When we think of castles, we imagine tall, stone structures with soaring turrets and crenelated ramparts. Maybe even something with a moat! But let’s not forget about the lesser (but still fascinating) areas of England’s history—the ruins. Yes, this too is a form of castle! And one such ruin is Pleshey Castle.
Introducing Pleshey Castle, Essex
Pleshey Castle, located in Surrey England, is a 13th-century castle built by Stephen Langton in 1295 for his older brother Maurice Clare from the proceeds of their father’s estate. Pleshey Castle was rebuilt several times, and in 1555 a moat was dug around the keep to protect against attack. However, the castle met its end during the English Civil War.
History of Pleshey Castle
In 1645 a parliamentary army under General Fairfax set out from London to capture high-ranking royalist Sir Henry Capell of Holms, who was at Pleshey castle (which he owned). On October 22, Fairfax’s army arrived at Pleshey Castle during a rainstorm. Sir Henry’s son, also named Henry Capell, decided to burn down the town in order to prevent Fairfax’s army from staying there for an extended period of time. The next day on October 23, after failing to negotiate terms with Fairfax (e.g. surrender, etc.), Sir Henry Capell and his son were taken prisoner by the parliamentarians. Control of Pleshey passed to the parliamentarians, and eventually to Oliver Cromwell.
The castle itself was a rectangular structure consisting of an inner keep with two D-shaped towers shooting out from the north-east and south-east corners. It was surrounded on all sides by a moat which would have acted as a defensive measure against siege weapons such as battering rams or trebuchets. The castle managed to survive for only about 40 years after it was built until it met its end during the English Civil War due to its strategic location that allowed for easy passage into London from South West England. The moat was drained and the castle’s stone was used by local residents for other construction projects.
The Castle Keep was reconstructed in the 1930s by G.E. Troutbeck, a land-owner who had a keen interest in castle history. The walls of the keep are made of rubble and have an average thickness of 1-metre (3 ft) and on the south wall are remnants of plaster which gives us an indication that castle owners at least made attempts at living comfortably within their keep.
In 1954 Pleshey Castle was passed into the hands of English Heritage, who continue to manage it today. The castle itself is quite small, however English Heritage has done a great job at making the castle accessible for its visitors, without over-developing the area around it. While there is no real “castle village” in the immediate area surrounding Pleshey Castle, there are supermarkets and other services just a short drive away.
Visiting Pleshey Castle
On the grounds of the castle are informational signs which indicate what parts of the castle were constructed when and by whom (e.g. Lord Henry Capell). The moat is also very well marked out with footpaths heading around its perimeter during different stages of its life-span.
There are also fantastically informative signs around the castle detailing every different part of it, indicating who built or rebuilt that part and when. It is clear that English Heritage has done a fantastic job at maintaining Pleshey Castle’s ruins… both physically, as well as with the installation of extremely informative signs throughout the grounds. The amount of effort that has been put into documenting its history is admirable.
One thing which might catch your attention while strolling around the castle grounds are the iron rings on some of the walls. These were used to tie up horses during sieges or other situations where they would be more safely kept inside than out in an open field with people running around with swords and other weapons.
Pleshey Castle is open to the public from April to October every day (except Tuesdays) from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Its entrance fee is £3.20 for adults and £1.60 for children, with discounts available for English Heritage members as well as groups of 15 or more. Well worth the price!
It’s also worth mentioning that due to its location on top of a small hill in a rural area, it might be difficult for those with mobility issues, as there are quite a few stairs up and down from the castle building to get a good view of the surrounding moat and grounds.
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