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Goodrich Castle

Standing high on a rocky outcrop above the River Wye, Goodrich Castle is a striking Castle of Norman and medieval origins, constructed out of pale red sandstone on the border of England and Wales. Goodrich Castle is one of the finest examples of military architecture in England, being located on the former Roman road from Gloucester to Caerleon as it crosses from England into Wales. It is situated to the north of the village of Goodrich, England, 16 miles from Hereford and 4 miles from Ross-on-Wye, and commands a crossing of the river known as Walesford or Walford. It controlled a strategic and key location between Monmouth and Ross-on-Wye.

History of Goodrich Castle

The Castle is believed to date back to pre-Norman conquest as the site may have been among a number of fortifications along the Welsh border. In Norman times, Goodrich formed part of the Welsh Marshes; territories granted to Norman nobles in and near Wales. Goodrich Castle appears to have been active by 1101, under the name of ‘Godric’s Castle’, probably named after Godric of Mappestone, a local Anglo-Saxon landowner. Initially, it was an earth and timber fortification, however in the middle of the 12th century, the original castle was replaced with a stone keep. At the time, the keep was relatively small and unadorned, easy to maintain and cheap to build.

During the 1130s England descended into anarchy and strife due to a civil war of succession between King Henry I’s daughter Empress Matilda, and his nephew Stephen of Blois. Baderon of Monmouth, who at the time was the Lord of Goodrich Castle, may have built the stone keep as a protection during these early years of conflict. Eventually, Stephen of Blois was victorious and appointed Baderon’s brother-in-law, Gilbert de Claire, who later purchased Goodrich Castle, as the Earl of Pembroke. Richard de Clare, Gilbert’s son, inherited the castle, yet he fell out of favour with King Henry II, and the Castle was then taken into royal hands. It was held by the Crown until 1203 when it was given to William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who expanded Goodrich and built an additional towered curtain wall of stone around the existing keep. Later, Marshal’s son Richard took over the castle. Richard allied himself with the Welsh, resulting in King Henry III’s besieging of Goodrich Castle in 1233. Although the Castle reverted briefly to the Crown again, it was later given to William de Valance, King Henry’s half-brother, in 1247. The Castle suffered the threat of invasion continuously, due to the worsening Welsh border situation and the numerous raids. This was why William de Valence began to build a much larger castle around the original Keep from the 1280s onwards. Further additional outer fortifications were also added by De Valence’s heirs. (more)

Today

Goodrich Castle is considered to be one of the best examples of English military architecture by historians. The substantial remains are open to the public and managed by the English Heritage.

The Castle contains three main areas; the Keep, the gatehouse, and the courtyard. Although today the Keep is 60 feet tall, it was originally much higher. It dates from the mid-twelfth century and consists of three rooms, one over the other. It has a very simple structure, having a tall square layout with narrow windows, and it is the oldest part of the castle. Its walls were protected by clasping buttresses at the angles, and a buttress central to each of the flat sides. Today, the interested visitor may see two original windows on the top floor of the keep, which are still present marking the uppermost storey. The gatehouse was built around 1300 and is housed in the north-eastern tower. It consists of a 50 foot long vaulted corridor barred at each end by a portcullis. A narrow corridor leads to the garderobe tower, which served as the latrine for the whole Castle. The gatehouse also contains a chapel, which holds a recently restored window made out of 15th century stained glass. The 15th century window frame replaced an even taller, earlier 13th century window. The altar of the chapel itself is so old as to pre-date even the Castle itself.

A number of domestic buildings are to be found within the courtyard, including a great hall, a solarium, a kitchen, a buttery and a pantry. The great hall is 20 by 9 metres long and overlooks the River Wye, having a large number of windows and a huge fireplace. The private solarium was incorporated into the defensive walls during the expansion which took place under William de Valence. The courtyard, which is about 70 feet square, sports a well which provided the Castle with an internal water supply.

The most important stone fortifications started to be constructed under Walter, the 5th Earl of Pembroke. The outer stone walls and the turrets surrounding the Castle were completed between 1220 and 1245. The de Valance family continued to further transform the tower into a stronghold during the latter part of the 13th century. They built four large walls around the keep as well as cylindrical towers with square bases at three of its corners. The gatehouse was built at the fourth corner, which leads out to a semi-circular barbican and a drawbridge. A rock-cut ditch provided extra defence to the south and east.

The ruins of the stable lie beyond the walls of the castle. These were protected by a smaller curtain wall, which is today mostly in ruins as well.

During the 15th century, the Talbot family expanded the Lord’s quarters inside the castle, and provided more accommodation space for the servants. The building in fact was designed in such a way so as to allow the servants and the nobility to live separately, which was an innovation at the time. A two-storey building was added between the solarium and the gatehouse in the 15th century, as well as a second storey along the east range. The eastern hall may have been in fact used by a garrison, which was kept separated from the Lord.

After the Civil War, the Castle officially became a ruin after being slighted and neglected. Several legends surround it, giving its Great Keep the alternative name of ‘Macbeth Tower’, since there are stories about an Irish chieftain being held prisoner there. The legend says he died attempting to escape, which is why his ghost is said to still haunt the tower. Another ghost story tells the tale of Colonel Birch’s niece, Alice Birch, who supposedly fell in love with an opposing Royalist soldier, Charles Clifford. The lovers attempted to escape the castle together, but died in a flash flood while trying to cross the River Wye. Needless to be said – their ghosts are still believed to haunt the castle as well. Passers-by have reported seeing the lovers’ ghosts staring from the ruined ramparts of the castle late at night.

Tourists today can enjoy the short walk to the castle from the free car-park, and later on even view the still-surviving ‘Roaring Meg’ mortar, which is preserved inside the Castle itself by the Herefordshire Council, along with a number of civil war cannon balls found at Goodrich during excavations in the 1920s. Goodrich Castle is one of the most picturesque medieval ruins in the United Kingdom, and although none of the interior remains intact, the castle is only semi-ruined and in an impressively good state.

Opening Hours of Goodrich Castle:

During March 2016, as well as during the month of December 2016, and during January and February 2017 the Castle is open for visitors only on Saturdays and Sundays,
from 10.00 to 16.00. It is closed between 24 – 26 December 2016.
25 March – 30 September 2016 – 10.00 – 18.00
1 October – 31 October 2016 – 10.00 – 17.00
 

Text by Melisande Aquilina

 
Further information may be found at the official website at http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/goodrich-castle/prices-and-opening-times