and sense of some of the other features at the site: there are two mounds of very minor stature, which can be — perhaps — identified by the descriptions at the Gatehouse site, but as it gives no distances, this cannot be confirmed. One of these two is illustrated here:

Remains of something at Denton Castle

Moving on to the castle structure itself, perhaps the best sense of the motte is given by the below:

The motte at Denton Castle

This is taken from a higher vantage point within the bailey, looking inwards to the motte area. The ditch from this side was about a metre deep, and moving on to the motte, perhaps twice that. Additionally, the outer wall of the bailey was easily traceable throughout its border making this site a very good example of theoretical motte and bailey construction — theoretical, as no masonry has survived.

Overall, these thoughts summarise my opinions on this castle, interesting as it is. I really do wish more happened at this site; as it is right now, I doubt it gets many visitors and though the local people might not appreciate the increased numbers of people on their roads, there’s a sense of history at this site which I feel more people should acquaint themselves with.

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