Only the motte and some slight earthworks remain of the castle. The mound is freely accessible and offers good views of the surrounding area.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Car Parking Option
Chesterton Road, CB4 3AL
Notes: The motte is found off Castle Street adjacent to the Cambridge Shire Hall. It is not sign-posted. There is a car park adjacent but it is restricted to permit holders. Numerous other parking options are available nearby with the closest being on-road parking on Chesteron Road.
Cambridge Castle Layout. The castle was rebuilt in stone between 1284-1298 in a broadly rectangular configuration.
Cambridge Castle was built by William I in 1068 to secure the area against the rebellion of Hereward the Wake. It later saw action during the Anarchy and First Barons War. The structure was substantially rebuilt in the late thirteenth century but was not maintained in subsequent decades and by the fifteenth century was ruinous.
HISTORY OF CAMBRIDGE CASTLE
Castle Hill, the site of the later medieval fortification, was occupied during the Bronze and Iron Ages. Following the Roman invasion (AD 43), the army built Ermine Street as a key line of communication between London and the north running directly through western Cambridgeshire. This by-passed Cambridge itself but, following the Boudica rebellion in AD 60, the military sought to secure the area and built a fort on Castle Hill which was connected to Ermine Street by Akeman Street. It was rebuilt in the AD 70s but thereafter was abandoned by the military and was converted into a town (called Duroliponte) who thrived due to the road and river access. By the fourth century AD the Roman military was struggling to cope with Danish and German raiders; the navigable waters of the River Cam made Cambridge a prime target and limestone town walls were erected to provide defence.
Following the withdrawal of Roman military forces in the early fifth century AD, Cambridgeshire was invaded by Angles. The county was divided amongst different tribes until conquered by Mercia in the late eighth century AD. Cambridge remained under Mercian rule until AD 875 when it was occupied by the Viking commander Guthrum which saw the site incorporated into the Danelaw and fortified. However, in AD 905 King Edward the Elder of Wessex invaded and took control of Cambridgeshire. By AD 921 a fortified burh (town) had been established at Cambridge and by the mid-tenth century it grown to become one of East Anglia's largest cities.
Cambridge Castle was built by William I in Eastern England in 1068 (along with Huntingdon) to anchor Norman rule against the rebellion of Hereward the Wake. He had risen up against the Normans due to the imposition of a Norman Abbot at Peterborough and who had subsequently dispossessed many native English of their lands in favour of Norman immigrants. With the support of King Sweyn of Denmark, the threat to William I's regime was significant but he brokered a peace with the Danish King and defeated the native rebels. The castle built at this time was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification and the Domesday Book (1086) notes that 27 existing houses were destroyed to make space for the structure.
At the outbreak of the Anarchy in 1139 - the civil war between Stephen and Matilda over the right of succession - the castle was garrisoned for the former. It was attacked by Geoffrey de Mandeville in 1143 from his bases in Fens on behalf of Matilda. The attack prompted Stephen to establish a fortification at Burwell to contain Mandeville who was killed besieging this new structure. No further attack was attempted during this war on Cambridge Castle.
In the late twelfth century the castle predominantly served as an administrative centre with repairs by both Henry II and King John focused on the hall and court facilities rather than the defences. This proved costly in 1216 as Cambridge Castle was quickly taken by Prince Louis of France who had been invited to England by John's rebellious Barons. After Louis was defeated and paid off in 1217, the castle returned to the Crown and received minor upgrades. These were evidentially sufficient for the castle withstood a rebel attack during the Second Barons War (1264-7) although subsequently additional earthworks (the King's Ditch) were added.
The castle was finally rebuilt in stone by Edward I from 1284 - much later than most contemporary fortifications. With other calls of Royal revenues - particularly for castle building in Wales - the work took 14 years. The end result broadly mirrored the layout of the earlier timber castle with the motte topped with a circular stone keep as a direct replacement for the former timber palisade. The bailey itself was enclosed with a substantial curtain wall, rectangular in plan, with circular towers on each corner. A gatehouse complete with barbican controlled access. The work was never completed although it had progressed sufficiently to host a visit by Edward I in 1294.
Edward's Castle was neglected by his heirs an soon fell into ruin. By 1441 even the administrative buildings were reported as ruinous and Henry VI ordered the castle's Great Hall be demolished to provide stone for building King's College and Trinity College chapel for the University. Plundering of the stone continued in the subsequent century and by 1604 the only part of the castle still standing was the gatehouse, which was being utilised as the county gaol, and the ruins of the Keep.
During the seventeenth century civil war, Cambridge was a Parliamentary stronghold and one of the founding counties of the Eastern Association; an organisation for administering and raising a Parliamentary army to fight the King. With neighbouring Lincolnshire being contested by the two sides, the ruins of the castle were taken over by Parliamentary troops and augmented by earthwork bastions to secure the town. However, the defences proved unnecessary as Cambridge saw no action during the war and, along with so many other fortifications, was slighted beyond repair in the subsequent years.
The gatehouse and earth motte survived the slighting with the former continuing in use as a prison until the early nineteenth century. However the increasing number of inmates meant a new facility was required and so between 1802-7 a purpose built facility was erected in the castle's bailey after which the gatehouse was demolished. The new prison remained in use until 1915 after which it was shutdown with Bedford and Holloway prisons being used instead. The prison block was demolished in 1928 and replaced with the Cambridge County Shire Hall. Today all that remains of the castle is the earth motte.