History Corner

How old is Waytemore Castle? History enthusiast Mike James, explains his theory.

Part 1

On Wednesday 19th July 1899, in what is now Castle Park, JL Glasscock, the builder and local historian, gave a talk about Waytemore Castle. His thoughts were later published in the Herts & Essex Observer and in Transactions of the East Herts Archaeological Society (in 1901). It seems most of what we know about the castle originates with Glasscock’s research. It was he who carried out the first (and, before today, the only) quasi-archaeological investigation of the site in 1899. Although he uncovered the foundations of King John’s keep and informally recorded the findings of the Taylor family in their renovations around Castle Cottage, 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 edifice to act as a foundation. He simultaneously doubts such a possibility because the Domesday Book, published in 1086 (when a separate document records the gift of Waytemore Castle to the Bishop of London), does not refer to any existing edifice, and he seems to have thought it would have done, had such existed.

Norman castle-building occurred in 3 stages after 1066. The 1st 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 and due to local magnates – we guess that Waytemore was among these. But we don’t know when.

A supposition is that Waytemore is not mentioned in Domesday 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 agrarian sources of income and the associated work-force (including ‘knights’)? 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 his talk and the Transactions article are in the Bishop’s Stortford Museum collection.

Part 2

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 surmised. Indeed, Domesday records 4 knights in Bishop’s Stortford, whereas Thorley had only one, so its construction appears significant.

But who built Waytemore Castle? The Charter whereby King William granted Waytemore castle to Maurice Bishop of London was probably 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 honourably all that he has … And he is to be worthy of his [responsibilities] as Bishop William was before him.”

The Bishop of London’s See extended to Bishop’s Stortford in 604 the Bishopric of the East Saxons (hence the name ‘Essex’) was founded by St Augustine when Saebert, an East Saxon and nephew of Ethelbert King of Kent was converted to Christianity. At that time the East Saxon capital was London, so it became the seat of the diocese. The western boundary included the Braughing Hundred and followed Ermine Street – roughly the route of the present-day A10 road. The eastern boundary lay on the Stort, thus the influence of the Bishop of London over Stortford reflects not a Norman land-grab, but a powerful, centuries-old ecclesiastical institution.

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 allegiance to King William.