Notes: Castle is situated in a recreational ground owned by Bampton Town Council. There is no dedicated car park but a lay-by near the entrance has sufficient parking for a number of cars.
WHAT IS THERE TO SEE?
A very impressive motte albeit heavily covered in trees. Access to the top is possible for the adventurous although the amount of vegetation obscures what would otherwise be a splendid view. The outline of the rectangular shaped bailey can also be seen.
NO OFFICIAL SITE
1. Walter of Douai (also known as Walter the Fleming), who may have built the castle, was also granted Castle Cary in Somerset.
Bampton Castle Layout. The castle was a traditionally configured motte-and-bailey. An entrance into the bailey seems to have been sited to the south of the motte but this would be badly placed for it would exit directly onto the steep slope to the river. Perhaps this was a postern and the main entrance was elsewhere - evidence of a tower in the north-east corner could be an alternative site. The bailey was originally thought to be larger but recent archeological investigation has confirmed the perimeter.
Situated on a spur overlooking the River Batherm, Bampton Castle was constructed to control a former Royal Anglo-Saxon settlement. Besieged and destroyed by King Stephen in 1136, it was later rebuilt into a (now demolished) fortified manor house. Today the motte still stands to an impressive height.
HISTORY OF BAMPTON CASTLE
At the time of the Norman invasion, Bampton was an existing Anglo-Saxon settlement owned by Harold Godwineson. It remained part of the Royal estate following his death at Hastings and the accession of William the Conqueror. The new King granted it, along with other lands in North Devon and Somerset, to Walter Douai and it was either he or his son, Robert, who built the first castle here at Bampton.
The castle was an earth and timber motte-and-bailey structure. The motte itself stood 12 metres tall and was probably topped with a timber tower and palisade. The base of the mound was surrounded by a ditch. The bailey took a broadly rectangular form to the east of the motte with its southern edge protected by the steep scarp down to the River Batherm and its other sides protected by a further ditch.
In 1136 Robert rebelled against King Stephen who had come to the throne the previous year. The issue centred around land at Uffculme that was claimed by both Robert and Glastonbury Abbey. The latter had won the dispute in the courts but Robert clearly felt aggrieved particularly as the Abbot was Stephen’s brother, Henry of Blois. Robert was summoned to the King’s court and initially did homage to him including accepting the verdict of the court. But he then returned to Bampton, plundered the surrounding countryside and strongly garrisoned the castle against the King.
Robert's rebellion the first of Stephen’s reign and took place several years before the country descended into civil war. Had Robert had bided his time, he probably would have achieved his aim but instead his rebellion was not widely supported by other magnates and Stephen seized the opportunity to eliminate him. An army headed by the King himself laid siege to Bampton which was held by Robert's son. Early in the siege one of the defenders was caught trying to escape and was hanged in front of the castle walls which took the fight out of the remaining members of the garrison who surrendered. Robert fled into exile where he disappeared from the historical record other than a tantalising reference in the Gesta Stephani, a history of King Stephen’s reign written by an anonymous twelfth century author,which records he “met a dreadful end among strangers”. Some of Robert’s men were welcomed into the court of King David I of Scotland.
Robert’s forfeited lands were granted to Henry de Tracy although little is known about the use of the castle thereafter. In 1336 a licence to crenellate (fortify) was granted to Richard Cogan, Lord Bampton and it is possible this referred to a recycled or new structure within the former castle. This allegedly collapsed in 1607 due to an earthquake although an early nineteenth century engraving suggests a substantial stone structure still existed on top of the Norman motte at that time.
View north from the bailey - on this side the castle was overlooked by (slightly) higher ground.