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Farnham Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Feornham; Ffarnum; Fernham

In the civil parish of Farnham.
In the historic county of Surrey.
Modern Authority of Surrey.
1974 county of Surrey.
Medieval County of Surrey.

OS Map Grid Reference: SU83724732
Latitude 51.21903° Longitude -0.80261°

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

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

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


The keep, bailey, curtain wall and outer ditch of a castle dating from the 12th century. Excavations within the keep in 1958-9 revealed much of the castle's development. It was constructed in 1138 on the orders of Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester. A stone tower, perhaps as much as 35m high and with a central well shaft, was built first. Its base was then buried with chalk to form a 10m high mound around the tower. To the south of this original keep was a triangular arrangement of buildings including kitchens, a chapel and a hall, all enclosed within a ditch. These buildings, though since modified are listed Grade I and are excluded from the scheduling. After 1155, when Henry II had the original keep pulled down, the castle was rebuilt in the form of a shell keep some 50m in diameter with rooms in the 4 towers. The bailey was enlarged to its present limits, the huge 40m wide ditch was dug and the curtain wall with its square mural towers and gatehouse was erected. During the 13th-15th centuries, domestic buildings continued to be built within the new keep and some 15th century brickwork can be seen over the entrance. The keep was abandoned after the Civil War and was finally used as a garden in the Victorian period. It illustrates a late stage in the development of the motte and bailey castle, with its stone tower built from ground level and then partially buried. It is also unusual in that the slightly later stone tower or shell keep is built from ground level rather than at the top of an existing motte, adding to the known diversity of this type of feature. Although part of the keep area has been damaged by archaeological excavation, the resulting level of documentation, both archaeological and historical, is high. (Scheduling Report)

The Castle has been the property of the Bishops of Winchester since Saxon times continuously to 1927, remaining for some time since that date the residence of the Bishop of Guildford, and partly for diocesan use; now used by the Overseas Service College. The plan consists of a circular mound to the north with an irregular group of buildings built in a triangle round a court to the south of the mound. The original stockade defence of the mound (rebuilt in stone in the C18), was probably by Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester 1129 to 117I. This work probably included the shell keep of 23 sides, more on less a circle, formerly with 5 towers which remains in part today with some later C15 brickwork over the entrance. In addition some of the outer walls and entrance gate, the latter altered later, also of the C12 remain much as shown in a print of 1737 (Buck). The group of buildings to the south of the keep are of various dates and have been rebuilt or altered over a period of roughly 800 years. The south front consists of Fox's Tower, a square brick structure of 3 storeys, beautifully built with a diaper pattern of vitreous brick all over. The design is unsymmetrical with a flat arched entry in right hand corner and 2 windows to upper floors (now C18 sashes) deep machicolated and battlemented parapet between projecting and splayed angles of greater height. A group of 3 chimneys springs from the left hand angle. 2 square painted sundials are placed on different faces of the angles one on each side. This tower dates from 1470 to l475; formerly thought to date from the time of Bishop Fox in the early C16, hence the name given to the Tower. To the left of the Tower is a low range with a kitchen on the south side and a chapel, recently restored to its use on the north side, probably CM. To the right hand of the Tower is a long block of 2 storeys, battlemented, of coursed rough stone with old tile roof. The 1st floor has 9 sash windows, C18. The main floor has 3 similar windows and 4 large mullioned and transomed stone windows of C15 date. The lower ground floor, storage, has 3 circular lights. The Great Hall, and principal stair are contained in this block. The Hall was reconstructed under Bishop Morley, as well as the stair and the Bishop's Chapel on the east side of the court. The interior design may possibly be connected with John Webb, and is late C17. The Chapel fittings and panelling are richly carved. The various features and details of design have been illustrated in numerous books. Good photographs and a comprehensive description of the building were published in Country Life of December 23rd and 30th 1939. The Castle dominates the town from its site on the hilltop to the North, and with the wide approach of Castle Street. The architecture is not dramatic, and has a strong affinity with the gentle restraint of the small brick C18 buildings below it. (Listed Building Report)

Farnham Castle has traditionally been dated to the period of the Anarchy on the basis of the documentary evidence and limited excavation within the area of the castle keep in 1960. This view is challenged on the grounds of historiographical problems within the documentary evidence, the archaeological examination of other de Blois castles which suggest construction before his episcopate, and chronological incompatibility with the soil mechanics of the motte.
A new phasing is suggested:
Phase 1 pre-1100 Manor house and farm.
Phase 2 early 12th century Country house built by Bishop Giffard.
Phase 3 circa 1130-40 Fortification of country house and construction of ringwork.
Phase 4 1155 Demolition of tower keep.
Phase 5 post- 1160 Construction of shell-keep. (PastScape ref. Riall, 2003)
Links to archaeological and architectural databases, mapping and other online resources

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Sources of information, references and further reading
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*The listed building may not be the actual medieval building, but a building on the site of, or incorporating fragments of, the described site.
This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:21:02

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