MERDON CASTLE, SO21 2JJ
NO OFFICIAL SITE
Postcode: SO21 2JJ
Lat/Long: 51.037062N 1.402402W
Notes: The castle is found adjacent to Merdon Castle Lane which is accessed from the A3090. A lay-by is found in proximity to the earthworks.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
The earthwork remains of a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age fort that was later converted into a motte-and-bailey fortification. The remains are on private land but are adjacent to Merdon Castle Lane and can be viewed, in part, by looking over the tall wall. A raised bank on the other side of the road facilities a view of sorts for shorter people.
No Access. Regrettably the castle’s remains are on private land with no public access. Perhaps one day this important historic site will be open to the public.
Merdon was originally an Iron Age hillfort that was later re-used by the Anglo-Saxons and was the scene of a battle between Ethelred and Alfred against the Danes. In the twelfth century Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester built Merdon Castle on the site of the former hillfort which was used as a palatial stronghold for at least two hundred years.
HISTORY OF MERDON CASTLE
The first fortification on the site of Merdon Castle was a late Bronze Age/early Iron Age hillfort. Occupying a south facing chalk spur, the defences consisted of a single (but substantial) rampart and outer ditch. The site was re-used by the Anglo-Saxons with some form of hall or fort established on the site around AD 500. It later was included as part of a package of lands around Winchester that was granted to the church in AD 636 by King Kinegils. It is tempting to consider that Merdon is one and the same as 'Merantune' which is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as the location where King Cynwulf of the West Saxons was murdered by Cynheard in AD 784. The next reference to the site dates from AD 871 when King Ethelred, accompanied by his brother Alfred (later King Alfred the Great), fought the Danes in the vicinity - little is known about the battle other than the Danes were eventually victorious.
Merdon Castle itself was raised by Henry de Blois, Bishop of Winchester around 1138. At this time England was on the verge of a civil war over the issue of who should succeed to the English throne. The incumbent monarch was Stephen, nephew of Henry I, who had taken the throne in 1135 when that King died without a male heir. However Matilda, Henry I's daughter, challenged his claim and by 1139 the country was embroiled in a protracted war that became known as the Anarchy. Henry de Blois was Stephen's brother and, along with most of the senior magnates of the realm, initially supported him. In this turbulent time he constructed numerous castles and/or palatial strongholds to secure his powerbase including Ashley, Barley Pound, Bishop's Waltham, Farnham, Merdon, Taunton and Wolvesey Castles.
The castle was initially raised as a motte-and-bailey fortification and occupied the entire remains of the earlier hillfort. The motte was oval shaped and was topped by a curtain wall. A survey revealed the presence of a polygonal configuration of buildings on top of the motte although whether this was original to the twelfth century castle or structures rebuilt later is unclear. The purpose of a stone structure that existed on the northern side of the motte are debated with some authors claiming this was a gatehouse. This is rebutted by others due to its position on the exposed northern side of the motte whilst others note the presence of substantial earthworks, possibly a counterscarp bank, would have make access very difficult. The bailey was sited to the south of the motte and had a semi-circular layout which was enclosed by a curtain wall, fragments of which still survive.
After dragging on for 14 years, a peace agreement to end the civil war was finally brokered in 1153 by Henry de Blois. At the Treaty of Winchester it was agreed Stephen would remain King for life but would be succeeded by Matilda's son, Henry of Anjoy. He duly came to the throne in 1154 as Henry II and immediately sought to re-establish Royal supremacy by destroying the numerous, unauthorised castles that had been raised during the Anarchy. The defences of Merdon Castle were rendered ineffective at this time although the residential elements were left intact as the site continued to be used as a palatial residence for the Bishops of Winchester. In particular records show that both John Gervais and Nicholas of Ely spent money and/or resided at the castle during their tenures as Bishop in the thirteenth century. The last recorded residence was William Edington, Bishop of Winchester in the 1360s but thereafter the castle seems to have fallen into ruin. The site remained owned by the church until 1552 when John Poynet, Bishop of Winchester surrendered the manor to the Crown. It was then granted to Sir Philip Hoby and subsequently passed through numerous private owners but the ruined castle was never rebuilt and little now remains other than earthworks and small amounts of masonry. The grounds were used for military training during both World Wars.