History Corner

By Mike James

Part 1 How old is Waytemore Castle

On Wednesday 19th July 1899, in what is now Castle Park, JL Glasscock, builder and local historian, gave a talk about Waytemore Castle. It seems most of what we know about the castle originates from Glasscock’s research. He carried out the first quasi-archaeological investigation of the site in 1899, to which he uncovered the foundations of King John’s keep and informally recorded the findings of the Taylor family in their renovations around Castle Cottage, however no other artifacts were reported.

His musings about the possible origin of the Castle are of interest, he seemed unable to believe that the Normans could or would have raised such a large mound unless there was a prior structure to act as a foundation. He simultaneously doubts such a possibility because the Domesday Book, published in 1086, does not refer to any existing large structure, and he seems to have thought it would have done, had such existed.

Norman castle-building occurred in 3 stages after 1066. The first was at major strategic sites to secure King William’s military and political dominance of his new kingdom. The next two stages begun in the later 11th century and were more widespread – we believe that Waytemore Castle was among these.

One theory as to why Waytemore is not mentioned in Domesday is because it was built while this major revenue assessment was being carried out, which took 2-3 years to complete. At first glance that seems plausible. However, would Domesday as a revenue assessment, concern itself anyway with Norman developments, as opposed to recording important agricultural sources of income and the associated work-force? Domesday scholars should be able to answer that for us and clear up that matter at least. But perhaps the Castle Park dig could help answer it too?

A copy of Glasscock’s talk and the Transactions article are in the Bishop’s Stortford Museum collection.

Part 2 Who Built Waytemore Castle ?

Captured by Claire Nicholson Photography

In 1991 CG Harfield researched extensively the Domesday Book and discovered 47 castles, though none in Hertfordshire. Harfield’s research continued where he discovered further contemporary documents recording another 21 Castles, including Waytemore Castle. However, the omission of Waytemore Castle from Domesday doesn’t mean it didn’t exist then, as JL Glasscock believed. Indeed, Domesday records four Knights in Bishop’s Stortford, whereas Thorley had only one, so its construction appears significant.

However, who built Waytemore Castle? The Charter whereby King William granted Waytemore Castle to Maurice Bishop of London was most likely written in 1085-1087 – the period the Domesday survey was completed.  Norman Bishop, Hugh D’Orevalle was the Bishop previous to Maurice; however very little is known about him, unlike his fellow clerics. King William’s Charter fails to mention Hugh at all, and reads “to Maurice Bishop of London [is granted] the castle of Stortford, and all the land which Bishop William, his predecessor, held from the King… Bishop Maurice [is] to hold honorably all that he has … And he is to be worthy of his [responsibilities] as Bishop William was before him.”

Peaceful areas of higher population density, including eastern Hertfordshire experienced very little castle-building. This was potentially due to cost, the likelihood of unrest through local displacement and the legal aspects of purchasing the appropriate land. King William sought acceptance as the legitimate successor to King Harold; a river valley site for the castle, which didn’t require any demolition, was uncontentious. William the Bishop held the See from 1051 to 1075, he had his ups and downs, including fleeing the country at one stage during the Confessor’s reign, but soon returned in favour in 1052. Perhaps it was he who first sponsored Waytemore, to emphasise his loyalty to King William.

Part 3 Location of Waytemore Castle

By 1826 Bishop’s Stortford had benefited hugely from the Stort Navigation. People had supported the purchase and demolition of the Old Kings Head Inn in Market Square, and in its place The Corn Exchange was constructed to facilitate grain trade.

That year Sir Henry Chauncy’s ‘Historical Antiquities of Hertfordshire’ first published in 1700, was updated and extended our knowledge of the Castle.

“King William the Conqueror built a small Castle upon a firm artificial Mount, made very steep after the usual Mode of Norman Buildings in that Age, between the Town and Hockerill, upon the East Side of the River[1]. Termed Waytemore-Castle from the More where it was erected to defend and protect the Trade and Commerce of the Town”.

Vulnerable to Attack

We usually imagine castles as imposing structures built on hilltops to express military might, however there is evidence that many Norman castles were vulnerable to attack. Waytemore Castle was no different. It was made from flint and mortar, perhaps timber originally as there is no local stone, and though built upon a mound. The mound itself was situated in the marshy Stort river valley.

Domesday, the 1086 survey conducted by King William, shows that Stortford was only a minor asset; its annual income was £8 a year. Far lower than neighbouring villages, including; Sawbridgeworth at £50 and Ware £45 a year.

So why go to the trouble of building his castle in Stortford? The answer is its location – it was strategic, the footprint was inexpensive and Norman technology meant it could be built tall, even in the river valley, dominating its neighbourhood. The mound was raised at important cross-roads; near the Roman Stane Street running east-west and the river formed a natural boundary.

The mound’s height, with a keep and tower on top, made it visible to travellers from afar – not so obvious today. Saxon buildings were small, perhaps including a church up the valley side where St Michaels is today. But the Normans built big – think of their cathedrals and castle-keeps.

[1] Until the 1970s the River Stort flowed along what is now Old River Lane to the Town Mill in Bridge Street.