In the wake of the Norman Conquest, William I granted Whitchurch to Walter de Bolbec. He was a distant relative of the King as they both shared descent from their great, great grandmother Josceline, wife of Herbastus de Crépon. No castle was recorded in the Domesday survey of 1086 but, when Henry I died without male heir in 1135, England descended into a Civil War between the supporters of the former King's daughter, Matilda, and her uncle Stephen over the right of succession. Known as the Anarchy, it prompted a wave of castle building across England as the landowners sought to protect their assets. At this time Whitchurch was owned by Hugh de Bolbec, Lord of Whitchurch and he built the castle that bore his name circa-1147. Like many of the castles raised at this time, it was constructed without Royal authority probably due to Hugh's political support for the Angevin cause.
Bolbec Castle was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey fortification. The site was dominated by the oval shaped motte which was built over a natural mound and surrounded by a water-filled ditch. The summit of the motte would have been surrounded by a timber palisade with a drawbridge-equipped gatehouse to the west. The main castle buildings, probably including the Great Hall, were located on the south-east corner of the summit. To the immediate north of the motte was a triangular shaped bailey which would have hosted the ancillary buildings associated with such a site.
The Anarchy ended with an agreement that Stephen would remain King for life and then be followed by Matilda's son, Henry Plantagenet. He succeeded to the throne as Henry II in 1154 and immediately sought to restore Royal power which had been depleted during the war. In particular he ordered the destruction of all fortifications built without Royal authority. It is not certain if Bolbec was pulled down at this time but the castle was certainly extensively modified around this time including being rebuilt in stone. Thereafter little is known about the structure although the Bolbec family continued to have Royal connections throughout the subsequent century. The castle passed to Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford in 1245 by which time a village market had been established in Whitchurch but whether this prompted investment of the castle, perhaps to serve an administrative role, is unknown.
By the time of the seventeenth century Civil War, Bolbec Castle was an abandoned ruin. However, its proximity to the Royalist capital at Oxford meant it was re-activated and garrisoned for King Charles. It was captured by Parliamentary forces in the latter stages of the war and, although the action is unrecorded, archaeological finds suggest artillery was used to reduce the fortification. The castle was subsequently slighted and the masonry remains were scavenged for local building repairs. Part of the gatehouse survived until the late eighteenth century but today only the earthwork remain.
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Bolbec Castle was once a substantial stone fortification but it was slighted after the Civil War and only earthworks are now visible. The remains include the motte of the twelfth century castle but the outline of the bailey has been lost under modern structures. The site is open to the public.
Bolbec Castle Motte. The castle's motte survives as a substantial earthwork. The mound was surrounded by a ditch.
Motte Summit. The summit of the motte was originally enclosed by a timber palisade but this was later replaced with a stone shell Keep which was destroyed during the Civil War.
One of hundreds of fortifications hastily erected during the Anarchy, Bolbec Castle was constructed to protect Whitchurch from attack by the rival factions. Later rebuilt in stone, its history is vague but it came to an end during the Civil War when the Royalist garrison was dislodged and the castle slighted.
Bolbec Castle is not sign-posted but is easily found near central Whitchurch. There is no dedicated car park but on-road parking adjacent to the site is possible.
Castle Lane, HP22 4JD