Framlingham Castle

A field trip through this historic Suffolk site

English Heritage

Framlingham Castle sits above the town of Framlingham in Suffolk, England. It was built by the Bigod family in the late 12th century and was home to the earls and dukes of Norfolk for over 400 years. From the 14th century through the 16th centuries it was held successively by the Brotherton family, the Mowbrays, the Howards, and briefly, Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII. In this expedition, we will explore the castle and examine some of its many features.

Framlingham CastleOriginal Source: Framlingham Castle

This is the approach to the gatehouse, which is the main entrance to the castle and faces the town of Framlingham. The gatehouse is a Tudor re-modelling of the original Norman gateway. The meadow to the right is the castle bailey, and the trees beyond it mark the eastern line of the outer ditch. Access to the defensive inner ditch can be reached by the pathway to the left of the entrance.

The original Norman gateway was protected by a drawbridge and portcullis. At the beginning of the 16th century, it was remodelled in the form you see here. Above the door are the weathered arms of the Howard dukes of Norfolk.

The meadow to the right is the castle bailey. The trees beyond it mark the eastern line of the defensive outer ditch. The path leads to the second line of defence, a steep-sided inner ditch, 8 metres deep.

The complete circuit of the inner ditch can be reached by the path to the left of the bridge. This defensive feature was designed to prevent tunnelling under the walls. It was a dry ditch and never filled with water.

This is the inner court of the castle. The castle walls are about 10.5 metres high, 2.3 metres thick, and they are built of flint and septaria (stone dug from river beds). There are 13 strong towers along the curtain wall. The first medieval timber and stone inner buildings and the later brick Tudor buildings are no longer here. However, we can see evidence of them along the castle walls.

The entrance to the castle was always manned. At the beginning of the 16th century, chambers were built into the gatehouse. These rooms housed the castle porter along with other staff. Records suggest they were well-furnished.

The castle well near the main entrance is 30 metres deep. Fresh water was important for castle sanitation. The well would also have been essential in times of siege to provide drinking water.

These are the remains of the chapel, which was built into the castle wall in the 12th century. The chapel was a focal point of castle life used by the nobles and their large households.

The remains of windows and fireplaces show the location of the chamber block. Built by Hugh Bigod I in around 1150, this was once the most important building in the castle, providing accommodation for the lord and his family.

The largest building remaining inside the castle walls today is Framlingham’s workhouse, which was built in 1729 and provided work and lodging for the local poor. It was built on the site of the medieval castle’s Great Hall, which stood here from the 12th century until the 17th century. The earls and dukes of Norfolk would have dined and entertained their guests in that hall.

This brick building is the Red House. It was built around 1660 and served as the first workhouse for the local people. It probably replaced the buttery and pantry of the original medieval hall.

The workhouse provided work and lodging for the town’s paupers between the 17th and 19th centuries. The male inmates did agricultural labour in the summer and work such as cobbling shoes in the winter. The women spun wool.

The curtain wall was a key feature in the defence of the castle. The wall walk along the top was the quickest way to move around the castle and was used by sentries and archers in times of attack. In Tudor times the wall walk also gave access to chambers built into some of the towers. It offers spectacular views of the landscape, and the parish church can be seen to the south.

The western tower is also known as the ‘Prison Tower’. It projects out from the curtain wall and defended the castle from attack on the west side. It also protected soldiers heading out of the castle into the ditch.

Framlingham CastleOriginal Source: Framlingham Castle

The mere, or lake, was an important aesthetic feature of the landscape and a valuable resource, providing ducks, geese and fish. It was formed over 3,000 years ago and was up to 5 times larger in the Middle Ages.

Framlingham CastleOriginal Source: Framlingham Castle

The 13 towers divide the curtain wall into defensible sections. Steps once led up from the wall walk to the tops of the towers, where timber fighting platforms gave soldiers a wide field of fire.

Framlingham CastleOriginal Source: Framlingham Castle

Framlingham is unusual in that it doesn’t have a central ‘keep’ or great tower, so the curtain wall was its final defence. The most vulnerable sides of the castle were the south and east, where the land is high. The castle’s thin arrow loops are concentrated on those sides. Latrines were reached through small doorways in the curtain wall and expelled their contents down the chutes out into the ditch below.

To the east of the curtain wall, 6 stone piers remain from the Tudor bridge. This led out from the chamber block in the inner court and crossed the deep ditch into the garden beyond.

Beneath this tower was the 12th century chamber block built by Hugh Bigod I. The chamber block provided accommodation for the lord and his family. The recesses into the curtain wall can still be seen today.

This decorative early 16th century chimney was built above the original 12th century one. It is made from red brick, a material that could be carved, allowing craftsmen to be imaginative with their design. Each brick chimney is different.

Framlingham CastleOriginal Source: Framlingham Castle

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