Hadleigh Castle
The manor of Hadleigh was granted to Hubert de Burgh, 1st Earl of Kent and Chief Justiciar of the Kingdom, during the reign of Henry III. Hubert began the construction of Hadleigh Castle, under licence from the King, in the years subsequent to 1217. The chosen site was on top of the South Essex south ridge, overlooking the Thames estuary, which was generally formed from soft deposits of London clay. It stood picturesquely and prominently in the centre of the range of cliffs, stretching from Leigh to Benfleet, commanding fine views of the Thames. The structure was built using Kentish rag stone cemented by a mortar containing a large portion of seashells, particularly cockleshells from the cockle beds of neighbouring Canvey Island. The castle was protected by square and semi-circular mural towers, with a barbican (fortified gateway) guarding the northern entrance. On three sides there was a moat and the fourth was amply defended by the declivity of the slope. The area within the castle walls was approximately 110yds/100.5m long by 40yds/36.5m wide. Hubert de Burgh eventually fell out of favour with Henry III: he was imprisoned and finally stripped of Hadleigh castle in 1239. For the remainder of the century Hadleigh was retained as a royal castle as part of an estate containing 142 acres of agricultural land, the surrounding parkland and the castle mill. By the 1250s the castle had become neglected and, despite some investment after it was given to Queen Eleanor (1st wife of Edward I) in 1273, it remained in quite a poor condition. Only the mill, which was vital for the operation of the wider estate, appears to have been well-maintained. A new 56ft/17m wide by 30ft/9m long hall and an adjacent solar complex were built, at the castle around 1290, but they collapsed due to subsidence shortly after. In 1299 the castle was given by Edward I to his 2nd wife Queen Margaret, who complained about the quality of the building and insisted that repairs were carried out. Edward I only visited the castle twice, using it as a base for hunting in the area. Upon his death in 1307 the castle passed to his son Edward II. He first stayed there in 1311, and work was undertaken to renovate the castle prior to his arrival. The work included building new royal quarters and repairing some of the castle walls that had succumbed to subsidence. Amongst the castle buildings known to exist during the period were the castle hall, larder, kitchen, cellar, a long house, prison, and “old chamber”, and armoury; a garrison of 24 soldiers guarded the site during crisis. Edward stayed at the castle often during his reign up until 1324, travelling occasionally from London to Hadleigh on his royal barge, which docked at a wharf to the south side of the castle. In 1326 Edward was deposed by his wife Isabella who took Hadleigh castle from him. In 1330 their son, Edward III, acquired the castle when he recovered it from his mother. He did nothing with the castle until the 1360s when he significantly expanded and remodelled the castle, turning it into a much grander property designed, possibly, to defend against potential attack but most likely as a personal retreat close to London. Between 1361 and 1363 the internal buildings were renovated and new royal lodgings built along the south walls, after which the entire east side of the castle was rebuilt, with two large circular towers installed in a new stretch of curtain wall, completed by 1365. The north side if the castle was rebuilt to include a main entrance with a portcullis and drawbridge, protected by a barbican and a large circular tower called the “High Tower”, which was completed by 1370. The engineer in charge is presumed to have been the celebrated William of Wykeham (1320 - 1404). Upon Edward’s death in 1377 his successor, Richard II, made little use of the castle and he granted it to Aubrey de Vere until his death in 1400. From then on the castle passed amongst a number of high-status owners, namely; Edmund of Langley (1st Duke of York) and his son Edward of Norwich (2nd Duke of York), Humphrey of Lancaster (Duke of Gloucester), Richard (3rd Duke of York), Edmund Tudor (1st Earl of Richmond). Hadleigh then returned to the Crown and was granted to Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV, and remained a Crown property until Henry VIII. He made no use of the castle himself but it formed part of the dower of three of his wives Catherine of Aragon, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr and the castle’s parks were used as sources of timber for his navy! In 1551, Edward VI sold the castle to Lord Richard Rich. During the period between 1551 and 1575, Lord Rich dismantled the castle for the value of its stone, and the castle, now thoroughly ruined, passed through Rich’s descendants, the Earls of Warwick. It remained in the Warwick family until the Warwick estates were divided. Since that date Hadleigh Castle changed hands several times until 1890 when the castle, and its surroundings, were purchased by William booth for the use of the Salvation Army. They established a farm colony on the site then, train the English poor prior to them being sent overseas to the British colonies, the farm is still in their ownership to date. Between 1898 and 1923 considerable subsidence and slippage on the ridge occurred, causing the southern curtain wall to collapse. In 1948 the Salvation Army gave the castle to the Ministry of Works, and it is now owned by English Heritage and is classed as a scheduled monument and a Grade I listed building. Unfortunately subsidence and landslips continued, with the north-east tower largely collapsing in the 1950s. In 1969, 1970 and 2002 further major slippages occurred. All that remains of the once stately castle are: one of the three-storey towers at the eastern side which stands almost full height with narrow rectangular windows in the upper levels; the second tower only has about one third of its original form; some sections of the curtain wall have survived, as well as the foundations of the great hall, solars, and the kitchen. The ruins were painted, by John Constable, whose picture was engraved in mezzotint by David Lucas, for the English Landscape series.

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