Hedingham Castle is a classic Norman Box Fort located in Essex, England. I was lucky to visit it on a bright, sunny day with little rain (surprising as it has barely stopped raining all summer with the highest amount of of rainfall in June since records began). As readers of the comic will already know I am using Hedingham Castle as the basis for Kasper’s Castle in the comic. I think having convincing backgrounds gives the story a grounding in realism perhaps making it a bit more believable. I think this is quite important in a story with magic and other outlandish (and sometimes ridiculous) elements. And since Hedingham Castle really isn’t that far away I couldn’t not go!
The journey was a long one being as there is no sensible train route across country so instead I had to go south into London then travel out again! So it was four hours there and four hours back (though I suspect this is nothing to my American readers who aren’t used to living in so small a country as England). It was worth it.
Hedingham Castle, built around 1130AD, is one of the best preserved Norman Forts in Europe. It was completely burnt out in 1918, when it was being used as an aircraft signalling station during World War I, but since then has been restored with all it’s floors rebuilt and the interiors designed to look very much as they originally would.
The walls are 20 feet thick at their widest point (they taper downwards) and go 18 feet down into the ground. This was to stop undermining i.e. digging tunnels under the walls and lighting fires to weaken the walls. When heated the stones would become very brittle (actually one of the reasons the castle burned out, they dared not try to put it out for fear that the cold water would shatter the stones – as it most likely would have done!)
The Keep is the main part of what would have been the castle complex surrounded by the ramparts – huge earthworks and defensive walls. It’s believed that these were reworked from an older defensive site. The outer circle includes Hedingham Village itself and some parts survive to this day. The inner Bailey is the grassy area surrounding the castle, the top of a large mound surrounded by stone walls and accessible only by a drawbridge. This area would probably have held a Chapel and other domestic buildings as well.
The Ramparts and Bailey are easy to see because they basically make up the land! These were later landscaped and made into beautiful Gardens which makes the land around the castle very picturesque and a pleasure to walk around. The model (pictured below) shows what the castle would have been like in the early 13th century – and under siege no less!
Hedingham Castle has been under siege twice according to history records, in 1216 and 1217, and taken both times. You may think this reflects badly on it’s design but with enough time and resources any castle could be taken. There were many weapons designed for siege warfare including siege towers, trebuchet, battering rams, and mangonels (huge catapults). They also had longbow-men which were extremely effective.
The first siege was by King John, taking the castle from the third Earl of Oxford Robert de Vere. The second siege was by Louis of France to regain the castle for de Vere. Edward was part of the Barons rebellion who, among other things, invited Louis to seize the throne of England. They forced King John to sign the Magna Carter intended to make him rule more fairly.
According to legend weeks into the long seige by King John the defenders in Castle Hedingham threw fresh fish at the attacking soldiers to show they still had plenty to eat! These were fetched through a secret tunnel that lead to the fish ponds. Sadly I did not find where this secret tunnel was (I suppose it’s still secret) but suspect it may have been down one of the wells. I did find a crate of plastic fish in the basement however, which is presumably a reference to this story.
Each floor of the Castle consists of a large main chamber with small alcoves and rooms around the edges. It is fun to explore these as you are as likely to find a privy as a chapel! Of course I imagine monsters hiding in these ready to leap out at Adventurers…
Hedingham Castle has another claim to fame which is Edward de Vere, the 17th (and last) Earl of Oxford was considered as a possible author for the works of Shakespeare. Indeed the visual resemblance is striking! But before you get excited remember the fashion for hair and dress is likely to make most men from that period a dead-ringer! The theory has been rejected by scholars; it is more likely Edward de Vere would have been a patron to Shakespeare than Shakespeare himself.
The castle has a lot of history and a lot of interesting owners in it’s past, but then it is nearly 900 years old! A really interesting place to visit, and I got a lot of photos I can use for reference for my comic art. Click here to look through my photos of Hedingham Castle.
You can find out more at Hedingham Castle’s Official Website.