Haughley Castle – its origins, significance and history: a talk given by Edward Martin (Archaeological Officer for Suffolk County Council) Dec 5th 2011

The respected archaeological historian, Edward Martin, visited Wetherden Village Hall as a guest of Wetherden History Group to deliver an evening lecture on the subject of Haughley Castle. He opened with a lightning history of Norman castles, explaining how and why the style, size and building materials were intended to reflect the status and political clout of each castle’s particular lord. We were shown images of many motte and bailey castles to illustrate these points.

 Mr Martin then moved on to 1086, when Haughley Castle was the caput of Hugh de Montfort, a trusted Constable of William the Conqueror. It seemed Hugh lived elsewhere, however, since he was also tenant-in-chief in Norfolk, Essex and Kent, as well as Suffolk. Men like de Montfort exercised their power by giving land to knights, assuring their loyalty and demanding in return “knight service”, which would have involved garrisoning other castles that he held.

 Why was there a castle in Haughley at all? The settlement is located in a strategic spot close to the valleys formed by the Gipping and Wetherden streams. Also there had been major routes passing by between Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds from pre-conquest times.Significantly, however, although Romans would have undoubtedly settled in the area, Mr Martin was adamant that there had been no pre-existing Sito Magus, as propounded by Hollingsworth and others. What we know from Domesday is that Guthmund had been the chief Anglo-Saxon landowner, establishing his hall and burgh at Haughley. We were shown aerial views of other sites that had been Anglo-Saxon burghs – squarish enclosures, approximately one quarter of whose areas had been taken up by churches. One of these was at nearby Wattisham. A Norman motte was clearly visible right inside this site. The conclusion was that, although the Normans would have wanted to locate themselves strategically, they were also keen to place the stamp of conquest firmly on the landscape: thus Guthmund’s burgh at Haughley was emphatically trumped by de Montfort’s castle.

 The event that seems to be most well known about Haughley Castle is its destruction in 1173. A rebellion erupted in 1173-74 involving supporters of the heir to the throne who was entitled “Henry the Young King”, and was both the son and antagonist of King Henry II. Ralph, or Randulph, de Broc was Constable of Haughley at this time. He had earlier gained notoriety as the knight who had arranged the murder of Thomas Becket in 1170 on behalf of Henry II. Haughley Castle was attacked by “Henry the Young King” and his supporters and Ralph eventually fled, after which the Castle was apparently burned down. In any case, the building’s fate was probably sealed by the fact that a disgraced or defeated lord would have had his castle reduced or levelled, in clear recognition of his fall from grace.

 Mr Martin took the opportunity to discredit a few local myths: Richard, brother of Henry III, did not have a son born at Haughley Castle but at Haylege, or Hailes, Gloucestershire, where he would later found an abbey. And it seems that the mysterious tunnels leading from the castle were nothing more than a drainage system.

After the rebellion it was all downhill for Haughley Castle. By 1382 the garden was worth 2 shillings per annum and little was left of the Norman building but a ruin. In 1554 Allys (or Agnes) Brett held the grounds of the inner bailey for the sum of 25 shillings 6 pence per annum. Inexplicably in the 18th century, Richard Ray levelled what was left of the Norman keep. Perhaps the stone was recycled about local people’s gardens, who knows. Last year the Bevan family began tree clearance on the mound, and centuries of silt was dredged from the moat. On the old motte were found occasional pieces of masonry at ground level, barely protruding from the earth. The moat, however, yielded several finely worked and moulded blocks of stone. These are being safely stored with an eye to an exhibition for the village next year.

This map shows the area around the Castle in the time of John Sulyard

(c)Sue Moore "By Metes & Boundes" 2010


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