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Framlingham Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Fremingham; Fremingham; Framelingehame

In the civil parish of Framlingham.
In the historic county of Suffolk.
Modern Authority of Suffolk.
1974 county of Suffolk.
Medieval County of Suffolk.

OS Map Grid Reference: TM287637
Latitude 52.22421° Longitude 1.34664°

Framlingham Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle.

There are major building remains.

This site is a scheduled monument protected by law.
This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Framlingham Castle was built by the Bigod family in the C12, the present masonry curtain walls and towers replacing an earlier castle on the site thought to have been built c.1100. The present structure and the extensive earthworks which surround the castle represent the ongoing development of the site by a succession of noble families, including the Brothertons, the Mowbrays and the Howards until 1635, when the site was sold to the philanthropist lawyer Sir Robert Hitcham.
The manor of Framlingham was granted to Roger Bigod by Henry I in 1101. Roger's son Hugh was created Earl of Norfolk by King Stephen. Framlingham was one of several castles held by Hugh Bigod which were surrendered to Henry II at his accession, and the site was occupied by a royal garrison. Framlingham was returned to Bigod in 1165 after payment of a heavy fine, but following his involvement in a further rebellion led by Henry II's eldest son in 1173, the Castle was demolished under the direction of Henry's engineer Alnodus.
The Castle at this stage is thought to have consisted of a motte and bailey, the motte thought to have been located on the site of the later Poor House. The Bigod lands were eventually returned to Hugh's son Roger II in the 1180's. Roger rebuilt the Castle in stone, incorporating the remains of the earlier hall and chapel whilst constructing the massive curtain walls and towers seen today. The Bigod estates returned to royal control in 1306, and Framlingham was administered by the monarch's relatives until 1397 when Thomas Mowbray was made Duke of Norfolk. The title passed to the Howard family by marriage and John Howard is thought to have carried out extensive repairs and much refurbishment around the Castle site prior to his death in 1485 at Bosworth Field. Although having fought with his father at Bosworth on the losing side, John's son Thomas gradually restored the family's fortunes and estates. He served as Henry VIII's Earl Marshall and led the King's forces at the battle of Flodden Field in 1513, after which the title of Duke of Norfolk was restored to the family. Thomas is thought to have undertaken much of the Tudor refurbishment of the Castle, including the remodelling of the gatehouse and the addition of the brick chimneys and other now demolished brick structures within the curtain walls. He died a national hero at Framlingham Castle in 1524.
Howard's successor, also Thomas (d 1554), retained Framlingham, but lived at newly-built Kenningham Hall in Norfolk. His son, Henry Howard was executed by Henry VIII in 1547, and the Howard title and lands were surrendered to the Crown. Edward VI held his first court at Framlingham, and in 1552, his sister Mary Tudor inherited Framlingham, having been granted the Howard estates in East Anglia. Framlingham was the stronghold to which she withdrew when threatened by The Duke of Cumberland who sought to ensure the succession of Lady Jane Grey. When Northumberland's campaign floundered and ended with his surrender, Mary travelled from Framlingham to London to be crowned on the 1st October 1553. She restored the elder Thomas Howard's titles and Framlingham once again became a Howard property. His grandson Thomas Howard inherited the title on his grandfather's death, but was executed in 1572 for his part in a plot against Queen Elizabeth. Framlingham, by this time in a much decayed state, passed once again into royal control, and remained so until 1603 when James I restored the Howard title.
In 1635, Framlingham, its manors and estates was sold for £14,000 to a wealthy lawyer and politician Sir Robert Hitcham who in 1616 had become the king's senior sergeant-at-law. A year later at his death, Framlingham and its estates were left to Pembroke College Cambridge where Hitcham had studied. The bequest was conditional upon the requirement that Framlingham and its estates being put into trust for the benefit of three Suffolk towns, Framlingham, Debenham and Coggeshall (now in Essex), requiring that 'all the castle, save the stone building be pulled down' and a Poor House established on the site. However, it was not until 1654 that the first new building was erected at the castle site. This was the Red House, which quickly ceased its intended use as a dwelling, becoming the Poor House. However, it clearly was not capable of housing many of the needy poor, and in 1664, after much delay and the need for additional funds from the parish, a new, and much larger Poor House was built within the Castle walls. This operated successfully until 1839 when the inmates were transferred to the new union workhouse at Wickham Market.
After the closure of the Poor House, the Castle was used for general parish purposes, and the Poor House became the parish hall. The Castle had remained central to Framlingham life throughout the C19, but in 1913, it was given to the Ministry of Works and passed to English Heritage in 1984. The Castle has remained the focus of research, and has undergone numerous phases of repair and consolidation. More recently, the former Poor House has been refurbished as a display and interpretation area for the Castle and the associated surrounding historic landscape.
The Castle was scheduled on the 7th August 1916 (National Heritage List 1002965) and subsequently listed at Grade I in 1985. The surviving upstanding remains are described in detail in the relevant list entries, both of which have been recently revised (Castle NHLE 1030383 and the Poor House NHLE 1283709). The chronological sequence of the Castle's development is succinctly covered in the English Heritage Guide to Framlingham Castle (Stacey 2009) and will not be covered in detail in this report.
Framlingham Castle and its associated landscape has undergone various phases of archaeological investigation and survey, most systematically over the last 20 years, most of which is documented in detail within the Suffolk Historic Environment Record (HER) and in the English Heritage Pastscape Records ( Only those reports which feature heavily and are considered to be of fundamental significance to the current designation assessment will be referenced individually. Key sources include the Royal Commission Archaeological Field Survey Report of Framlingham Mere by Moraig Brown and Paul Pattison (1997). The English Heritage Research Dept. Report of The Landscape Context of Framlingham Castle (Alexander 2007) and the Archaeological Investigation Report of Framlingham Castle (Brown, 2002).
Framlingham Castle is situated within the small historic market town of Framlingham in north-east Suffolk. It sits at 42m above sea level on rising ground at the south-eastern limit of the Suffolk uplands. The Castle is located on slightly higher ground at the northern end of the medieval town; its position means that it dominates both the town and the mere to the west.
PRINCIPAL ELEMENTS The scheduling includes the Castle and its associated landscape along with the standing, earthwork and buried remains of the current Castle and its predecessors, the gatehouse, outer bailey, outer and inner ditch, lower court, town ditch and the mere. Also included within the scheduled area is an Anglo-Saxon cemetery.
The current approach to the Castle is the original access to the stone built Castle which would have passed through the initial defences; the outer ditch and Castle bailey. The outer bailey survives as a roughly kidney shaped area, east and south of the stone castle and is defined by a bank and deep ditch, much of which survives within light woodland. The south-west section of the bailey, to the west of the access track to the Castle is currently used as a bowling green, car park, a small garden and the ticket office for the Castle. Any archaeological features in this area are not clearly evident on the surface although given that castle baileys generally contained a wide range of structures, the potential for significant, stratified deposits to survive beneath the ground is very high. The ditch defining the bailey is U-shaped in profile and measures c.30m wide; it is c.4.4m lower than the outside ground surface and c.6.4m below the level of the bailey. The ditch was at some time dammed in the south east quadrant, to form a large ornamental water-filled pond or canal. The dam also serves as a path from the 'Back Meadow' into the bailey. A second dam has been built at the southern end of the water filled section and recent garden activity here suggests it is built of rubble construction, certainly in the upper levels. South-west of the water filled area the bailey ditch lies within private gardens, beneath the Castle Inn and the road; the only exception to this is the town pond, adjacent to the entrance to the Castle, the scarps of which are adapted from the original ditch. Within the private gardens earthworks indicate that the northern edge of the ditch survives and that the houses on the northern side of Castle Street have been terraced into the southern bank of the ditch. The majority of the houses here are of C16 or C17 date.
The potential for both the water-filled areas and the dry sections of the bailey ditch to retain waterlogged, historic environmental data and possibly organic artefacts such as wood or leather is very high. The depth of the ditch means that some waterlogging occurs even in the dry sections and will provide ideal, anaerobic conditions for the survival of such deposits in the buried silts.
The town ditch is believed to pre-date the current Castle and possibly functioned as the boundary of an Anglo-Saxon manorial complex or the first castle to be built on the site in the early C12. It survives as a ditch c.11m wide and c.1.1m deep with a bank c.4m wide on the inside edge of the ditch. The ditch is visible around the northern and eastern edge of the Castle, outside the outer defence ditch; on the northern side it forms the Back Meadow between the two. The internal bank is most prominent in the garden of 31 Castle Street where it separates the bailey ditch from the town ditch and the town ditch functions as a field drain. Further south-west the remaining ditch has been lost in the post-medieval development of this part of the town. Further evidence of Anglo-Saxon occupation within the area encompassed by the town ditch comes from the recorded discovery of a cemetery where about 50 burials were uncovered beneath the entrance to the Norman stone Castle and clearly predates it. Pottery found close to the burials is believed to date to the Middle-Saxon period (AD 650-850).
That there was a castle in Framlingham before the present one is certain as the demolition of a castle, as a punishment for rebellion, was recorded in the Pipe Rolls for 1174-5 and 1175-6. The demolition by the king's engineer is understood to have included the destruction of the defensive works and the filling in of a moat. Excavations by Coad in 1972 cut an intermittent section across the whole inner bailey, from the Poor House to the eastern edge of the curtain wall, and revealed 6m depth of archaeological deposits representing an earlier moat probably related to a motte, ringwork or platform in the northern half of the inner castle bailey. Dating evidence suggests the destruction of this feature took place in the second half of the C12. It is not uncommon for castles to be built on the site of a previous Saxon manorial complex and based on the evidence this seems very likely at Framlingham. The sequence of construction and destruction over the centuries will be reflected in the archaeological deposits both within the inner Castle walls and the outer bailey where the archaeological potential of the monument is considerable.
There is a strong possibility that the early C12 Castle at Framlingham had a relatively short life span being constructed about 1140 and demolished in the 1170s. This was followed by a period of two or three decades without any Castle on the site and it is to this period that the first stone hall and chapel, evidence for which survives in the east wall of the Castle, probably belonged. Although the inner court now appears relatively devoid of structures, timber, stone and, in the Tudor period, brick buildings once stood within the bounds of the walls and indeed lined the walls, creating further enclosed courts. Many of the buildings remained until the C17. Evidence for all these structures and the sequence of construction survives in both the standing remains and the buried archaeological deposits.
The only buildings remaining inside the Castle walls today are the Poor House and the Red House. Framlingham's Poor House, which provided work and lodgings for the town's paupers from the C17 to the C19 centuries, was built around the shell of the Castle's medieval great hall which stood from the late C12 to the C17. South of the Poor House is the Red House which was built c.1660 and served as the first poorhouse and is thought to have replaced the service wing of the medieval hall. It is now a dwelling. The ground beneath these buildings retains important stratified deposits pertaining to the construction and evolution of the Castle and its related structures.
The stone Castle sits on a platform surrounded by a large ditch on the north, east and south sides. The platform rises between 6.4m and 10.7m above the bottom of the ditch and 7.5m above the lower court but is barely higher than the natural ground level of the bailey to the south and east. It is roughly oval in shape c.98m long and 71m wide with a rectilinear south-eastern corner. The slope of the platform is generally steep and even, with some localised soil slippage and erosion mainly where walkers have created paths. A ditch extends around the platform, except on the east where the ground falls steeply to the lower court. It is on average c.25m wide by 8m deep and is fairly uniform in profile. At its southern junction with the lower court there is a steep drop in the level of the ditch. In the north-east section of the ditch are the remains of brick piers from the late-C15 or early-C16 bridge, with decorative chequerboard flushwork in brick and flint.
Beyond the confines of the curtain wall, to the west of the Castle and overlooking the mere, is the lower court. This was an important early feature of the Castle, added after the curtain wall was constructed. It was defended by two towers and walled on all sides and is thought to have housed granaries, barns or stables. The court comprises a roughly rectangular level platform c.59m by 40m, defined by earthen banks on three sides and by the steep scarp of the Castle platform on the east. Geophysical survey has confirmed C13 accounts that the surrounding walls were built of stone (2002). The northern bank of the court stands to 2.6m high and contains the base of a stone turret, part of a postern gate and the remains of a wall connecting these with the main curtain. The wall runs towards the main curtain wall but stops immediately south-west of the mural tower creating what is thought to be a century point. The northern bank also stops short of the western bank leaving c.3.8m gap directly in line with a large block of unfaced masonry, situated partially within the ditch, which is understood to be an abutment for a bridge connecting the lower court with the mere and the park. A small wooden bridge across the field drain now achieves the same purpose.
The southern bank is 3.9m high and at its eastern end are the remains of the Prison Tower and the Postern Gate. These structures connect the bank with the main curtain wall between mural towers. As with the northern wall this is an addition to the curtain wall and was substantially reused with alterations to windows and other openings, primarily during the Tudor period.
A large irregular mound to the south of the southern bank measures c.60.5m by 38.3m and 6.2m high and is defined by the ditches south of the lower court, and those of the bailey. Its function is not clear but it seems likely that its construction followed the addition of the lower court to the castle. The creation of the outwork provides a smooth junction between the extended bailey and the lower court adding strength to an otherwise vulnerable right-angle.
By the C16, the lower court is understood to have been a garden, where guests could walk to the water's edge. By the C18 there were two fishponds in the centre of the lower court, still evident in the late C19. These ponds are evident as slight scarps; one defining a roughly rectilinear area measuring c.21m by c.15.5m and 0.2m deep, and the other as a group of more amorphous scarps.
West of the lower court is the mere, which was probably created during or soon after the construction of the stone castle at the end of the C12. In the C14 it was referred to as the 'Great Lake beneath the castle' and it was still functioning as a fishery in the early C17 although it probably ceased to be maintained following the decline of the castle in the later C16.
From a survey carried out in 1997, it is understood that the mere was an artificially dug feature. The old shore line of the mere is quite clearly defined by a single intermittent scarp surviving up to a maximum height of 1m. The scarp defines an elongated kidney-shaped area of 9.38 hectares and survives best to the west and north-east, but part of the southern side is not visible at all. Despite the variable condition, the scarp has an overall cohesion and it is probably the original extent of the mere. On the eastern side, immediately below the lower court, two slight platforms project from the old shoreline into the original mere. The southern one is irregular in shape but measures c.28m by 20m by 0.3m high. The northern one is also irregular and measures c.58.5m by 28.4m by c.0.5m high with parallel scarps on the surface suggesting the site of a structure. A dovecote is known to have existed somewhere in the mere by 1386-7. Another feature extending into the original mere on the south east edge is a bank which is thought to be the base or remains of a small boat landing or jetty that is considered to be a much later feature.
Along the western side of the mere are two parallel lines of willow stumps extending for some 108m within the mere's present boundary. The stumps are regularly spaced and of a uniform size and condition. These are believed to be the remains of a revetment to the mere bank, whose willow stakes re-rooted once they had been inserted into the ground. A second series of willow stumps, whose line is extended by surviving trees, is evident on the east side of the mere. These run for 24m north-west from the tip of the northern platform. Although the date of both revetments is unknown, a C19 date seems probable but may also be the western shoreline shown on Isaac Johnson's map of 1798.
The area of the former mere is divided into eight meadows by the River Ore and six other drainage channels. All the channels are straight, with the exception of the river, and all still contain some water for part of their length. These channels cut through the old shoreline and were probably originally linked to land drainage features outside the mere. These channels were and indeed remain an essential component of the meadows.
At its western limit the old shore line deviates from its course around an area of higher ground which protrudes into the former mere. At this point a small stream formerly flowed into the mere and the tongue of land may be in part formed by alluvial silt. The area of higher ground contains a number of regular and irregular sunken features. The largest is a rectilinear fishpond, measuring c.28m by c.12m by 1.7m deep with a slight shelf at its western end. There is a similar pond in the Castle ditch north of the lower court of the Castle. The remaining features in this area are difficult to categorise and may have undergone some infilling but they are probably part of a fish-rearing complex of small ponds, channels and robbed-out building foundations, accessible from the lower court. (Scheduling Report)

This was the site of a Saxon manorial caput, possibly containing a minister church. The dating of the earthworks is uncertain and the relationship between the castle ditches and the town ditches is uncomfortable. Magnus Alexander (2007, p. 52-3) suggests further areas for research mainly focusing on the Saxon history of the site. The unusual form of Framlingham Castle is often noted and Gatehouse suspects the answer lies in the form of the Saxon settlement and manorial complex.
The Scheduling report mentions a possible motte but Gatehouse is unaware of any physical evidence for this suggestion. This may be an example of people of assuming all Norman castles had mottes although it seems between 20-30% did not have mottes. It seems more likely this was, from foundation, a large ringwork with additional enclosures.
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Sources of information, references and further reading
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The bibliography owes much to various bibliographies produced by John Kenyon for the Council for British Archaeology, the Castle Studies Group and others.
Suggestions for finding online and/or hard copies of bibliographical sources can be seen at this link.
Minor archaeological investigations, such as watching brief reports, and some other 'grey' literature is most likely to be held by H.E.R.s but is often poorly referenced and is unlikely to be recorded here, or elsewhere, but some suggestions can be found here.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:06

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