History Corner

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

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.